“Single Mom” Vocabulary: Harmful, Helpful Or Just Fact?

I started this blog with every intention on “owning” my single motherhood. I found it difficult (and still find it difficult) to label myself as a single mother because of all the social stigmas that say single mothers are women with the following attributes (some of which are based on credible and non-credible statistics, studies or outdated, but long-held beliefs):

  • Divorced (because they couldn’t keep a man), single mother-by-choice (because they couldn’t find a man during their fertile years) or unmarried/never married (because they were poor decision makers or couldn’t get the father to marry them).
  • Dependent on child support with other forms of government assistance.
  • Dependent on welfare and/or other forms of government assistance.
  • Lower socioeconomic status.
  • Uneducated, with the highest education level as some high school, a high school diploma, GED or some college credit.
  • At risk for chronic illnesses and diseases later in life.
  • Poor judge of character and poor decision makers.
  • Sufferers of mental illnesses, drug addictions or relationship addictions.
  • Chronically exhausted and prone to drama and instability.
  • Viewed as less desirable to date.
  • Other character flaws that have led to their current circumstances.
  • Contributors of the breakdown in traditional family values.
MTV's 16 & Pregnant Show- Jenelle

MTV’s 16 & Pregnant Show- Jenelle

If you Google “single mother” and click on the news element, some of the headlines look like:

  1. Single Mothers at Risk for Poorer Health Later in Life
  2. After East Village Fire, Internet Helps Single Mom Of 3 Who Lost Everything
  3. 7 Invaluable Love Lessons From Single Moms
  4. Single Mother Who Worked For Brink’s Says She Was Fired for Participating in ‘Fight for 15′ Protests
  5. Terminally Ill Single Mother From Santa Clarita Sues for Right to Die in California
  6. Single Motherhood, in Decline Over All, Rises for Women 35 and Older

I noticed a few trends:

1.) The distinction of “single mom” headlines versus the “mom” without marital status in the headlines were meant to elicit sympathy, empathy, pity, a call to action or a similar emotion.

2.) Personal stories/anecdotes of single mother’s in the news had a overcoming adversity, positive, strength-building or character-building tone.

3.) Personal stories/anecdotes of single mothers who opted to parent by choice were older, highly educated and of higher socioeconomic class and the tone was more neutral or positive than articles of single mothers by circumstance.

4.) Studies on single mothers had a subtle, negative tone that seem to reinforce social stigma. Authors make assumptions in the first article: “Single motherhood is associated with poverty in most societies, but more so in the USA than in Europe,” the authors explain. “This may lead to different mechanisms of selection into lone motherhood between countries. Particularly in Southern European countries, strong social and family networks may offset some negative effects of single motherhood.”

So here’s my conflict: Should we be talking about “motherhood” or “parenting” rather than “single motherhood”? There are obvious differences from a married mother and a single mother, but when it comes to the basic foundations of child rearing and parenting, why do we need to assign marital status?

Playing the devil’s advocate: Is it still relevant to use the term “single mother” so that we can connect with other like-minded individuals with similar experiences?

I’m not suggesting that one term is better than the others, but rather hoping other bloggers have some insights to the question:

“Single Mom” Vocabulary: Harmful, Helpful Or Just Fact?

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Kimberly Allers Forgives Almost $40K in Child Support: I Have One Huge Problem With Her Argument!

New York Times Photo Credit

New York Times Photo Credit

For all interested in the issue of child support, I recommend reading this article the New York Times showcased “Forgiving $38,750 in Child Support, for My Kids’ Sake.”

There are many things that I agree and disagree with Ms. Aller’s article.

Things I Agree With:

  • “We have too often reduced nonresidential fathers to being weighed and judged by a financial transaction. If you don’t pay, you’re a “dead beat.” End of one story, beginning of a new one, one that can mean suspended drivers’ licenses and professional licenses, seized bank deposits and tax refunds, and the very real risk of jail time.” I agree that financial support is one facet of the value of fathers, however the law does not deal in subjectivity and intangibles. This is a weakness of the legal system and social services.
  • “Studies prove that school-age children of involved fathers have better academic success, higher grade point averages and go on to have higher levels of economic and educational achievement. We focus on money, when “child support” also means emotional support, academic support and the supportive power of a male influence in a child’s life. Negating that value is dangerous to our children. Regardless of what I think of him, my children love their father and doing my part to keep that feeling alive is priceless to me.” Again, I agree with this premise. Children do far better when they feel love and spend time with both parents. Plenty of visitation time between fathers and their children should be the norm, not the exception. Parents who engage in parental alienation by trying to circumvent visitation should be punished harshly.
  • “In the seven years since my divorce, my ex-husband (or “wasband” as I like to call him) has always given our children his time, whether he had money or not. He currently makes payments to me directly when he is able.”  I think that’s great, however this woman should have established a parenting plan with a low, base amount with direct payment to the mother and allowed the judge to sign it, rather than getting Child Support Enforcement (CSE) involved. CSE only gets involved when you submit a case. In many states, this is a viable option.

