Since divorcing my children’s father, I have been fortunate to date some really nice men. In the end, none of them yet has been right for me, but I am really happy to report that most of my experiences have been good. Invariably, though, in each dating relationship there came a moment where the fact that I am a “single mom” (actually, I’m a single co-parent, but that term hasn’t quite yet worked its way into everyday conversation) became important for him to address. Usually, it went something like this: “Well, you know, the fact that you’re a mom doesn’t bother me.”
I don’t remember asking him if it did matter that I was a mom. I guess I had already assumed that it didn’t bother him, or else we wouldn’t have gotten as far as we had yet. But he had to say it. What’s going on here? I’ve asked all of them why they would say such a thing, and here’s what I have been able to figure out: in general, men think that they are special or exceptional if they are willing to date single moms. In particular, they think the fact that they are willing to date a single mom is a sign that they are exceptionally altruistic or unselfish. In other words, dating a single mom makes a man a hero. Just being a normal boyfriend is heroic when you’re dating a single mom. Huh.
I have begun to be bothered by this statement. It’s especially irritating when it doesn’t come after the guy has asked me a lot of questions about my experience as a parent, how I think it affects my relationships, whether or not being a single parent is harder or easier than being married parent (easier, in my case), and how I see a future partner fitting into my role as a parent. And, you know what? It is always irritating because it never follows those kinds of questions. While every man I have ever dated had to make sure that I knew that, unlike the other guys, he was willing to take on the burden of a single mom, he has never taken a single second to figure out what parenting means to me, how it affects my life, or how it would affect his if we were to walk further down this road together.
Nope, all of the meaning of me being a single parent seems to be understood, in advance, with no need to explain. . . unlike my tastes in food, my favorite vacation spots, what I do for work, what I think about Vladimir Putin, what my Myers-Briggs personality test says about me, and so on. In fact, the meaning seems to be decided in advance and is centered in HIM: the fact that I’m a single mom, and that he’s dating me, means that he is a hero.
Perhaps this seems a bit harsh, but I have already said that these were some good men. I really mean it. But I think that guys are missing something important, and missing the opportunity to really be a hero in a single mom’s life and for single moms everywhere.
First, the reason that being a single mom is so hard is because we live in a society that doesn’t value (feminine) care activity and rewards (masculine) financially productive activity. If you have to do all of the caregiving and all of the money-making for your family, you are going to face some challenges. It’s hard. But making things hard for single parents is the result of choices that we’ve made as a society, assuming a different model of the family. This isn’t the natural order of events or anything. Yet, even though the family has changed drastically over the years, we keep making these choices, despite the sometimes dire consequences for single parents and their children (and married, dually-employed couples with children, too).
Second, if you want to be a hero in a single mom’s life, don’t make any assumptions about what it means to be a single mom. Throw out the dumb movies about single moms, stop reading the ridiculous newspaper columns and blog posts about them, and ask her questions about her experience and don’t decide what you think about it until you’ve done this. In other words, treat her like a real human and not like an object that you already know everything about. You know, like you would probably do with every other woman that you’ve ever dated, because you’re a good man.
Third, don’t think you’re a hero because you are willing to date a single mom. You’re just being a normal, decent person who recognizes that most adults are complex and busy people and that there are some social structures that make single parenting especially difficult. “Taking on the burden” of dating a single mom means that you’re taking responsibility for the social mess we’re in. You know, like a normal and decent person should be willing to do, in general. That isn’t heroic. Or at least it shouldn’t be!
Finally, if you really want to be a hero and rescue a single mom (or millions of them), then dedicate yourself to transforming the social conditions that make being a single parent so hard. Demand increased funding for social programs that aid parents in making the transition back into the workforce…especially if they’ve left it to care for children, and then found themselves divorced and lacking marketable skills. Demand increased levels of funding for TANF, SNAP, WIC, Head Start, and the CCDBG. Demand that employers take responsibility for their part in ensuring that tomorrow’s employees are well cared-for today: flexible schedules, paid parental leave, adequate paid sick leave, health care benefits, and so on. In other words, if you want a single mom to think you’re a hero, then do something that will change the fact that single moms face unfair challenges. And what woman wouldn’t think that was hot?
Originally published on March 25th, 2014 on The Good Men Project by Katherine Logan.
Author—Katherine Logan is a Ph.D. candidate in Philosophy and a Master’s of Public Administration candidate, specializing in social and political philosophy and policy analysis. Originally from the Chicago area, she is a single parent to two children and lives in Burlington, Vermont.