On Single Mothers

Reflecting on Mother’s Day 2021

Mothers Day is an emotional time for a lot of people. This year prompted me to reflect on growing up in a single mother family since I was 14 years old and, more broadly, to expose and discuss the invisibility of single mothers in mainstream Australian culture. 

While admittedly no one has ever criticised single mothers to my face, I’ve encountered perceptions in the media about single mothers. One of the most hurtful stereotypes is that single mothers are overly dependent on welfare and are somehow sad, broken, or victims. Welfare is a fundamental right of every citizen, and I’m not ashamed to say that my family has gotten financial support from the government. Still, not all single mothers receive welfare payments. Associating single mothers with welfare dependency is a nasty tactic to spread the idea that women are inherently vulnerable and dependent and present the nuclear family model as the default mode of kinship when it’s just one particular type of family. 

But exclusion is just as bad as criticism. I’ve encountered many articles that completely ignore the existence of single mothers. One recent example was an article talking about why more women should work part-time. At no point did the author ever mention single parents or acknowledge that part-time work is a complete impossibility for single parents and low SES families. I suspect no bad intentions from the author, but rather a lack of interest or understanding about people who don’t come from the same privilege level. Sadly this mindset is far too common, but it still baffles me that even today, single mothers and fathers continue to be overlooked and forgotten, as if they’re a mere footnote and not a legitimate family model for many Australians. People don’t always choose to be single parents, but some do, and that’s an entirely valid choice. After all, life is complicated, relationships are nuanced, and children can end up a lot happier in separated families.  Let’s stop assuming everyone lives in this Brady Bunch world where both parents are home, and one can work part-time – it’s just not realistic for a lot of people, and it’s harmful to assume all Australians have that option. They don’t. 

I used to look at my parents’ separation as an adverse event, as something to avoid in the future. This year, when I moved out of home and experienced how hard it is to pay rent and all the other expenses that come with adulthood, I started to think about how my mum did that, not just for herself, but also for me, my sibling and my dog. Today, I would be proud to be a single parent because it shows you have the resilience and work ethic to support a family by yourself – an incredible task with booming rental prices.

I also want to acknowledge that divorce is outlawed or extremely difficult in some parts of the world, especially for women. I recognise the privilege of being able to divorce so easily, and with limited social opposition. It wasn’t always that way, with babies being forcibly adopted from single mothers in Australia as recently as the 1970s. There are so many generations of women and men who didn’t get the ability to live as freely as we do today, and I write this article with deep respect for those who worked hard for us to be so free. This article is for those people, single mothers, their children and for those who dare to exist outside of the nuclear family model. 

Single mothers, and single parents more broadly, show that you don’t have to be married, or stay married, to have a happy and fulfilled life. My mum’s courage to become a single parent has shown me that you don’t have to exist in the same way people have lived before – you can make your own path. Beyond the flowers, and candles, and pyjamas, and bath bombs – all great presents, no doubt – we should celebrate the gritty, tiresome work behind accessible divorce, and raise a glass to a continued fight for legal, social and economic emancipation.

The ENID Network also reflected on Mother’s Day last year.

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