Married vs. Single Moms
The tough side of single parenthood
Still, it's tough being a single mom. Although the media often portray them as go-it-alone types, that's seldom the case. Nor are they all career women who adopt or go to a sperm bank because their biological clock is ticking and they've been too busy to find a partner. Rather, these women are more likely to be young (in their late 20s) -- though there's no significant age gap between the marrieds and the unmarrieds. One huge difference: While close to three-quarters of the married moms (69%) planned their most recent pregnancies, about the same number of unmarrieds (77%) did not -- meaning they may not have been ready for the baby. Understandably, the 44% of unmarried moms who consider themselves truly single are having the toughest time. Seventy-seven percent of these women feel it's much harder to be an unmarried mom, primarily because of financial difficulties (87%) and the fact that there's no one with whom to share childcare duties (80%). Still, they're not at all the "poor me" types you might expect. Almost two-thirds of all the unmarried moms agreed that it's sometimes easier not to have a husband. Why? Sixty-two percent believe they bicker less with their better halves over how to raise the kids; 55% are glad they don't have to worry about working on their marriages, too; and 38% feel freer to follow their own dreams. "A friend of mine has two little boys and one very big one: Her husband is more of a responsibility than a partner," says Amy King of Kissimmee, Florida. "I would rather be single than in an unequal relationship. I don't have that cloud hanging over me if the relationship needs work and I'm too tired to put in the effort. And I don't have time to get lonely!"
Married moms don't look down on their unmarried counterparts. Contrary to what a select few would have us believe, 77% of the wedded women disagreed with the statement that "single mothers are less than responsible." A huge 87% of them said it would be much harder to be an unmarried mom and often expressed sympathy and support for the moms going it alone. "I commend women who, due to circumstances, have to be single parents. I just wish there was more our society would do so that there would be fewer women out there who have to do it alone," says Jill Henshaw of Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania. Still, there was a minority -- 23% -- that disapproved of an unmarried woman raising a child on her own. "Children need a stable male and female influence. A lot of young single mothers don't put their children first," believes Amber Sheperd of Tulsa. Some married moms wrote in to say they sense -- and resent -- that single mothers get preferential treatment on the job. "At work, I feel strongly discriminated against by the single moms, as if my problems are 'fluff' or not 'real' because I'm married and have a support system," says Ann Farmer of Ilion, New York.
Yet unmarried moms do feel the sting of prejudice. Though many of them said they're perfectly happy with their situation, more than half -- 54% -- worry that people look down on them. "I am treated differently as soon as people find out I was never married," says Danielle Molloy of Sevierville, Tennessee. "They tend to assume that since I'm raising my children on my own I must not be doing a good job." The 8% of moms with same-sex partners feel the discrimination most strongly -- more than two-thirds attest to it. More than half (57%) of the women with female partners also wish they were married. "I don't think that the two parents who raise a child need to be a male and a female, only two people committed for life," emphasizes Erin Steffeck of Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Married or not, having a partner to parent with isn't all wine and roses. We found several recurring themes regardless of who responded: Marriage can be hard work, many women view their husbands as another child to care for, and we'd all prefer to be the primary decision -- maker. In fact, some married moms appear to harbor a secret desire to be single themselves; 22% agreed that it might sometimes be easier to be unmarried (though only 5% actually wish they weren't married). "There are days when I wish I were a single parent!" says Becky Voth of Denver. "[My partner is] a great father and a good husband, but he can sometimes be just as helpless as a one-year-old."
That 22% said they liked the idea that they wouldn't have to fight with a partner over the best way to raise a child (76%), wouldn't have to work on the marriage, too (69%), and wouldn't have in-laws to deal with (30%). Marriage can even be lonely at times: Some women mentioned that they often "feel single" because their husbands work so much or are deployed military men who are away from home for lengthy periods. So who really does have the better deal? Married moms probably win out in the end, just because they have Dad's extra assistance, emotional support, and income. "I couldn't be a good mother if it weren't for my great husband," insists Vanessa McCollrim of Long Beach, California. "More power to any mom who goes it alone." Yet clearly, marriage adds an extra element of work to women's lives. "When we were engaged, my partner and I argued about everything having to do with the baby," recalls Deanna Smith of Minneapolis. "But since we decided to [forgo marriage and just] live together as parents, the stress to be the perfect couple has been eliminated. Our love is deeper and stronger." Regardless of what camp the many moms who answered our poll were in, it was moving to see how much they support each other. "Even though I'm happily married with two children, I don't feel like there's a right or wrong way to be a mom," says Scarlett Wheeler of Arlington, Texas. "This is America! There are all different types of families, and no matter what you do, people are going to judge you anyway, so just follow your heart!"