Being a Single Mum Doesn’t Make Me a Tragic Hero

When I first heard Kelly Clarkson’s powerful song, “Piece by Piece,” I groaned. As I listened to her beautiful voice I could appreciate her strong feelings, but it’s yet another voice in the prevailing chorus telling the story of an absent dad and the tragedy of being a single mum. I get that Kelly is singing about a childhood experience spent wondering about a father’s love, and I’m not criticizing her for that. It’s just that I am a single mum, and this story that gets told all the time about how tragic it all is, is not my story. Even though I know that my story isn’t universal either, I’m willing to bet there are people who can relate.

We single mums are often characterised as brave, heroic, or inspirational, above any criticism lobbed our way because what we’re doing is so hard, the work of two. The whispered or unspoken subtext of that is that we have been abandoned by our “men,” which must have been so devastating; and yet, we soldier on.


This is so not what happened to me, or who I am as a single mum, or what my story is. The reason I got pregnant was because me and my partner at the time were recklessly not using contraception. My daughter was not born of immaculate conception. It was two grown-ups, unprepared to be parents, not in a long-term relationship, who knew better, making a baby, and not on purpose. Real heroes, let me tell ya.

One of the ways people like to treat me as if I’m Saint Leslie is by affirming that I made the “right choice” when I decided to become a single mum. Hear me now, people: I am adamantly pro-choice. I didn’t choose an abortion because I very much wanted to have my baby. However, I absolutely respect any woman’s right to choose how to handle an unintended pregnancy. I know people who’ve made the choice to have an abortion, and I have the utmost respect for them. I uniquely understand what it means to find yourself unprepared to have a child, so I don’t appreciate it when pro-life people congratulate me on keeping her.  Like, do you even know me? The word “feminist” is in my Facebook bio.

After our daughter was born, her father and I decided to be loving, involved co-parents, to work as a team, and to contribute as equally as we could manage to raising our daughter — just not as a couple. Not exactly the stuff of deep drama, is it?  We’re way more Disney Jr. than we are Lifetime Channel. Even though we live far away from each other, her father visits often. We involve each other in important decisions. We have a good relationship with each other’s families. We are polite, kind, and respectful of the other’s time and wishes. We also let little things go and forgive easily. We both financially contribute, and our main priority is our daughter. Nobody has abandoned anybody.

So now that I’ve been a parent for a little while, what challenges have I faced as a single mom? Honestly, I can’t think of a single one that I wouldn’t have faced if I were married. Have I changed more nappys, made more meals, cleaned up more, done more doctor’s appointments? Sure, but here’s the thing about that…

I’m not keeping score.  I absolutely love being a mum, even with all the work that goes into it. I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: It is my absolute joy and purpose to be a mum. If this was a mistake, it’s the best one I ever made. When people act like they’re “sad,” that I have to go through this and it’s so hard or something, it’s just so far removed from my reality. It makes me feel like they’re looking down on me, or pity me, when this is the happiest I’ve ever been. And hello! My kid is awesome!

Of course, sometimes I’m exhausted as a single mum, but I also have plenty of help.  I know it’s not exactly cool or super grown-up, but I live with my mum and step-dad and I love it. They are incredibly kind and generous.  I mean, trust me, it’s not like they do all my work or anything.  I still do 97 percent of the parenting around here, but they are happy to help feed her a meal once in a while. They will watch her for me when I’m in the shower or working. They will pick her up from preschool if I need them to. And, they spoil my daughter endlessly. There are three adults around here to one baby, and we all get along great. This is to say nothing of the huge extended family nearby, or her army of “aunties,” my best friends who are a huge support to me.

To sum up, I have built-in babysitters and an abundance of family resources. I have only one healthy child. I get to work from home. Tragic, right?

Of course, now that I’m a single mum, my social life’s not what it once was. It’s BETTER!

I love doing kid stuff. I worked with kids for years, and I’ve never been one to sit on the sidelines. As soon as I had my daughter, I went out and found an amazing group of mum friends. We do fun things together, with and without our kids, all the time. We celebrate each other’s birthdays. We have girl’s nights out. We do play dates almost once a week at each other’s houses or go to a La Leche League meeting. We go to our amazing local children’s museum, or the trampoline park.

What about traveling? I have taken multiple trips with my daughter, and she’s not even 2-years-old yet.  We’ve been coast-to-coast on holidays, and taken long road trips. I even brought her with me to live at the summer camp I work at for three months. I love travelling with her. I honestly think I travel more with her than I did before I had her because so many of our friends around the country have wanted to spend time with her.

I just get such a kick out of my daughter who is cute and precious and hilarious. She is going to run the world one day, and yes, for all of you who think I’m bragging, I swear to you it’s not all shiny roses. She threw three INSANE, irrational, borderline violent temper tantrums today. I refuse to take her to Walmart or a restaurant until she’s 4, and she poos more than any of the kids I nannied ever did (and no it does not just seem like it).

Also, as wonderfully fulfilled and contented as I am in motherhood, let me assure you, I’m still in many ways a total jerk. I do things I’m not proud of on the regular. I yell. I put things off. I spend too much time on my phone. I’m late. I’m far from a perfect mum. I bribe her with screen time and chocolate chips and chicken nuggets like the best of them.

There are definitely times I could use another pair of hands. But to be perfectly frank, when I hear about some of the challenges my married friends face as parents, it makes me question who really has it harder. If marriage is the amount of work they say it is, I’m not sure I’m cut out for that job.

I get it though. I’m not gonna pretend I don’t know why people see single mums as amazing (we are mums after all). I know that the reason there’s a prevailing story about single motherhood being dark and tragic is because historically it has been. There are real roots to that truth, and I would never dismiss the stories of women who are less fortunate than me and are working even harder to raise their children. I just want more stories about being a single mum out there. I want people to view us as more than an unfortunate series of events. We aren’t all sad all the time, I promise. As great as it is for some people, I don’t need a man to relish in domestic bliss. Single mums find as much joy in our children — and in our lives — as married mums do.

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Photo: Getty