What’s a Solo Mom?

When you hear the term “single mom,” what do you think of? Over the course of two years, I interviewed and talked to single moms all over the country. Here’s what I’ve learned about them:

Solo Moms are straight, lesbian, old, young, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, rich, poor, employed, and unemployed. They represent every cultural background, level of education, passion, skill, and allegiance.

Solo Moms are single moms, moms with joint custody, grandmothers who parent their grandchildren, and moms whose partners are deployed, disabled, or incarcerated. Solo Moms are moms whose partners are on the road a lot or living abroad, leaving them to do most of the parenting.

Solo Moms are mothers on their own, whether by choice or circumstance. Some became Solo Moms deliberately, through adoption, foster care, or artificial reproductive technology. Others become Solo Moms due to unexpected circumstances, such as a partner’s death, a surprise pregnancy, or a partnership that ended.

Above all, every Solo Mom wants to be the best mother she can be, despite the challenges of parenting on her own.

Why the term Solo Mom?

Today, at least 23 million American kids are being raised by Solo Moms. Yet Solo Moms continue to parent in a culture that depicts single mothers as second best, inferior, and the cause of social problems.

Moms who parent on their own are wounded by the stigma and stereotypes connected to the so-called “single mom.” They resent being labeled as morally lax, lazy, and promiscuous. Yet even mothers who know better worry guiltily that their children will suffer because of their family structure.

The term “single mom” has been used so often to denigrate hard-working moms that I now use an alternate term, Solo Mom, to describe any mom who parents alone, whether by choice or circumstance. The term Solo Mom is an intentional dismantling and redefining of the “single mom” stereotype.

It’s time to cast aside the guilt trip, support Solo Moms, and acknowledge that this family arrangement is not inherently dysfunctional or flawed.

In fact, the overwhelming majority of Solo Moms do not conform to any part of the “single mom” rhetoric that plagues them. Most are not teen welfare mom birthing babies they can’t care for. Did you know:

57% of single moms are raising just one child,

75% are employed over 30 hours a week, and

39% are 40 years or older?

Yet, all too often, the pernicious stereotype of the “single mom” is trumpeted at cocktail parties and in election speeches when doing so is politically or socially expedient.

What do Solo Moms want you to know?

Regardless of where Solo Moms come from or how they grew up, they share a common bond: their responsibility to their children.

A young girl doesn’t grow up making birthday wishes to become a single mom. Divorce, death, abandonment, abuse, biological clocks, and a host of other circumstances take women on this challenging journey. But the majority of Solo Moms are proud women who get up every morning determined to provide and care for their children. They run households, control finances, and make all the key decisions for their families.

Day in and day out, Solo Moms sacrifice their own needs, health, and well-being for their children. They know that their children’s future success and happiness depends on them. The burden of sole responsibility for a family is challenging, stressful, and lonely — and it makes the single-mother stereotype all the more infuriating.

I have heard these women’s stories of night shifts, long hours, low pay, no benefits, no support, exhaustion, and terrible working conditions, as well as struggles to be there for parent-teacher conferences, soccer games, and school events. Not one mom I spoke to said it wasn’t worth it.

Solo Moms stretch themselves to provide what two-parent families struggle to accomplish. Just like the rest of us, they fight for what’s best for their kids. Solo Moms get cancer, parent kids with special needs, and take care of older parents. I’ve spoken to moms who gave up their creative passions for jobs with health insurance; moms who went back to school to carve a better path for their children; moms who escaped domestic violence, found their voice, and now help others do the same.

How can we support Solo Moms?

Every day, Solo Moms face the heroic challenge of solo parenting in a society that provides little support or guidance. Instead of making Solo Moms feel inadequate and undeserving, we as a society should be championing their hard work and their fierce desire to make a loving home for their children.

Solo Moms deserve gold stars and parades, but what Solo Moms really need is institutional and political support. They deserve elected officials who understand the importance of reliable childcare, equal pay for equal work, the right to a living wage, affordable housing, safe neighborhoods, family leave, and other support systems essential for women leading families on their own.

The strength of mothers parenting by choice or circumstance is boundless, but their resources are not. It’s time for us, as a society, to help these busy women advocate for the respect and support they deserve.

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