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The politics of single motherhood

Isolation is an often overlooked source of emotional stress

by Leslie Miller, LICSW  |  3122 views  |  2 comments  |        Rate this now! 

It is well-known that single mothers may suffer from increased economic hardship after divorce.  Living on one income and paying for child-care and extra household help contribute to the overall decrease in the standard of living for single mothers in the US.  What many people fail to understand is that in addition to the economic stressors placed on single-mothers, social isolation is prevalent and another source of emotional stress for single mothers.  In many regards, society pays lip service to the plight of the single mother, while culturally we marginalize this group through social isolation.

In the aftermath of a divorce, a single mother is regarded quite differently than a divorced male.  He is once again an “eligible” sought-after bachelor in a society that has decided that there are not enough “good men” to go around.  A divorced woman, and most especially a single mother, is frequently regarded as a tragic figure, someone for whom finding love again could be likened to winning the lottery.

Friendships and family relationships change as well.  Married friends often disappear, due at least in part to their discomfort with the new marital and social status of their formerly married friend. Women frequently report that almost immediately following a divorce, the world perceives them differently, and they feel that they are treated differently by friends, family, and society in general.  Ask a single mother what it is like to attend a holiday or family event without a spouse/partner -- the response is overwhelming negative.  Emotions range anywhere from moderate to extreme discomfort, due to the way they believe they are perceived by their married counterparts. 

There is the perception that all single mothers will experience financial hardship, have difficulty with their children, and are lonely without a partner.  Often, this is very far from reality.  Many single mothers are raising children who are thriving, while living active, healthy, and fulfilling lives on their own.

Communication of these attitudes is subtle, and is often expressed as an attempt to empathize with the plight of the single mother. General statements that are negative in nature and imply a compromised lifestyle because of marital status may come across as judgmental to some.  Single mothers also report that they are judged differently than their counterparts when it comes to having a career, owning property and child rearing. The assumption that divorce is always negative and that children will suffer adversity should be re-visited.  Recent studies have shown that, contrary to the popular belief that married people are always happier and healthier than their single counterparts, the quality of the marital relationship is the true indicator for overall satisfaction and health (Lunsted-Holt, Ph.D, et al., Annals of Behavioral Medicine, March 20, 2008).  The same is true for children growing up in an unhappy home.  Kids who are living with a single parent who is happy fare better than those in a two-parent home wrought with conflict.

About the Author

Ms. Miller is a parenting and relationship coach at

Read more by Leslie Miller, LICSW

2 comments so far...

  • Hello Leslie: Your article is both refreshing and true in every essence. I left the father of my two beautiful and remarkable daughters to escape his abusive, narcissistic and controlling poison. I didn't leave because I was too lazy to resolve conflict or forgive for past mistakes - it was truly necessary to have an emotionally bright future other than one with a white straight jacket and mind numbing medication. I raised our children for 10 years at home while he grew a very successful business. I went back into the work force and experienced exactly what you refer to in the professional world - a few true friends remain and my family has exited stage left due to their beliefs that once married with children - you stay no matter what. At the age of 43 I continue to pursue a what I hope will be successful career and do so without resources and can honestly say that despite not knowing how I will pay the bills from one day to the next I am a stronger person and positive role model for my children who are loved and supported. It's not an act of a marter - simply put I love them to bits and have committed to ensuring they have a future with people in their lives who treat them with respect and dignity.

    It's a shame that society doesn't respect the strength and courage it takes to start all over again and endure the road blocks that pop up at the worst possible time. I suppose you really have to experience it first hand to be void of the ignorace that allows one to cast judgement with ease.

    I commend all women who have made the choice to put themselves and children first and maintain the strength and courage to aciheve thier respective goals, dreams and fulfill their responsibilities to family and community. We all wake up in the middle of the night with worries - to do it on your own and maintain positive momentum is essentially at the opposite end of a scale that is incapable of measuring the benefits for personal self development/fulfillment when you finally reach that night when you wake up after a full nights sleep - and your fabulous children have made you a coffee just the way you don't like it and remind you why you find the strength to move on - and look forward the day when your personal adventure becomes an experience that allows you to have sympathy for those who once judged you (and possibly made you feel like your choice could be a "possible" error....after all they do have all the material things in life that provide comfort and they get to be there when the kids come home from school....and the house has a pool.....all of which was once mine....hmmm) can't see or relate to any other than what they know and make them feel cofortable.

    I would rather be in my "will do for now" apartment and an overwhelming amount of responsibilities than be owned by someone or a society that has accepted me because "I'm just like them".....

    Thank you for your time and best wishes to all -

    p.s. do you every post information on how to deal with narcissitic ex's who are negatively impacting the childrens development in self esteem/confidence? I know the narcisstic one is a complicated species but I would welcome and appreciate any information or advise.


    Flag as inappropriate Posted by SarahS on 13th July 2008

  • The social isolation was a topic over lunch this week and we saw that the key promoters were other women-particularly stay at home moms. Initially after divorce there is some support from women (outside of your closest friends). As a working woman you might find you have more in common with the working husbands rather than the stay at home wives-once you begin to recover from the divorce and begin to date-you are viewed a potential husband stealing threat...the invitations to family centered activities, barbecues etc. evaporate. For the record, I'm not interested in anyone's husband but i would like my child to have opportunities to interact with other families.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Zicci on 12th July 2008