Single, Unwed Mothers: Still Taboo?
Recently, I took up the task of planning a baby shower for my sister. She’s an intelligent young woman pursuing her B.A. in Psychology at Temple University, and at 24 this will be her first child with her long-time boyfriend whom she’s been with since they met in high school. Initially the boyfriend’s aunt offered her church recreational room as the venue, but a week later she reneged on the offer, giving the reason that the couple was not married.
Whether it was the aunt’s decision or that of the church’s pastor is unknown, but my sister decided she no longer wanted that particular aunt invited to the shower considering her sudden disapproval. Their tiff made me wonder, how much have societal norms really evolved? Are unwed mothers respected by today’s society, or simply tolerated?
Indulging a guilty pastime last week, I was trolling through a popular blog. I came across a story on a reality TV star who at 39 was celebrating her second child with a baby shower. The story was to showcase the exuberance of the event, but shit went left in the comment section. Some commenters referred to the woman as a gold-digger given her popular reality TV “storyline,” and despite her being engaged to her baby’s father others dragged her for being an unwed mother at 39 years old. Some considered her situation to be low-class, while others insisted that it is simply a poor choice for any woman to have a child out of wedlock.
Whether divorced or never married, in today’s society a huge percentage of homes are sustained by single mothers. In fact, many successful women are intentionally opting for sole parenthood, as living single agrees with them or they have not yet found the right man to marry but don’t want to wait for kids. Many of us have dreams of love, marriage and a beautiful baby carriage (in that order), but things don’t always go according to plan. Even if we have a plan, life has a way of teaching us how little we control how that plan plays out. Let us not forget that before chivalry began to fade to black, many couples got married because of a pregnancy. The baby-boomer generation is a prime example of people fleeing stigmas by running to the altar before the woman started to show and the man was shipped off to war.
Personally, I would love to find the right man, settle down, get married and start a family in the “traditional” way of doing things. At 27 years old and having been single forever, that plan has yet to come into play. I consider myself a catch—beautiful, intelligent, employed, and of course loving, but what men want and what I have to offer has proven unequal in my experience. That said, if I decided to adopt or conceive through artificial insemination would I be denied use of a church annex to fellowship in honor of a new God-given life? Would I be shunned from participation in certain ceremonies because I welcomed the privilege of caring for and raising a child on my own?
I was talking to a coworker one day about her wedding and some of the issues that arose during the planning. A big one was when she would not allow her husband’s sister (her future sister-in-law) to be a bridesmaid because she had a child out of wedlock. She and her fiancé were members of a religious group that I will not name, but my co-worker justified her decision based on her religion’s man-made rules on how followers are to conduct themselves. Although her husband and other family members insisted that the sister be included, my coworker would not be moved into agreement. This caused a permanent rift between her and her husband’s family that she refuses to take responsibility for. She defended herself and her religion to me by saying, “If [the sister] would have followed the rules it wouldn’t have been an issue.” The big question I left unasked was, did my co-worker and her husband really refrain from premarital sex? Surely they must have been virgins before their nuptials, right? After all, those are biblical standards as well. The fact that you did not happen to get pregnant does not make you grandeur.
The phrase coined from Matthew 7:1 comes to mind—judge not lest ye be judged. I agree that some aspects of today’s lifestyles may be controversial, but what gives any woman the right to judge another woman’s life decisions? Suffrage and women’s liberation have come a long way, and black women continue to fight at least three times as hard for our due respect. Yet it seems that many of us have not fully accepted that every mother’s situation does not mirror that of another’s.
An unwed single mother with one child, a divorced mother of two, a never-married single mother of three children with different fathers: these are hollow synopses of motherhood. At the end of much debate over the subject, what remains in jeopardy is the label placed on the child, and how they become affected by how we categorize their mothers. In 2014, instead of making single mamas everlasting pariahs, it’s time for some of us to check ourselves and consider how we can be part of the solution instead of spiraling stereotypes.
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