Ahh the labels we place on each other in society in order to categorize. Relationship statuses are used on such a common day-to-day basis, we sometimes forget or don’t really think about what they mean, and yet they carry a lot of significance and weight that we place on each other. The classification of being married of course signifies something different from being single, both in social settings and legal settings, such as rights to property and benefits, etc. They also carry different psychological implications. When there are children involved, these classification labels go even further and carry a different weight .
I am a single mother. And? what does this really mean? Of course the term implies that I have children and that I am not married. This is true. But what else does it imply? It implies that I am single in this world; on my own. It also has the subtle implications that I have failed at building the dream that we seem to create and share as a society of finding a partner and building a family of a mother and a father and having a happy life as a “normal” family unit, creating our dreams together with a separate “us against the world” sort of thought system. Or it has the subtle implications that I am going against society’s norms in having and raising kids out-of-wedlock. Both of these implications leave a subtle psychological viewpoint of looking down on the single mother, like it’s something bad or undesirable. Of course, these are only my own thoughts about society’s implications and classifications, but my thoughts are a reflection of ideas and thoughts from society. We are really one. However, these thoughts and negative connotations and implications lead us away from that truth and create thoughts of separateness. Society acknowledges it is hard to be a single mother, so offers some support through various financial programs and resources, which I very much appreciate, as it is hard! but single mothers are not really supported or acknowledged in a psychologically inclusive and supportive way. Through societies idea of separateness we are told we have to be strong and raise our kids as best we can, on our own. It is through these ideas and beliefs that what I call the Single Mother Syndrome occurs.
One of the definitions of syndrome, according to dictionary.reference.com, is “a predictable, characteristic pattern of behavior, action, etc., that tends to occur under certain circumstances.” To me, Single Mother Syndrome is the persistent thought or belief that we are separate from most of society. The thought that we have it harder than others that have a husband or wife or partner to help raise the kids. The idea that we have to be strong and make it on our own as single mothers. This leads us to use the title of single mother as an excuse, or justification, or as a reason we hold ourselves back. The Urban dictionary defines Single Mother Syndrome as “when a single mother begins to dwell on being alone for the rest of their life and starts paying more attention to men than their children.” When society is telling us that we are alone, and the “normal” thing is to have a two parent household, who wouldn’t begin to dwell on being alone for the rest of their life?”
This type of thinking leads to single mothers taking on a “victim” role, like somehow they have been “robbed”of something for themselves, and for their kids. Like somehow they/we have to “struggle” to get by because we don’t have what the rest of the country has, as if all the two parent households are doing so much better than those of us who are doing it solo. Again, that feeling of separation is also a powerful tool in thoughts of victimization and the “haves” and “have-nots.”
The other side of Single Mother Syndrome is when all these thoughts of separation and survival in the wild alone occur, many single mothers begin to take on the idea that they have to be super-strong-warrior-mamas, and that they can and will raise their kids on their own, with no help from a husband or partner…who needs them? They begin to almost shun the idea of help, or at least have a hard time accepting it if offered. Many of us convince ourselves that we are strong enough to do it on our own, and so present to the world this tough, outer shell that does not allow anyone in. Again, this creates more separation. We all need help from one another sometimes. Being open to it is key.
So what does being a single mother mean to me? I have fallen into having the Single Mother Syndrome, and have had thoughts and behavior that demonstrate both sides of my definition of that. I have found myself using the excuse that I am a single mom on many occasions. In order to tell myself I couldn’t do something, or to try to play the victim role and get sympathy, both included. Is it hard being a single mother? Hell yeah! So many times I wish I had someone here with me, fighting the fight, or enjoying the ride. Someone to talk to at night about all the crazy things the kids did with or to me. Someone to take the kids and have fun while giving me a break, maybe even a chance to shower by myself! And yes, someone to share household chores and repairs, and help with the financial stuff (I haven’t received a dime of child support from my ex in almost 7 years). I can sit and dwell on all that I do not have, which is what makes me feel separate, and puts me into that syndrome type thinking. Lately though, I have been choosing to try (and I do say try, as it is not always easy) to do something different. I have been looking at all the wonderful things I do have as a single mother. I have the opportunity to raise my kids how I want, without argument or contrary parental beliefs. I don’t have to deal with another person living here and all the extra stuff that brings (been there, done that, and though there is good stuff, there is always some extra stress as well.) I have the opportunity to reach out to the community and others for support and resources. I have had to open up beyond my family and ask for help when I need it. I remember the first time I went to the food bank I was embarrassed and ashamed, as if there was something wrong with me that I couldn’t support my children completely on my own. When I was waiting there, I began to look around. What I saw was a community. A family. A network of support. Everyone there was so friendly. The cafeteria that served hot meals was full of people of all ages and races sitting together and talking, and supporting each other. I began to realize there was no need at all to feel embarrassed. I also began to realize that in order to get out of the Single Mother Syndrome mindset I would have to begin to look differently at my definition of family. We are really all family as one in humanity. We are all here to help each other if only we will open up to each other and offer/accept that help and support. We are not really separate at all.
The biggest thing I love about being a single mother, which has nothing to do with being single, but just being a mom, is the fantastic journey I get to take with these amazing children. They are truly awesome and inspiring. I never want them to feel like they are “victims” or that they have to “struggle” on their own. I want them to know that the world is here to support them, as they are the world. I want them to be open to expanding themselves in any way they want, with or without a partner. I want them to know they are enough to make it happen, as I am enough to make it happen. I want them to go beyond definitions and labels. We are all together on this awesome adventure. To quote a good friend, “amazingness must be embraced. It will not take us unwillingly.” Let’s break out of the Single Mother Syndrome and move into the Super Mother Syndrome. Or how about the Super Human Syndrome? Or how about we just let go of the Syndrome and be Super Humans 🙂