Single Mothers vs. Married Moms: Which Group Deserves More Credit?
*In the wee hours of the morning, there’s nothing more distinct than the sound of an infant crying.
During these moments, married moms occasionally stay in bed while their husbands change diapers, sing lullabies and heat bottles of milk. Single mothers often don’t have this luxury.
In most cases, they’re the sole providers for their offspring and even small periods of uninterrupted downtime are few and far between.
Around 45 percent of American single mothers have never married, and 55 percent are divorced, separated or widowed. Half have one child, 30 percent have two. About two thirds are White, one third Black, and one quarter are Hispanic. One quarter have a college degree, yet one sixth have not completed high school.
“I think there should be a special holiday for us,” said Los Angeles resident Tamika Washington. “We work hard. I have three kids and I raise them on my own with no help from a man. When I need some rest, I take them to my mother’s house; but that’s hardly ever. "Other mothers who have men in their lives should count their blessings. They have it easy compared to what we go through.”
Once largely limited to poor women and minorities, single motherhood is now becoming the new “norm.” This prevalence is due in part to the growing trend of children born outside marriage. About 4 out 10 children are born to unwed mothers. Nearly two-thirds are born to mothers under the age of 30.
“I don’t have a helpmate at home; I have to be a mother and father to my kids,” explained Atlanta resident Edna Johnson. “Single moms have to work twice as hard; that’s the bottom line. If we don’t, the whole family suffers. My boys—and I have four of them—will need me for the rest of their lives. I probably won’t get a break until I’m six feet under,” she added laughing.
Today, more women are embracing the idea of raising children without help. The number of single-mother households increased from three million in 1970 to 15 million in 2013. There are now 6.1 million black single mothers compared to 3.8 million single Hispanic mothers.
According to government statistics, 72 percent of African American youth are born to single mothers. If this number continues to grow—and experts contend that it might—future generations will represent a radical change in the traditional family structure.
“Most of the well-developed adults, especially men, I’ve met who have grown up without their fathers recount with fondness the relationship they had and lessons they learned from their mothers,” movie director Kobie Brown told theGrio in an email. He created the 2012 documentary “From Fatherless to Fatherhood” to address the impact that single-parent homes are having in the black community.
“I firmly believe that a good parent is defined by his or her ability and unyielding desire to provide a child with the tools—food, shelter, education, and emotional, intellectual and spiritual development—to ensure the best outcomes for that child’s life.”
Being a single parent comes with many challenges. However, women in this category shouldn’t be awarded special recognition or placed on a pedestal, says Arca Houston.
“In my eyes, there are only two kinds of parents: good ones and bad ones,” she explained. “My job as a mother doesn’t change because I’m married. That’s a flawed argument.”
She added, “I have a husband who spends the majority of his time at work. I’m the primary caregiver to our children; it’s been that way since they were born. "When my husband comes home, he has to be fed and taken care of just like my kids do; I rarely get time to relax.”
According to analysis by the Pew Research Center, married mothers in 2013 spent almost twice as much time with their children as fathers did (13.5 hours a week). Single mothers spent 20.7 hours with their children. Over a one year span, this number stretches to 1040 total hours of parenting.
“The reason why most black women are single mothers is because they make dumb decisions to get that way,” says Shalonda Wade. “A lot of these young girls have babies by different men; it’s impossible to be a good mother under these conditions; and of course the road will be a little tougher.
“Just because you’re married doesn’t mean raising children becomes any less difficult,” she continued. “It’s actually harder because of all the extra cooking and cleaning you have to do.”
Wade added, “There are plenty of single moms who leave their children at daycare all day long or with a family member all weekend. "That’s hardly good parenting. Most of my family lives in other parts of the country; I can’t leave my children with anyone.”
There are other variables to consider when comparing single mothers to those who are married, says Houston. “I know moms whose kids are handicapped [sic] and they need extra attention. It doesn’t matter what kind of mother you are–caring for a disabled child is tedious work. What about married women who do that every day? Do they deserve more credit too?”
In addition, a household that has two full-time income earners providing financial resources for the family’s budget generally prospers more than a family with only one income. Splitting the cost of raising children has a positive effect on the mental and emotional stability of both parents, experts say.
“A mama can’t give it all. And neither can a daddy, not by themselves,” says obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Natalie Carroll. “Part of the reason is because you can only give that which you have. A mother cannot give all that a man can give. A truly involved father figure offers more fullness to a child’s life.”
Even with the help of outside sources, single mothers often encounter many challenges on their own. With very little job growth in the United States and rising costs in healthcare, gas, and other everyday necessities, single black mothers are just as stressed, if not more, than married and unmarried parents, says Rutgers University professor William M. Rodgers.
“Many [black single mothers] also have challenges due to their surroundings,” he explained, adding that more often than not, black single mothers may face an array of problems, ranging from finding suitable childcare to recovering from domestic violence.”
Single mothers earn incomes that place them well below married mothers in the income ladder. Half with an annual income less than $25,000. A recent Census Bureau report shows that in 2012, the median income for families led by a single mother ($25,493) is only one third the median for married couple families ($81,455). Only one third of single mothers receive any child support, and the average amount these mothers receive is only about $400 a month.
“Certainly, it’s clear that women under these circumstances have a great deal of additional constraints and difficulties,” explained writer and sociologist Jason Fields, “It’s well understood that married parents have the support and resources that may make life easier in some respects.”
There are a number of government programs available to help ease the stress of raising children alone. However, gaining access to these resources is an uphill battle, says Johnson.
“I don’t even qualify for county aid; I apparently make too money,” she explained disgusted. “I know plenty of single women who couldn’t get help even if they wanted it.”
Two fifths of all single mothers receive food stamps. Among children with single mothers in the US, 41 percent get food stamps and 59 percent don’t.
Although two fifths of all single mothers are poor, only one tenth of all single mothers receive TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). Although a small percentage, they represent more than 90% of all TANF families.
Even for those who did receive assistance, the amount was far less than the minimum they’d need to stave off hardship – like hunger, homelessness, and utility cut-offs.
A recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that more than 80 percent of black single mothers have completed high school–an achievement that not only can aid them in raising families but one that goes a long way toward debunking the stereotypes of single black mothers as welfare queens and drug abusers, explains New America Media.
Although studies are beginning to suggest that children are capable of thriving under single parent households, the general consensus remains in favor of the traditional two parent family structure. A Pew Research Center poll reports that nearly 7 in 10 Americans think single mothers are a “bad thing for society.” University of Texas law professor Lino Graglia went so far as to link minority underachievement on standardized tests to single parent households, characterizing the parents as “usually female, uneducated and without a lot of money.”
“When you’re a black and unmarried woman, solo parenting is an indictment of your self-worth and life choices,” says Salon writer Stacia L. Brown. “When you’re a married woman, taking on all the parenting responsibilities yourself makes you someone to champion.”
Parenthood is designed for both genders, but females are naturally equipped for nurturing children. All good mothers deserve to be honored and respected. However, it takes a special kind of woman to raise black children (especially if she’s doing it alone).