Co-parents are not single parents.

I had an interesting conversation (read: argument) the other day with a friend about her use of the term “single mum”. Single parents are not a new phenomenon but they are on the increase globally. I saw a statistic the other day that said “15% of children around the world live in single parent households”. Here in South Africa (SA), only about 30% of children live with both their parents. Of the over 1.1 million births registered by the SA government in 2014, 64% of said registrations had no information regarding the fathers.

There are numerous reasons why single parent households are on the increase but that’s a conversation for another time. Today I just want to scribble about the term “single mother”. I can’t help but think some mothers are misappropriating (for lack of a better word) the term. Now, I agree you don’t live with the father of your child, but is that enough to be categorised as a “single mother?” What if the child’s father is present and active in the child’s life? Are you still a single mother then? My sister and cousin are fitting examples of this:

My sister is a single mother. She takes care of her daughter’s every need. We last saw my niece’s father about 8 years ago. He doesn’t contribute anything to his daughter’s wellbeing. He doesn’t call her, doesn’t send Christmas cards, hell, he doesn’t even know what school she goes to. In fact, he’s pretty much dead to us…till he decides to pop up out of nowhere when his daughter’s all grown up and employed…the absent father’s ultimate party trick.

On the other hand, my cousin’s baby daddy is present in their son’s life. He pays the boy’s school fees, buys him clothes, takes him on holiday with his other kids, and takes him on alternating weekends. He attends most of the boy’s school events and has been there for all his birthdays to date. The only difference between their setup and a “traditional household” is they do not live together. They are married to and live with other people. So can my cousin call herself a single mother? Personally, I don’t think so. Co-parent? Yes! Single mother? No!

And yet, so many women in my cousin’s situation still throw around the term “single mother”. Question is: is that fair to an active father? I play my part in the welfare of our child and you, his mother, continue to label yourself a single mother? Seems a tad unfair don’t you think? More than taking away from an active father, I think it takes away from actual single mothers because, God knows, “real” single mothers have their work cut out for them. It’s even worse when they don’t have a supportive family or adequate finances to get help.

Ultimately, whether you’re a single parent, co-parent, or parent in a “traditional household”, you hold a precious life/lives in your hands as parents. So do everything you possibly can (and more) to ensure your child becomes everything they can be. And remember, unless one parent has died, there really shouldn’t be any single parents out there. If you played your part in creating a life, play your part in raising that life.

**** Just scribbling my parental thoughts ****

Ps: Shout out to the single fathers out there. Rare as they may be, they are there; single handedly raising their kids. We see you too.


5 comments on “Co-parents are not single parents.

  1. Finally someone showed up with a piece on the notion of “single parent(s)”. Well done Tawanda for your piece. It seem to succeed grappling with the conceptualisation of terms by social actors. I see the use of your immediate family members such as your niece and cousin’s son as significant and perfect fit of example towards your argument. I partly agree with the term you introducing on ‘co-parenting’ and the questioning of whether that is single parenting or not. It is true that when a woman or man who is living with a new partner but yet persist on calling himself or herself a single parent on the basis that that immediate partner is not the biological parent, such nullifies the existence of the step parent and such needs to be challenged challenged. Perhaps a new term can also be brought to effect about two parents who are divorced or separated but looking after their children equally along with the third party being the step parent. Such is hardly spoken about but we hear a lot about ‘single parenting’ which in most cases ‘single’ is really not be actual word. I think your piece failed to afford is such a notion of separate parents looking after their child(ren) with a step parent. Such setting needs to be brough forth too. Also what I see lacking in your piece is the people who promote the notion of ‘single parenting’ as to whether they are radical feminists with intentions to expose patriarchy and view it as insensitive set-up with uninvolved fathers or is it from patriarchy with the aims to ridicule feminism. Someone somewhere must be using this terms to harp on another’s weakness. I therefore think your argument(s) should have stretched to that extent where you educate me as a reader on who instigates the terms ‘single parenting’ or ‘co-parenting’. I therefore would like to send an invite that you write another piece that will cover the niche. I am impressed in then way you presented your story, my comments to your piece does not in anyway suggest that your work is insignificant but it means a good dialogue is opened and we can only improve by keeping the conversation going. Your piece is therefore a definite must read. Make it accessible to young parents too sober can hear their views. Well done.


    • ImTawanda says:

      Thank for reading. Very good points you raised. I like to keep my posts at around 500 words so that they aren’t too long. As such, I can’t always cover all the points. That said, I probably wouldn’t have covered the point on step parents, so thank you for pointing it out. As common as step parents are, they are still such a prickly subject. I think I will definitely write about that too soon. There are so many good step parents out there but somewhere along the line we made a step parent to be an evil parent…even in kid’s stories like Cinderella. In actuality, many of us out there where raised by very good step parents.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nina says:

    What a great read. So so true, you are not really a single mum if the dad is contributing financially and with involvement/care. Well said!


  3. I liked reading your perspective. I have been a parent under several conditions: first as part of a couple (two parents), then co-parenting (divorced), then as a single parent (my ex died). I used to joke that when I was married and both of us worked full-time, I was, in effect, a part-time parent. Then when I got divorced, I was a “part-time, job-share” parent. And then later a single parent. I suppose you could make a case that each parent who co-parents is a single parent if they are not living with a new, involved partner. But they have the support network of their ex – along with the obligation to inform and negotiate everything. I know parents without current partners who are better supported than before by relatives and friends – I don’t mean financially but in terms of assistance. Enjoying your blog!


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