The shame, pride and arrogance of ‘single mums’

By Thandekile Moyo

THE moment one is introduced as a “single mother”, admiration, sympathy, disdain and several other sentiments flow their way.

There is something both sad and impressive about a woman raising a child alone. Throw in a boy child, and the woman is an immediate hero.

Apparently, it takes a certain kind of woman to “successfully” raise a child on her own. It requires strength of character, mind and heart, discipline and resilience.

Today, we have more couples getting divorced than getting married. We are living in an era where having children out of wedlock is no longer the worst thing that can happen to a girl. Because of this, we find ourselves experiencing a major boom in the numbers of single mothers. It does not help that with so much emphasis on educating and developing the girl child, we have millions of highly independent women, perfectly capable and willing, financially and emotionally, of raising children on their own.

This leads one to ask: has it become fashionable to be a single mother? Are there any advantages associated with being seen as the superwoman raising her children alone? It is not surprising anymore to hear people including this fact when asked to describe themselves. In interviews, on dates, autobiographies and everywhere else basically, we hear women say proudly and boldly: “Hi, my name is Jane, I am 26-years-old. I am cheerful, hardworking, innovative and a single mother to two gorgeous girls”. This last fact is casually thrown in among positive accolades about oneself. You cannot help thinking women, and perhaps some men, view being a single mother as some form of achievement that should be applauded and for feminists, even celebrated.

There is a certain arrogance that sometimes accompanies the declaration that one is a single mother. I view such announcements with a mixture of amusement, suspicion and sometimes genuine appreciation. I wonder what exactly is the motive behind the “confession” and “watch me” attitude.

But not all single mothers are arrogant and proud heroes of the struggle. On the flipside, society is full of the self-pitying single mother, who feels so sorry for herself that she has to announce to any and all, that life has thrown her a terrible blow and she is sadly, with serious difficulty, having to raise her children alone. This single mother uses her children’s not having a father as an excuse to get away with anything. Her assignments always come in late, she never gets to work in time, she will not contribute towards family functions and will not volunteer to help at church functions. Why should she have to do anything for anyone? She’s a single mother! Her man or men left her for another woman; she has nobody to help her. Why on earth should she be accountable for anything?

This single mother could get away with murder if she had her way because she feels the world owes her sympathy and gratitude for having to play both mum and dad. She feels entitled to special treatment from everyone because to her, life has been unfair. The sad thing about this single mother is that rarely will she do anything to develop or better herself. She always has an excuse, no time to go to school, no money to start a business, no man to help with the bills. She will turn on the tears or raise hell and break stuff the moment one tries to talk her out of her self-pity. What do you know about my struggle, she asks, you have a man and a good job, you will never understand!

Then there is the angry and bitter single mother. This is the type who will provide everything for her children but remind them every single day that she has to break her back to provide for them. She wants them to feel guilty by telling them that because she has to raise them, she does not have a life of her own and she has had to forgo her dreams for their sake. Some become verbally and physically abusive to their children as they feel it is because of them that life is so tough. When these children become adults, the mother usually expects them to take over all financial responsibility for the remaining siblings as she has done her part. She feels entitled to all her children’s earnings and will make sure she gets them. It is heart-breaking to see a woman take out her frustrations on her innocent children. Some of these angry mothers take it out on the world at large and run around fighting everyone. They become that terrible boss everyone fears and hates, that sharp-tongued woman at the market or that teacher who is trigger happy with her beating stick. I am sure you all know one or two of these wrecking ball mothers.

I believe most single mothers, depending on how they found themselves in the situation, go through the stages of being angry and bitter, feeling sorry for themselves and of being the “watch me” single mother. Most mothers eventually become the happy mother who has worked out a balance between being a successful woman on one hand and an unmarried mother on the other. She is the woman who finds time for herself without neglecting the needs of her children. This is the woman who is managing to do it alone and is doing it happily and with pride.

One last thought. We use the term “single mother” quite loosely. But what really is a single mother? Is it any woman who is not married but has children? Or is it a woman who is raising her children alone, with absolutely no help from others? If the father of the children contributes financially to their upkeep and takes them sometimes, are you still a single mother? I honestly believe this label is abused as our African culture rarely allows for situations where women raise their children alone. Whenever a man leaves a woman and his children, many people step up to the plate to help raise those children.

Are you really a single mother, when your father is a present and an active grandfather in your child’s life and upbringing?

How are you a single mother when your brother contributes towards school fees and your sisters are available to help you with your children whether or not you are around?

Are you a single mother if you live at home with your parents or your children live with your mother? Are you a single mother if your boyfriend provides you with companionship, support and love?

Where is the singleness? Single because you are raising them alone, or single being your relationship status?