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While many parents were posting photos of their kid’s return to school on Tuesday, I was sounding off on Twitter about yet another round of parenting articles I swear are written solely to watch me cringe. (My daughter is nearly three — a September baby — and won’t be starting school until next year.)
I was irked by The Atlantic’s post on what they labelled “The Mysterious and Alarming Rise of Single Parenthood in America.”
The dek (subtitle, if you’re not a magazine nerd) of the article was, “Single parents have more than tripled as a share of American households since 1960. It’s a huge problem without an easy explanation.” While I’m sure the writer had good intentions of exposing and protecting the economic needs of single moms, what this heading looked like to me was a horror movie-esque, “They’re coming! Hordes of single moms take over America! Where are they coming from and what do they look like? Where should we run, or how can we get rid of them?” By saying the new stats are “alarming” and “a huge problem, ” the article is blaming single moms from the get-go. What are they worried about? The end of family values and traditional family structures? Babies born out of wedlock? Well, yes.
What this article and these stats don’t account for are moms who are single by choice (as I was when I had my daughter), or gay and lesbian families. And it didn’t talk about why these women are single. In most cases, it takes two to make a single mom, and yet there is almost no mention of fathers who bail on their partners. I’m also tired of hearing “single-parent households” and “dual-income families,” because single parent-led families are families, too.
For more on Tara-Michelle Ziniuk’s journey to parenthood, read: Single mom, donor dad: An unconventional pregnancy story >
I should also mention that single-parent families are becoming more common in Canada, too, with an eight percent increase between 2006 and 2011. More and more of these single parents are fathers, Statistics Canada says, but eight out of 10 single parents are still mothers.
My experiences as a single pregnant woman, and as a new single mom, were interesting. I don’t present as the take-charge career woman in her late 30s or early 40s who decides to have babies on her own (in the movies, this character is usually played by Jennifer Aniston or Jennifer Lopez). I also don’t think I appear as the negative stereotype our society has of the young single mom (though I’m loathe to reinforce that stereotype). I don’t even necessarily get read as queer in many contexts. When I’d tell people (nosy strangers, medical practitioners) that I was on my own, I always assumed they thought I had a boyfriend who ditched me, or a one-night stand who didn’t know I’d gotten pregnant. Then there was always a moment of pause, when I could decide what and how much to tell them, or just let them assume. It was an odd decision: choosing which stereotypes I wanted to defy and to whom. I could be defensive, or I could be honest, and I could be vulnerable to their opinions on my circumstances.
I generally think of The Atlantic as geared toward a thinking, intellectual reader of politics and culture. When publications like this one are regurgitating the same misconceptions and stereotypes, while diminishing the experience (and amazing capabilities) of single moms — even with the best of intentions — I’m inclined to think we still have a long way to go.
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