Things I Disagree With:

  • “I’m financially stable now. I’m lucky to be able to forgive the arrears, but it is money I would likely never see anyway. Hanging onto that debt is like hanging onto other things that went wrong for us, and it gets in the way of what’s best for our children. It will have been three hours and $38,750 well spent.” This is the crux of my disagreement in Ms. Aller’s argument: that this woman is “lucky to be able to forgive arrears, but it is money I would likely never see anyway.” This money DOES NOT BELONG TO THE HER. By definition, child support is for the children, where the custodial parent acts as a responsible party to help pay for things that are in the best interest of the child. The woman who writes this article fails to realize that her spouse bilked almost $40,000 from his child, not his ex wife. That’s a pretty nice chunk of change that could go to a college education.

All other arguments were mostly concrete until I read that the judge actually agreed to forgiving her child’s much needed support. The decision is for her to make as the responsible party, however I don’t think she acted in the best interest of her child, even though her intentions sound honorable. She misunderstood the entire premise of child support- better named “the child’s support.”

I don’t believe criminalizing men who are unable to pay versus unwilling to pay is the answer, however the law deals with compliance and fairness, not emotions, for a reason. Asking the judge if they could create a parenting plan that includes setting a low amount for a college trust fund would have been a better, more responsible answer to this divisive issue.

At the end of the day, child support is the CHILD’S SUPPORT and not the parent’s support. When we acknowledge and educate individuals on the difference, I hope our legal and social services will create more supportive services to custodial and noncustodial parents to favor parenting plans over Child Support Enforcement and legal battles, provided an amicable divorce/child custody arrangement.

I previously wrote about this topic here: Recalibrating The Term “Child Custody Battle”:Lessons And Tips I’ve Learned

Does Single Parenthood Make You Want To Stay At One Child Or Have More?

This is a serious question everybody.

Sometimes I feel as though I’m in the minority. After having Andrew, I’m pretty convinced I want to stick with one. My mom keeps reminding me, “When you find someone you want to marry, then you’ll change your mind.”

But will I?

I really value my freedom and put A LOT of importance on making my one life count to the fullest. I don’t get a second chance at life- I get one and I better make it the most productive/fun/happy life I can possibly create.

The cost of one child is astronomical. My biggest nightmare is to get married, have children, only to be divorced down the road and playing single mom to several more kids with no more energy to pursue my dreams.

So here’s another poll, since I’m really interested in the crowd’s opinion:

Mothers Rejoice! New Study Proves Quality Time Matters More Than Quantity

stylishlyeverafter.blogspot.com

stylishlyeverafter.blogspot.com

According to a groundbreaking new study, to be published in April in the Journal of Marriage and Family, which found no relationship between the behavior, academic achievements, or emotional well being of a child aged 3-11 and the amount of time spent with a parent — particularly mom.

“When it Comes to Spending Time With Kids, Quantity Doesn’t Matter.”

Bottom line: Don’t worry so much about the amount of time, but what you do when you are together.

Single Parent’s Perspective: Back-handed Compliments

My mother is one of my fiercest referees when it comes to parenting. Last night, after discussing how I am navigating a contentious co-parenting relationship with the ex, she delivered a seriously back-handed compliment (of which, I’m sure she is oblivious):

“You’re doing the best you can with what you have.”

I’m sure she saw it as a show of support. I was thinking, “The best I can? That smells of ‘I could be doing better.'”

Some other examples of back-handed admiration or I’m-glad-not-to-be-in-your-position-isms:

“As long as the child’s father is involved…”

“Look on the bright side. At least you get every other weekend off!”

“I don’t know how you do it without help.”

“You’re only one person…”

“Well, living for your child is the only thing that matters.”

“You’re doing such a great job!” or “You’re so good with him!” (from my ex-mother-in-law).

“She has a strong support system.” (my defensive mother said to her friend).

“Wow, you’re totally a supermom. How do you find time to shit?” (a man I was talking to online after he found out I was a parent, career woman and student).

Does anyone have other examples of the dreaded back-handed compliment?

Backhanded Compliment(image source: tumblr.com)

Waddling Wednesday: We Are Walkin’…Almost Talkin’

So I’m going to take a page out of Beyonce’s book on Blue Ivy: post pictures that obscure her daughter’s face. I kind of like that idea.

My little waddler :-)

My little waddler 🙂

So Andrew is dashing around the apartment now with frantic pace. He’s into EVERYTHING. His favorite toy is the blinds’ pull string. The darn thing is so long I have to vigilantly tie it up. We’ve kind of moved beyond the cabinet phase with my handy-dandy locks, however, they are a pain in the ass to remove if I need something (like Fort Knox). I have so many toys that I could open up my own Toys R’ Us and yet, he finds more mischievous ways to entertain himself. I will forever be in awe on how babies are born to defeat the Man (i.e. baby proofing system).

Our word count is now at a solid ten:

  1. Dauuughhy- doggy
  2. Boo- blue
  3. Maaammmm- mom
  4. Da-da- dad
  5. Meemee- grandma
  6. Noooooo- no
  7. Ewwww- ew
  8. Uhhhh-ohhhh- oops
  9. Curcal- circle
  10. Nannn- Nana (other grandma)

He also points and gestures and can put toys in cups during bath time.

