There is a widely held perception that moms are superwomen who can do it all. For a single mother, the role becomes that much more imposing than the already-impossible image of what a mom should be.
Whether it’s due to having children before marriage, without marriage or becoming single after divorce, the number of unmarried mothers has grown dramatically in recent decades.
One in four children is raised in a household without a father, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Locally, the number is closer to one in five. The Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service reports that in Charlottesville and Albemarle County, there are 3,144 single-mother households (in which children are being raised by a woman alone), accounting for 18-24 percent of all family households with kids under 18. The numbers are sobering, and so are the effects.
“So many women are prone to pretending they don’t have any needs,” says counselor Pamela McIntire, LPC, of Charlottesville Counseling Services. “Probably the biggest hurdle for a single mother is trying to balance her own needs with the needs of her kids.”
Growing up in a household without a father takes its toll on the child, too. Research suggests that children in two-parent households are less likely to have trouble in school and difficulties with relationships: something that often causes a single mom, already feeling more than her fair share of pressure, even more stress and more guilt.
McIntire’s advice? “Don’t let yourself get isolated. Make sure you have other adults to talk to—a friend, family member or a counselor. Talk with other moms.”
For those who haven’t walked a mile in a single mom’s shoes (which may be as worn out as her patience and her spirit), we spoke with a few unmarried mothers about their stories. Here, we offer a glimpse into their lives, their hopes and their dreams—both for themselves and for their children.
By Shea Gibbs, Laura Ingles and Lynn Thorne