The term ‘sometimes single mom’ is inaccurate.

Single moms don’t say, “I’m a sometimes single mom.” True, some have the support of their exes, financially or otherwise, but many just do not. They are actually a single parent in the true sense of the word. They are responsible for a child or children they are raising alone. It seems as if those who call themselves ‘sometimes single moms’ are usually the ones who are actually married with a husband who is sometimes there.

This is a subject that keeps coming up lately, and it’s not the first time. Recently, it was sparked by the Michelle Obama video where she flubs and says in the interview with CBS News affiliate WCAX in Burlington, Vermont: “Believe me, as a busy single mother—or, I shouldn’t say single! As a busy mother… sometimes, you know, when you’ve got a husband who’s president, it can feel a little single, but he’s there!”

I understand this was a gaffe. Mrs. Obama pulled back and corrected herself. But this was the flub heard ‘round the parenting community, particularly by actual single moms. You are not a single mom — even sometimes! – if you’re married to your husband who comes home at the end of the day, brings in some income and helps raise the child you have together. Yes, there are situations where the husband/father isn’t available for whatever reason. However, when you are a single mom, (or single father, for that matter) you have sole responsibility for your child or children. Even if the father is paying child support and has visitation, you are still responsible as the primary caregiver. I understand how some people can feel like a sometimes single parent. Parenting is hard and having a spouse who’s gone for months at a time (for work, military service, or whatever else) is challenging. But it’s not the same.

After the FLOTUS flub, Kristen Chase of the blog Motherhood Uncensored wrote an article at The Broad Side titled “Michelle Obama Calls Herself a Single Mom. In Many Ways, She Is.” I know quite a few single moms, including myself, who would disagree vehemently with Chase’s article and the First Lady’s statement, even if it was a slip. This particular post generated a huge response on Facebook, with many single moms saying they were not OK with Chase proclaiming that she’s OK with Michelle Obama calling herself a single mom.

Chase has written about being a sometimes single mom before. She acknowledges that the term is a “misnomer” and a “figure of speech.” And I’m OK with moms like Kristen and the First Lady talking about parenting solo, just don’t call yourselves a ‘sometimes single parent,’ because that’s not what it is.

I don’t have the support of my daughter’s father. In my case, it’s probably for the best. But maybe that’s my own fault as society suggests. Maybe I should have kept my legs closed and stuck an aspirin between them. Then I probably wouldn’t be in the situation I am in now. But it’s thoughts like this that degrade, humiliate and shame single mothers.

There just simply isn’t the stigma against single fathers as there is against single mothers. You don’t hear society calling single fathers “whore,” “slut,” “welfare queen,” (or king) or saying, “Should have kept his dick in his pants.” That sort of running commentary just doesn’t exist. Do single dads get a hard time? Do they get slurs slung at them to the extent that single mothers do? Do they get asked why they had a kid with such a loser? Probably not. Are they sometimes seen as heroes for stepping up while the moms get vilified? Sometimes.

My mother was a single parent for many years. Instead of being responsible for just one child, she had three to take care of alone. She works as a seamstress and has for years. I remember her staying up through the night sewing, finishing up a client’s garment while my brothers and I slept; then she would go to work in the morning. I often fell asleep to the sound of her sewing machine hammering away. She did have financial support from my father, but not much else.

She was lucky, as were my brothers and I, that she had a rather large family to help. Sometimes it would be my grandmother, who was single herself, raising not one, not three, but five kids singlehandedly with no help from the father. By the time I came along, my grandmother was still single, but down to three kids and the older two were married and out of the house.

What is the true definition of single parent? What if you are the only parent, but you are living with your extended family? Does that still make you a single parent? I don’t think being married would be on that singles list, whether the spouse is gone for most of the time, or whether you get the emotional support you need from that spouse or not. If that situation is happening, and you do feel as if you are doing all the parenting, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate your marriage.

This post hardly covers all I want to say. Other writers have, however, including Annie Downey, author of the book Hot and Bothered, who wrote a critically acclaimed article on being a single parent called, “Is There Life After Welfare?” I also recommend reading Tracy Mayor’s essay called “Single Mom Stigma, Alive and Kicking.”

Here’s what if comes down to: families are more diverse today than ever. There needs to be a reconfiguring of the misnomers ‘single motherhood’ and ‘single parenthood.’ Perhaps we need to create a more suitable vocabulary appropriate to both single parenting and other relational aspects of parenting.

Previously published at The Broad Side (April 2013)

Image by Esparta Palma, creative commons license

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