They brought it on themselves. They had unprotected sex. They had a child to get a social grant and now they’re living off our taxes. These are just a few of the generalisations about single mothers, which is hardly fair. Most women dream about having the perfect family– whether they grew up in broken homes or behind a white picket fence. But everyone’s perfect family looks different, and many single moms are gainfully employed and have made informed decisions about having children. Welcome to the 21st century.
Parenting in South Africa
Psychology counsellor Jéan-Marie Olwage of Solo Parenting – a single parent social group – says there has been an increase in the number of women having children without spouses. According to the 2010 Marriages and Divorces report from Statistics South Africa, there were 22936 divorces in 2010, 12486 of couples with children. Thirty-nine percent of children live only with their mother, 3.7 percent with their father, 32.6 percent with both parents and 24.4 percent with neither.
Jéan-Marie says some women opt to have children on their own because they haven’t found the right partner. Others want to have children but don’t necessarily want to get married. And South Africa has a “crisis of men”, where many are choosing not to be an active part of their children’s lives. According to the SA Institute of Race Relations, nine million children in SA are growing up with absent fathers. There is a wide spectrum of choices women make regarding procreation and it’s not always pitiable, as these following women are testament to.
"I may be a single but I'm not her only mother"
Assistant editor Babalwa Shota, 35, grew up in a split household due to her family’s financial circumstances. She and her siblings lived in a room in Langa with their mother. On weekends, they used to walk to the bachelor hostel where their father lived. “I never saw my family as fragmented. It was just the way it was,” she says.
When she was 25, she decided to have a baby – and that the man she was seeing was not going to be part of it. She says her family was surprised, but accepted her decision. The criticism has come mostly from strangers. “Because my daughter, Keneilwe, eight, lives with my sister in Cape Town, while I live and work in Johannesburg, I’ve had comments like, ‘Oh you just want to party so you dump your child with your family.’”
But Babalwa says she made the choice for her child to grow up in a home filled with love rather than being raised by a helper. “The nuclear family structure is admirable but not a feasible reality for many. I believe if the home has love and warmth, and the child is emotionally fulfilled and a confident and independent individual, it doesn’t matter who the adults are. Keneilwe belongs to the family, not just me.”
A single mom does not equal a bad mom
A career does not often afford you the luxury of being able to raise a child on your own – even if you have help from a nanny. Jéan-Marie says it takes considerable sacrifice, hard work and determination to be a single mom. Fashion editor Mbali Soga, 29, has made some tough choices.
“My twin boys live with my mother and I. Their father and I were broken up when I fell pregnant and we are trying to work out our relationship while raising our kids.”
She says her mother was ecstatic when Mbali told her she was expecting but she got a lukewarm reception from the extended family. Their perfect girl with great grades, a varsity education and a dream job was pregnant out of wedlock and they were not charmed.
Her work’s reaction hasn’t been much better. Mbali has been told, given the nature of the fashion media business and saddled with kids, she wouldn’t be able to progress as fast in her career as if she had not had children. And a former employer told her they don’t offer medical aid to their employees as, “Most of our employees who have children are married and are under their husbands’ medical aids.” She also says former colleagues assumed that she wouldn’t be able do international travel for work because she has children – and never bothered to ask her if she could. But none of these obstacles have deterred her. Working on a weekly fashion magazine, she says she is “hungrier” than her coworkers, maybe because of the assumptions made by her colleagues. This reaction seems common.
Jéan-Marie says, “Potential employers are sometimes hesitant to employ single moms because they may lack adequate back-up and may require more time off. But the reality is that as the only breadwinners they are likely to work hard to excel and keep their jobs.” Single moms are judged more harshly if they, like anyone else, drop the ball.
“I made the decision to not be on the social scene while the boys are still young – and never to abandon them. If I can’t be there to pick them up or look after them I pay someone for their service. I spend every single weekend with them and am there to bath, feed and put them to bed. It gets tiring but they don’t deserve any less,” adds Mbali.
Being a single mom might not be a conventional family, but it's still a family
Journalist Amanda Ngudle, 39, can relate to balancing her career and role as a single mother. Her partner put pressure on her to have a child but she wasn’t ready at the time. She fund out she was pregnant as the relationship hit rock bottom. Amanda says most married women judge her. “In their eyes I dress like a mistress but I know they secretly envy me because I’m whole; I still have choices and my child is happiness personified. It would have been nice to meet a man who was mature and stable enough to have had a child with but it didn’t happen that way.”
Jéan-Marie says the ideal is to have both parents raising their children together. “Both a father and a mother each have unique roles to fulfil in the upbringing of children. But it’s far better for a child to be raised by one parent in a happy home than in a two-parent home where there is discord.”
Amanda is happy with their arrangement: “My daughter has a relationship with her father. We wouldn’t have made good parents if we were together. I can only give her all a mother can. And that’s enough.”
Coping tools for single moms
- Time management is crucial: The more organised you can be, the less stress you will have experience and you will be able to make more time for your children.
- Playing with your children is more important, not only for them, but for you too: Simply overlook the mess in the house sometimes and make time to just enjoy your children.
- Laughter is a great tool for any single parent: Learn to laugh at situations and with your child. Laughter lowers stress levels and releases feel-good chemicals.
- Accept help when it is offered: Don't be too proud to accept help if a friend or family member offers their assistance.
- Connect with other single moms who can identify with your situation and who can provide you with support: It helps to know you are not alone.
- Time out is important: Even if it is only 10 minutes a day while you lie in a bath. If you have someone willing to babysit from time to time, make use of this as it will make you a better parent in the long run if you have some quality time alone.