Single Mothers- are they an exception?

The case for single mothers challenges the women’s movement to address several issues at once since we make single mothers experience them all

A-The rights of women to not have gender determine their salary. The recognition of equal pay for work of equal value, so women and men are treated equally.

B-the rights of women to have dignity for whatever work they choose to d .

C.-the rights of women to marry or not, have children or not and if they have children, to decide how to raise them

D -the rights of children, need for attachment, consistency and love.  Children have the right to be raised in the language and culture of their birth, and to have the same loving caregivers and consistency.

However we have contorted these rights discussions.

We have argued that all mothers deserve paid jobs, and that they deserve state-run childcare so they can get that equal pay with men (A), get that dignity ( B), have the state tend their children (C) so they and have the state provide the caregivers (D)

Those arguments themselves are not consistent.

A. If women are equal to men, they also should be equal in status to other women. Women with paid income are not better than women at home who are caregivers. Both choices involve genuine vital other-centred work. We should look at two types of gender equality not just one.

B. If women really can choose any career as feminist warriors, then why not caregiver? Why have we excluded that as valuable?

C. If women really can choose having children or not, why have we penalized it in tax codes?  Why is there so little recognition that there is a cost to raise a child, that children reduce ability to pay tax, and that those who raise children are vital to the economy sustainability long term?

D. If we really let people choose how to raise children, then why do we permit governments to only fund one style? That is not equality. 


The case has been made that single mothers are a dramatic case of the NEED for the state to fund childcare away from the parent.  We are told these mothers are in dire straits, have no choice, have to have that paid job and earn that money so they need the state to take care of their children.

This emotional plea for these desperate women in poverty or for these highly skilled career women who want to use their skills and need someone to tend the child tug at the heartstrings for sure. But they are dealing with situations where the only one option answer – daycare – is not the only fair option.

We have let our view be constricted as if single parents do not deserve the full range of rights or options. We have let the state create a situation where a single mother is not allowed to be home with the child.  She is forced to leave, by divorce law and by tax law.  We did that to her. We labelled and demeaned her.  Why would she not be able to enjoy the 4 rights too?  Let’s look again at those four rights.

A -a mother at home is treated the same as a father at home, poorly.  There is a kind of gender equality, of being both treated as not functioning in the economy.  That is demeaning. But we make it even more stigmatizing for the single mother because she is socially treated with scorn, as if not even trying to do paid work. She is socially viewed by some as a welfare bum, a sloth.  So we stigmatize single mothers  doubly  if they are home with their child.

 B- the rights of women to have dignity for whatever work they choose to do .  We let the state say in theory any mother can be home with the baby and it is not illegal to do so, but we penalize it financially. She gets no salary, and no work-related holiday or pension or sick leave benefits. She  gets little financial means to make her ‘choice’ to be home with the child. She is in practice  forced to not be home in order to provide for the child. We have created a tax system that deprives her of dignity and real  choice.

C.- Many women’s rights advocates wanted a system where marital status is irrelevant . People are paid based on the value of their paid work, not on who lives with them or their relationships. And yet by this policy to not discriminate, we have discriminated.  Its  effect is to ignore relevant information. It may be as cheap to live married as single if you never move to a bigger place to live and never eat differently for two than for one.  But logically marriage or cohabitation end up more costly than living alone.  If children are added to the picture  it is not logical to think costs stay the same. The costs of housing, food, clothing, transportation, education go up.   In that way a person’s household configuration actually is relevant. If their income is spread over more than themselves, if two or three are sharing it, then it is vastly different budget-wise than if there is only one person.   If in the tax system we don’t recognize the huge costs of raising a child, we have by our failure to notice this, discriminated against it. We have penalized having children by not adjusting taxes for those raising them. And for single parents when we require them to pay all those bills without help from another adult that in marriage is common, we have forced them into poverty.  When we said we would just let people decide about marriage as a personal decision, we ignored the fact that when there is only one adult not two to take care of the child, this is a huge stressor on lone shoulders. We have put single parents in a lose -lose situation.  They can go out and earn so they avoid poverty but have to leave the child, or they can  be home tending the child but be in dire poverty.  Most parents are in this dilemma somewhat but single parents we have put in this dilemma by force. It need not be so. 

D  We have said that all kids deserve loving care. Yet we have specifically set up a system where kids in the care of those who actually do love them, get no funding. So having in theory no bias because we let any child go to the state- run daycare, we have shown bias because we in effect forced going there.  We forced being away from loving care by family. We have done this for all children but for children of single parents the rights deprivation is even worse. When one parent left, this already was a huge blow to the child. After that, the state’s contribution to the situation was to force the remaining parent to leave also.  We have knocked out from under the child, a key leg on the remaining footstool. In terms of what is best for the child’s stable world ,we added crisis.

With single mothering we see the canary in the coal mine, the real heart of what we are doing wrong

when we only value care of children in 3rd party care.

We must examine the rhetoric being used in discussions about single mothers.   We must look closely at how we are letting the system define ‘work’ for us, define’ childcare’ for us and define’ choice’ for us.

We are told that  single mothers need daycare, that they lack childcare.  And yet, a person with a child does not lack childcare. They ARE childcare.  It is a contortion of the language that we only call it childcare if commercially operated.   It is like a person surrounded by groceries saying they have no food.

A person needs choices, yes. But the dilemma is not between to ‘work or parent’ as some claim.

Most parents say they parent. Few would say they never parent, even when they are at paid work. They usually conceive of it as part of parenting- of financial support.  But that is not the only type of support kids need. They also need direct care.  So the dilemma is not to work or not  work – since it is work either way. It is not whether to parent or not since they are all parenting.

We are told single parents need the choice of 3rd party care. But there are other choices and obligations. There is no choice involved after you give birth about the legal obligation to tend the child or you will be charged with abandonment or  neglect.   We have created a situation where a person already has an obligation to be with the child and then we have pressured them not to be.

Some claim that a single mother is stuck at home in dire poverty because no one will rescue her from her child so that can earn. However that image is hurtful to the child.  The choice should be whether to be with the child affordably or to be away from the child affordably.

If we really valued women’s full agency to decide, and really valued what the  parent feels is best for their child and their lifestyle- we would ensure all parents and all children were funded for the full range of options about how to raise the child.  Home, sitter, nanny, daycare, parental care, grandparent care. If money flowed with the child and did not go directly and only to the childcare centre, we’d enable real choice.  We’d enable choice that empowered even single parents and gave them also the full range of options.

The funding would come from social support for the care role, universal birth bonus, universal maternity, paternity and parental benefits, and benefits per child to age 18. With tax options like income splitting and household based tax, and with pensions for the caregiving years the person who chose to be home with a child would not also be forced to be poor. The single parent would not be deprived of options.

When governments support ‘childcare’ they should be supporting care of the child, period, with money flowing to the parents who then decide what style of childcare to use.  The parents can then assign this money.

What we need to do as gutsy feminist advocates is to point out that all parents have costs of children’s care. The ones with the highest costs are often not just those who pay high daycare fees to some centre (even at $1500 a month) but also the ones who forego job salary and get no funding from the state to offset this- loss of an entire minimum wage salary could be at least $2500 a month. So who are the poor here?

Single mothers deserve the full range of options that married mothers have. There should be no policies that really mean they don’t deserve time with their child. That treats single mothers as second class by definition. If they want to be with the child, fund that.

Kids deserve the presence of the parent as much as the parent wants to give it. The wishes of the child and the wishes of the parent should be paramount. It should not be about money  or marital status at all.

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