Imagine living in a world without single parents. Everyone, including you, has a set of parents involved in their lives. Imagine the only representation of single parenthood was through 90s tv shows and movies. I lived that world. This was pretty accurately my experience as a kid growing up on U.S. military bases overseas. No one I knew had a single parent household. Everyone had a spouse. So for me, single parenting was shaped purely by media and bias instead of actual experience — giving me a good chance as an adult to dissect those biases and figure out why we feel the way we feel.
If I did imagine single parent life as a kid, I would envision a mom slaving away at four jobs, never home, living in a big city, and eating spaghettios for every meal. Television taught me that.
Hogarth’s mom was gone for 12 hours a day and opening her spare room to random dudes for rent, Chuckie’s dad was desperately trying to find a mother for his son, and Charlie’s mom was boiling laundry for coins while housing a nursing home in her apartment. That is what I imagined it to be like — lonely, poor, and stressed.
So not only was my perception of single parenting molded from a young age, but it also influenced my own life. Basically my entire purpose was to have a family and a two-parent household. So it was really no surprise when I stayed in a verbally and physically abusive relationship way past the expiration date. The alternative was a life of sweat and spaghettios, right?
In reality, my life as a parent has attracted attention because I am single. The world still has the same stigma around single parenting that I had growing up. And why wouldn’t it? But unless you’re doing my taxes, my status as a single mother isn’t really (and shouldn’t really be) my only identity.
My life as a parent has attracted attention because I am single.
For women (or people assigned female at birth) with children, there is a pervasive thought that our identities are mother-first. Mothers introduce themselves in ways that always include their role as a mom. Like, "I am a mother, but my hobbies are <insert actual business here>." Or "I’m a working mother." Or "I’m a single mother." When I introduce myself, I feel obligated to bring up the fact that I have a child. It seems like I’m letting someone down or lying if I don’t. Even in job interviews, I notice myself mentioning I have a two-year-old. The lack of ring on my finger outs me as a single mother, and then I’m just treated differently.
When I don’t want to mention my mom status, others do it for me.
“Jamie is a single mom, too.”
“Who is watching Jaxin tonight?”
Or my favorite: when someone you’ve never met says, “I was a single mom once. It gets better!”, and you know someone was talking about you.
In reality, the kid and I have a wonderful life. I rarely feel like I have too much on my plate just because having too much on my plate is normal at this point. I am happy, I wake up to someone who loves me so unconditionally that I wonder what I did to deserve it, and I come home to muddy walks in the rain, pizza for dinner, and pajama parties. In reality, getting rid of a partner who didn’t want to be there was the best thing I ever did. Yes, we’re on some welfare. Yes, some days it seems like the hardest job in the world. And yes, I dropped out of college to have my child. So in a lot ways I’ve felt and am sometimes am still feeling the single mom blues. But also, I’m becoming the person I dreamed I’d be, and it feels fucking good.
The truth is, I reject single parent terminology. “Single parent” means that the opposite is “two parents,” and if being a single parent is the exception, it means two parents is the norm. I think that families are evolving. Mothers are becoming mothers without partners to begin with, and vice versa. Families have more than two parents. The stigma of a poor, slaving, single mother isn’t disappearing as fast as it should, but that’s why I want you to meet me. I still go to metal shows, drink champagne with friends, and hold down a household. I potty train and kiss owies, and have parent-teacher conferences. My parenting isn’t defined by not having a partner, nor am I honestly really looking.
I want to challenge others to remove “single parent” from their vocabulary — or at least challenge this false narrative that we have about single parenthood and deconstruct why we are subconsciously so set on the two parent norm. I don’t think it’s a word we need to “take back,” but I think we need to stop emphasizing the traditional two parent family when we use it and recognize who it hurts. When we use the term parent, we are becoming inclusive of all parents and not emphasizing the stigma that comes along with the word. Yes, I am single. Yes, I’m also a parent. But please don’t keep calling me a single parent. It’s not my key identity, and I am beautifully just so much more.
Jamie is the owner of Jamie Carle Photography and resides in Vancouver, WA. Her background was always in videography. She was an AV nerd in high school and president of her school video club. When college came, she decided to major in graphic design and put video second. She became pregnant — and knowing she'd be a single mother — she made the choice to put off school while she worked, scraped, and saved. One way she was able to stay creative and sane was photography. Through thousands of photos of her baby, she was able to keep doing something really special.
She found a new passion and moved from her own child to other children, which then expanded into all kinds of family portraiture. She was asked if she offered wedding services, and at the time was floored. So she became a second shooter for another photographer and learned some ins and outs of the wedding business. This has become her favorite thing to do — capture love and tell your story.