On congratulating single mothers.

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Clearly, I have never been a single mother. I do not know what it is like to raise a child by myself. I can’t even imagine the stress of trying to coordinate a job and raise a family singlehandedly, yet still have time to care for yourself. In fact, I’m pretty sure many single mothers end up not caring for themselves in the way they should for the sake of the children they love. And for that, I respect them wholeheartedly. It is beautiful and honourable to give more of yourself than the maximum out of love, and to keep on giving. In a world where it is easy enough to get an abortion instead of keeping a child, I respect how hard a decision it must be carry on with pregnancy knowing that it will completely usurp your plans,  especially if you are aware that you will be raising the child alone.

Having said that, I am alarmed by what I see as a trend, especially in the black community of congratulating, particularly young single mothers, in a way that seems to ignore the fact that frankly, many of them have made poor life choices.  The mainstream media definitely demonises working class single mothers, but in the black sub-culture, there definitely does seem to be a congratulatory tone.  Now, I know many of you are going to scream and wail and call me judgemental, and ask me ‘what are you doing to help people though?’. To which I would respond, firstly, I am not intending to be judgemental, so hear me out, and secondly, this a blog, not a political think tank, I do not claim to have all the solutions.

To clarify, there are as many different types of ‘single’ mothers as there are ‘single’ mothers, and each woman has her own unique story. A woman who was married for years and then divorced, or a woman who has a child in a long term relationship that breaks down is not really what I mean when I say ‘single mother’. So to be clear, I’m not talking about women who were married or in common law relationships, or widowed and  are now left to raise children. I’m talking about women, who for whatever reason end up having a child or multiple with men that are not their long term partners.

Although this may sound harsh, having a baby outside of wedlock is a choice. Generally outside of horrible circumstances such as rape, it is not something that ‘happens’ to you, it is not an ‘accident’, it is not in the hands of the gods, it is a choice. Some of you who live in America, will be reading this and thinking ‘but what about access to healthcare, poverty, planned parenthood etc?’. To which I would say yes, I agree, it is unfair to castigate working class women for getting pregnant when they cannot afford access to contraception and the morning after pill etc in the same way that middle class woman can. In America, conservative politicians often berate unwed single mothers while at the same time voting through policies that deny them access to healthcare that would aid them in making more informed and safer choices.

However, in the UK, although there are massive healthcare disparities that need to be dealt with, in general, healthcare is free, contraception is definitely free if you earn under a certain wage bracket, and abortions are also free. So at several points along the path to pregnancy, you have access to choices that mean you won’t have to live with the consequences of a child outside of wedlock. If you’re forgetful, there’s a intrauterine device that can remain inside of you for 5 years. If you don’t like the idea of hormones there’s non-hormonal contraception. I mean, there’s really a lot of things to come between you and pregnancy. Despite that, teenage pregnancy is on the rise across black and white communities, and well over 50% of black children are born into single parent households. Although being born into a single parent household doesn’t predestine you to a poor quality of life by any means (I’m not really going to linger on statistics about poverty, education etc) , it is not ideal for a child to be born into a single parent household. It can be done, and it can be done well, but it is definitely not ideal.

So why then, has it almost become a badge of honour to be a single mother? You are shocked. It is obvious, you gasp. It is because of how much work is involved. It is because it takes great strength of character. It is because it takes levels of unselfishness some of us will never know. And I tend to agree.

At the same time though, I think we are in danger of painting having a child at a young age out of wedlock as something that automatically makes you worthy of praise – and I am very uncomfortable with that. I admire anyone who makes the best of what is a circumstance that is not ideal, but it doesn’t make sense to me that choosing a situation for yourself that is not ideal, and then continuing life in that situation, is therefore a cause for congratulation. If anything, congratulations are due to children who grow up in these households and defy the statistics, because they have managed to deal exceptionally well with a hand that they did not choose for themselves.

I think part of the reason why the rates of teenage pregnancy and the rates of pregnancy unwed single women are is that black working class culture no longer stigmatises these things, (although the wider culture does still attach stigma to it) and I’m not sure if that shift in thinking has been positive for our community. The sad thing is, that the rates of pregnancy are not highest in women of middle class backgrounds who are better able to provide, but in poorer communities. I’m sure there are a myriad of reasons for this, and that’s probably worth another post. The bottom line is, I’m torn between admiration for single mothers in some sense, but also a fear that this is becoming far too much of an acceptable life choice in our community.

What do you guys think? Is it a good thing that there is no longer a stigma attached to having a child outside of wedlock? Is there a culture of congratulating single mothers?

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