Valerie Young

    Single Mothers, Double Standard

    Posted April 29th, 2013 by

    A lot of press about single mothers seemed to surface recently. I’m not sure why.  It’s on my radio (NPR, Tell Me More) and in my morning paper (The Difference Between Feeling Like a Single Mom and Being One, WashPost, 4/18,2013). Whatever it used to mean, as an identifier “single mother” it is not very helpful now. As almost half of all births now occur to unmarried women, and most of them in their 20′s at the age of first birth, it isn’t shorthand for teen mother or one with minimal education.  Single mothers may have been married at the time of birth, widowed, divorced or separated. They may have had partners when their children were born. They may remarry or engage in a different kind of committed relationship in the future. The “single” part of “single mother” is not a permanent condition. Nor do they belong primarily to any particular race, class or income level.

    To add to the complexity, people with “single mother” challenges may possibly be married. Married parents might have a husband or wife on military deployment, so the spouse at  home is operating as a single parent, in fact. A spouse could be in the kind of all-consuming job that just makes any  real caregiving at home impossible in practical terms. (Michelle Obama has said she feels like a single parent.)  When you get down to it, single mothering and single parenting can accurately describe such a variety of different situations and circumstances, the phrases don’t really tell us very much.

    I was reminded of this when reading Single Moms:  The One and Only in the latest Working Mother magazine. A breezy, upbeat essay, it makes single motherhood sound like a straightforward logistical program. Author Lori Gottlieb advises punching up your routines, staying super-organized, accepting imperfection, dismissing the opinions of others, and taking time for yourself. How this is any different from what you’d tell any mother, or any parent, or even any well-adjusted person generally, I cannot make out. Yet, there is no discussion of the stress of making both the mundane daily and lifelong decisions for your children alone, shouldering all the worry, concern, emotional and financial support by yourself. Very curious.

    Single mothers defy conventional wisdom – in other words, what you assume or think you know could be inaccurate. Poverty rates for single mothers are the highest in the country, but not because they are out of the workforce and subsisting on public benefits. Most of the 27 million women heading households with children are employed. Their poverty results from public policy failures, not their personal shortcomings, poor decisions or rotten luck.

    According to  “The Face of American Poverty Today“, a product of the Women in the World Foundation, one factor is the lack of effective child support laws. State standards range from the totally inadequate to barely making it, and often go unenforced.  Another reason is the expense of child care – the U.S. does subsidize the cost for some low income households, but less than one in five eligible children actually get it. What’s more, eligibility standards are set so that you can make too much to qualify for the subsidy, but not make enough to pay the unsubsidized child care fees. To deal with the sketchy child care availability, moms often end up in jobs with meager pay and no benefits.

    To top it all off, what we now call “welfare”, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), comes with strict rules, and only lasts for a maximum of 60 months, requiring recipients to be in jobs or job training, which usually does not offer paid sick days. Missing a shift because you have the flu or your child is vomiting means you lose your job, which means you become ineligible for TANF, which means you and your children go hungry. Oh – and going to school to work towards a better paying job doesn’t qualify as “work” for TANF. So, you can only get those 60 months of benefits for minimally paid work with little or no chance of promotion, and it’s not enough to cover basic expenses, either.

    Single parents, and all family caregivers, are in a time bind, overwhelmed by obligations, and engaged in an eternal quest for that elusive work/family balance and economic security. Some of the most effective policy solutions, if we had the will to implement them, would strengthen our social safety net for all parents, as well as anyone who has a family care role. Anyone can get sick, or have to take care of a sick child or spouse, or even a sick parent. Paid sick days as a statutory guarantee, and not dependent upon the whim of your employer, could get you to the doctor today and back at work tomorrow. Making the minimum wage a living wage would positively effect household incomes, stimulate the economy, and move people off the welfare roles. Making sure that everyone has health insurance means mom doesn’t have to decide between whether to buy medicine or food. Having affordable, quality child care available on a reliable basis means moms can go to work, no matter where their income – or marital status – happens to be. Policies that would help women raising the children upon whom all of our futures depend are good for most everyone.