Ahhhh how they grow. I will savor every moment :-).

Newsweek Special Edition: Your Baby’s Brain

I just bought Newsweek’s Special Edition, Your Baby’s Brain. It is a visually stunning magazine and includes all the learning modules your baby’s brain develops.

Newborn-Brains-500

Some fun facts from the magazine:

  • Studies show that the presence of pets stimulate the release of Oxycontin, which makes pets a possible calming influence for the baby.
  • A fetus has some limited preferences for taste in utero. Sonograms have shown fetuses grimace with the presence of cigarette smoke!
  • Foods high in folic acid, such as oranges, help produce red blood cells and develop the spinal cord.
  • The sound of babies crying changes the brain activity of women, suggesting we are hard-wired to respond to infant cries.
  • Babies enter the word prepared to mimic stimuli as early as three months old.
  • Studies show that babies six months and older will playfully tease each other such as snatch away toys and then hand them back to their playmates.
  • Babies as early as eight months old benefit from lower levels of distress in adulthood with consistent affection, love, hugs and kisses.

When Blind Faith Isn’t Enough: Finding Your Inner Powerhouse

I read blogs in the “marriage,” “parenting” and “divorce” categories that speak of faith. Faith in God. Faith in your marriage/relationships. Faith in your spouse. While I applaud the well-intentioned affirmations, faith is simply not enough. This of course is coming from an secularist, so consider the source before your emotions swell.

Sitting idly by, hoping, wishing, praying that your husband doesn’t cheat again or that you wish your girlfriend would let you see your kids more is tantamount to doing nothing.

Living mindful means action. It focuses the faith of external sources inward and holds you accountable for your own happiness. It’s only when you place high value on your self-esteem, self worth and love of yourself, do you see changes.

future

All the silly, internal arguments to stay in a relationship that is toxic are unacceptable. They hinge on fear, an unproductive and stifling emotion:

a.) Fear of abandonment

b.) Fear of the unknown

c.) Fear of a broken home

d.) Fear of societal expectations

e.) Fear of new financial responsibility

f.) Fear of lifestyle changes

g.) Fear of family and friend criticism

h.) Fear of child deliquency

i.) Fear of the career changes

j.) Fear of religious expectations

Before I left an abusive relationship, all 10 fears kept me stagnant. Empowerment was the only anecdote. The steps I took to find my inner powerhouse included:

1.) Reading literature on how to identify toxic/abusive relationship indicators (thanks Google Books!)- Knowledge is power! Get educated. It’s the first step.

2.) Self-preservation- systematic emotional distancing by realizing that the problem is my partner, not myself, slowly started building back my self esteem. When communication is impossible and toxic, you go into self-preservation mode. It’s an instinct. Build on this instinct and keep your self image independent from the negativity of your partner.

3.) Checklists- making mental notes of what needs to happen prior to physically leaving your partner. Dividing financial accounts. Child custody arrangements with the court. Separation papers and a divorce attorney. A safe place to stay. Emotional support (the relatives and friends who will allow you to lean on them temporarily). Job considerations (do I need to take time off? How long?). Marital assets (what will be divided?). Make sure you include timelines to keep you motivated. Make a promise to complete a check off the list EVERY DAY.

4.) Physically leaving- sometimes this is forced (as was my experience) and sometimes you leave when all your checks are complete. If your partner is reasonable, you can communicate your wishes. If she/he is not, you must take all your strength to leave. Otherwise you will remain stagnant.

5.) Implementing your checklists- the second hardest part. I got my act together and secured a new job weeks after I left. My financial accounts were already separate. I was in court the week before I started my new job. I lived with my parents for two months before I secured child care. I won access to my apartment and moved back in. I started over financially.

6.) Routinize immediately- I established a new routine with my son as soon as possible. This kept my sanity. My son was able to remain emotionally stable. I got up early, commuted to daycare, went to work, picked him up, fed him, walked the dog, bathed him, played with him, and then put him down for the night. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat! It’s simple, but VERY effective.

7.) Working on yourself- by the time your settled and you can process what happened, that’s when the healing begins. My healing started when I wrote my first blog post. Find at least one thing you couldn’t pursue before and make time for it! This will start the process of reflection and decoupling your partner image to an independent image of yourself.

8.) Loving yourself- no one is a perfect parent. Everyone suffers from parenting guilt. But like fear, guilt is an unproductive emotion. Start small, but allow yourself the precious moments of feeling “present.” Enjoy the newness of being single again and don’t dwell on the emotional emptiness. With time, it will pass. You’re strong enough. You’re good enough.

I never valued the last principle more than when I was faced with starting over as a single mom. My caffine-addled mind was fueled with self-loathing. But when I paused and looked around, at my family, my relationships, my career, my new start in grad school, my son and my life as a whole, I found inner empowerment. My life was fucking awesome! I am the reason I found success. Faith didn’t bring me to this conclusion. Action and knowing I have one life to live made success happen.

new

Make your one chance count!