"Single mothers" has never had a negative connotation in my mind, particularly since I have been part of that demographic for almost 20 years. Nor does it signify some kind of heroic figure clutching a babe to her breast. The fact is that the words "single" and "mother" are only descriptors to me, not judgments. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with that and efforts to stigmatize single mothers continue despite recent U.S. Census data showing that more than a quarter of U.S. children live in single parent homes. A few months ago, a Wisconsin state legislator introduced Senate Bill 507 which specifically requires "the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board to emphasize non-marital parenthood as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect."
I have spent 20 years noticing that friends and strangers alike are exceedingly curious about how I joined the ranks of single mothers. Was it an affair that ended? Divorce? A mistake? I became a single mother through the deliberate act of donor insemination. As a result, I have had the honor of rearing an amazing daughter through infancy into young adulthood. Whether she would be better off today if there had been a father in the house is an unnecessary exercise in speculation. We had days filled with joy and tantrums and dusting the furniture. We traveled to Rome and Paris and Istanbul, and we carpooled to softball games. My child grew up with a single mother. Today that defines her only in the way that her hair color or her inability to load the dishwasher properly defines her.
But I would never seek to distinguish myself from single mothers through divorce or those who became pregnant because of bad choices or those who find themselves one tonsillectomy away from homelessness. Private schools and European vacations are not some line drawn in the sand that separates the good single moms from the bad. And raising a child on your own hardly is a predictor of abuse or neglect, no matter your economic status. When misguided state legislators seek to stigmatize single mothers, they are likely guided by a stereotype of teen moms on welfare. But most of those young women are doing the same thing I did -- loving and guiding their children, alone.
Our nation is divided in so many ways: about guns, abortion, health care and immigration. Mothers, who have the toughest and most satisfying job on Earth, must not allow ourselves to be divided. Married, single, gay, divorced or widowed -- we are sharing a universal and transcendent experience. There will always be mothers who fail by chance or choice to raise their children in love. But we must not allow others to cast aspersions on large groups of us because of our marital status.
The country would be better served by ensuring that all mothers are supported as they raise future generations of Americans. Ultimately, motherhood is an act of love and faith in the future. We share that experience even as we age and watch our own daughters become mothers. For their sake, we must never agree to bear labels that divide us or turn us against one another. I may have raised my daughter on my own, but I'll answer to the title of "mother" happily and forever.
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