Smash the Stigma of Single Motherhood
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Seven tips for overcoming stereotypes that plague single moms
As a new single mom, I prepared myself for a lot—the long, hard nights alone with a newborn, mastering the art of breastfeeding, learning how to ask for help. . . . The last thing on my radar was overcoming the stigma that can come along with being a single mother. Being judged for being a Solo Mom has been, hands down, one of the worst parts of my solo motherhood experience. In such a powerful, special time, I often felt like the whole world was against me.
“Don’t complain. I told you it would be hard, and you chose this anyway.”
“Maybe you are just bad at life.”
“You made your bed.”
“Because you are a single parent, your child is likely to end up in prison.”
Those quotes, and more, are actual, soul-crushing things people said to me as a new Solo Mom. I tried to turn it around and tell myself, Yes, I did choose this—I chose to be awesome and strong and have my baby. I’m not bad at life—I show up for my baby every single day. No, I didn’t make my bed; in fact, I never do! And I found a new pediatrician after our former one told me my baby was going to end up in prison. Fielding this treatment from such a wide array of people showed me very quickly just how widespread this conditioning against single mothers is.
At some point, I stopped being shocked by how some people treat me differently based on one fact—that I parent alone. But the stigma just kept coming at me, and it was hard to weather that kind of criticism without turning on myself. I became hesitant to complain or vent about anything. I wondered if those people were right, and maybe I was, by default of my circumstances, doomed to be a terrible parent. The thoughts would just snowball from there. It took a while for me to realize all those internal and external judgments were unproductive.
Here are seven tips for getting over the harsh words from ourselves and others:
1. Stop the negative self-talk. Don’t let the criticism of others affect how you talk to yourself. Get inspired by the encouraging stories on ESME’s Hall of Fame. Stick some positive affirmations on your bathroom mirror. And my favorite: if you notice negative thoughts creeping in, pretend to grab them in your hand and physically drop them.
2. Focus on the good friends. I used to think, The more friends, the better. Now I believe if you have even one true friend in this world, you are doing really well. Think about who those few “true gem” friends are and surround yourself with them. Show those not-so-good friends your boundaries and say good-bye.
3. Pat yourself on the back. A good friend (see above) once told me that, unfortunately, nobody’s ever going to show up and give us the trophies or medals of honor we deserve. We have to learn to pat our own backs—and mean it. Practice self-care with some simple tips from ESME’s Sarah Sheen and these ideas for self-care on a shoestring budget.
4. Vent. Do yourself a favor and clear out all your frustrations to one of those good friends, to a therapist or coach, in your journal, or on a blog. You need it and deserve it and have as much right to do so as anyone.
5. Be self-aware. Martyring, jealousy, forced gratitude, pretending like everything is perfect, lying to others, lying to yourself—figure out what you are doing that is self-defeating, and stop doing it.
6. Go outside. Bad talk—from ourselves and others—is about the most unnatural thing I can think of. Hit the reset button by going into a natural space. Put your hand on a tree and feel the insignificance of your own problems in all of the years and lives that single, sturdy tree has witnessed.
7. Speak up. If someone says something out of line about your family or your circumstances, tell the person to stop. Perhaps the person will learn he or she is wrong, or at least stop saying such things to other single moms. When you hear those things, spread new rumors about single motherhood. Share stories about amazing single moms you know or have heard about, and celebrate the amazing children of single moms.
A wise friend once said: “It’s easy for people to turn your circumstances into a story of your vices or virtues, but the truth is, your circumstances are not you.” The tide is turning on the stigma of single motherhood, one solo mama at a time.
Beck List is an environmental scientist and writer living with her four-year-old future comedian in California. You can read more tips on her blog, BeckList.
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