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Emma Johnson Headshot

A Single Mom By Any Other Name Is An ... Um ... Er ... Uh ...

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When I was in college we had this very sexy and elegant professor who had been the longtime chief foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune (again, me and the glamorous men!). All the girls loved him even though he was a million years old, and none of the guys could get it because -- as my friend Jack said -- "He has man boobs."

In any case, one day he told our class, "Get business cards made with your name and 'Journalist' printed underneath." He was telling us: A title matters -- most importantly to the person wearing it. What other people call you effects how you feel about yourself.

This theme has come up many times in my life, including now. I've struggled with my title -- and my identity -- as an unmarried mom.

Sometimes if I've been in a group of new people and it's relevant, I've mentioned that I'm divorced. That's a fact. But I don't want my identity to be "divorced." Divorce is horrible, even if the net result is positive. I don't want to spend the rest of my life labeled by an atrocious legal process. And I will not let divorce define my family.

I've tried out "single mom," and I'm mostly OK with it. Again, totally true. But what if you're in a committed relationship? Is it true then? Not to mention that "single mom" is a loaded term. Single mom connotes poverty, bad choices and a political and societal pariah. Of course we could take it back -- n-bomb style- and claim it as our proud identity. Which I guess I kinda did when I bought this URL. But I'm not sure that is how I want to roll in my daily life.

Lately I've been playing around with "not married." I like it because it's accurate. It's also fun and delightfully ambiguous, which suits me just fine at the moment. "Are you married?" asks that judgey, annoying mom with the yoga pants and giant diamond at the school, eying you up and down. "No," you might respond. "I'm not married." See? Leaves her guessing. Are you a lesbian? Single mom by choice? In an open relationship? Unmarried but partnered with your super-hot Scandinavian boyfriend of 12 years? She doesn't know. And it's none of her business. So while she's trying to steal your mojo with her snotty question, smile coolly, pick up your kid, and leave knowing that she will now keep even tighter reins on her husband at the holiday show.

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