Such a dichotomy in these words, not just semantically, but inherently. On one hand they’re spoken in demi-whisper as if they were a cake about to fall covered in fondant of pity, and on the other superhero implications grace the harrowed and depleted, duly noting the self-sacrifice, ultimate commitment and identity lost along the way to the playground.
Neither end give justice to this misnomer.
Single implies an abandonment, and certainly that argument’s been made a million times. But the single didn’t happen at the cusp of separation. Single moms are single long before they’re alone. What has changed is the displacement of weight; not a ballast or a keel that keep direction and momentum, rather a mass that once made living and rearing almost immovable is now sinking away from the effort. And as his shadow dissipates in the depths, what’s left is her identity as a woman. But all we see is a mother, single. An enigma and stigma, an implication of powerlessness and discount that warrants little more from lookers-on than pity. Especially those lookers in relational proximity.
Others define it as failure, more puzzling. And again, while much evidence is out there to the contrary, more women who are mothers have an opportunity to finally succeed in their core impetus, mothering without distraction. No one would consider remission from cancer a failure.
It’s also defined as less, single mom opposed to double parents, as if women need men to mother. They don’t. At all. It’s children who need men to father. When these efforts work in tandem, with some accord every now and then, there’s familial consonance, fidelity, the prescribed goal of any religious institution.
That’s why when marital standings change there’s an illicit subtext that single isn’t enough to do the job. Really? We live in a society where half the children will be reared at some point by one adult and we claim that’s not enough? Don’t get me started on single dad.
And others define it with capes and masks, and while I’d never discount the commitment and valiance of a single mom, as soon as we ascribe her with superhuman values, we’ve overlooked the single most important aspect that enables her maternity; she is a woman first, that sacred feminine that does so much more for the human condition than simply its perpetuation.