"I don't consider widowed or divorced women with children 'single mothers,' " one woman wrote. The term "implies that you had children outside of marriage, a loaded issue [that] sends the brain reeling in many directions."
What she's suggesting is that some single mothers deserve grace, and others condemnation.
There was a time when that perspective suited me, when I worried about what others would think about three children and no wedding ring.
Back then, I reflexively courted pity rather than risk the possibility of being stereotyped as some kind of black welfare queen. I'd find ways to work my husband's death into conversations with strangers. I understood the moral ranking: I knew a widow trumped a divorcee, and both were better than never-marrieds.
It took a nudge from a mortified daughter to stop me: "Do you have to tell everybody that Daddy died?" she asked, after one particularly awkward chat with a man in line at McDonald's. In arming myself against disapproval, I'd hurt and embarrassed my daughters.
It took years for my discomfort to fade and my girls' resilience to brew.
I realize now that my daughters thrived not in spite of what they lacked but because of what they had:
A mother who learned to trust her instincts, ask for help, listen to her children — and ignore the numbers that claim to calculate our family's fate but can't account for the power of our love.
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There are worse things than not having a father. What puts children at risk is not their single mother, but the instability — financial and emotional — that often comes with being un-partnered.
It's mom leaving junior at home alone because she can't afford a sitter, or subjecting her daughter to a parade of men because she's desperate for a lover.
Certainly, two good parents are better than one. That's a truth that can't be avoided.
But one-quarter of this country's children are being raised by single women. And what those 18 million children need most is support for their mothers: better education, quality child care, a fair workplace with equal pay, more access to job training.
What they don't need is the burden of society's judgment. The broad-brush portrait that paints our families as failures will change when single mothers are embraced and our children expected to thrive.