    Are you a single mom?Were you? What were the biggest preconceptions people had about you? And what would have helped you most in raising your children?

    ‘Til next time,

    Your (Wo)Man in Washington

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    5 Comments

    May 2, 2013 at 2:13 pm by Cindy Luby

    A single Mother is just that single no man around. The fact that women are finally after decades jumping on this makes me wonder? I raised my kids Alone. Lost a job oppurtunity with American Airlines becasue I had a small child. I didn’t work for years by choice so I could be a Mom even though the fathers were no where in site. The last Good “Mann” got cutody of my six year old daughter. It messed her up severly. Thank goodness she is home now. She left her Dads on her own. Threaten to tell the courts about Him.
    I have also told my daughter not to have kids. I love them all dearly. But, if you you going to be a CEO be one, if your going to be a Mom be one. Our country is falling apart because the Family is being detroyed through the court systems and because sorry to say parents aren’t parenting. I would love to talk to young girls so they would stay clear of poor choices and elevate themselves to a mind set of “Not married? No way!
    Teach a young girl how awesome she can be is the best deterant. Until we teach the truth to very young girls. Share your stories it may keep one girl from making the same mistakes. Best of luck ladies I am not sure what faction started this but this is truly bipartian. Also I would tell my daughters to have a prenup as to what will happen to the kids if we split up. Sounds strange but in this world it is much cheaper to be prepared that go through and pay those awful lawyers fees. $105,000 plus that a college eduaction folks. lc

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    May 2, 2013 at 12:52 pm by Elisha

    The system is designed to keep you down. I have done everything I can to help myself and my kids get in a better position. I have gone to school while working full time and raising two children and I never stopped no matter how hard it got. I now have an MBA, but I can’t find a job so I am underemployed, working the same job I have been working for the past eight years while in school. The state is no help in obtaining child support- I’m currently owed around $11,000. While I was in school I was taking out more in student loans than what I actually needed for my tuition so that I could pay for childcare. I have been on a waiting list for childcare subsidy for over two years. My tax money is about to run out, as that is how I have been paying for daycare the past several months. With no job prospects on the near horizon, I really don’t see much other choice than to enroll back in school so I can take out more loans and dig myself further in debt to pay for childcare. I don’t want to go back to school- I’ve been in school for eight long years and I am burnt out. I want to be able to spend quality time with my children and not have that extra stress on my head. But if I can’t pay for daycare I can’t work and if I can’t work well then really what are we going to do. It is really sad that I have to make this decision. But I will do whatever I have to in order to support my children.

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    May 2, 2013 at 12:51 pm by Cheryl

    Being a single mom is unlike anything else, especially if the father is either out of the picture or presents additional challenges. The courts say men and women are equal, but I see that absolutely nowhere in this country; and at least here in Cincinnati, Ohio, single moms are screwed by the courts and by the system. I encourage my daughters not to have children…

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    May 2, 2013 at 7:27 am by Debra

    This is only the tip of the iceberg as to what’s really going on out here in the trenches. Welfare is set up to keep women poor and I say that because it is impossible to live on the allotments. We are placed under a financial microscope yet the ex-partner is not, even when they aren’t paying. The Child Support Guidelines are backwards….65% goes to the single non-custodial parent. If the ex-partner is in the “cash” business there is no way to find their income unless one has thousands of dollars to hire detectives. And as a stay at home mother who was stricken with breast cancer, I have no social security benefits. Nor can I collect on the ex’s. This also needs to change. From my experience, the system is severely rigged against women trying to survive as single parents. My story goes on…if you want to hear more.

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    April 30, 2013 at 8:04 am by Sarah Towne

    As a single mom and a child and family policy scholar, your research is sound and I approve this message.

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