The Rising Popularity of Single Motherhood?

Maybe you haven’t noticed, but people (read: Hollywood) seem to be embracing single motherhood these days. I know, I know… it seems impossible, right?

Well, it is only possible if you are White, or at least non-Black.

In recent years, there have been a number of movies about White women having babies in unconventional ways. Knocked Up, Baby Mama, The Back-Up Plan, and The Switch are all movies about White (or racially ambiguous, in the case of JLo’s movie) women become pregnant or seek to have babies in ways other than being married or in committed relationships. These are romantic comedies that usually involve the female falling in love during pregnancy or after having the child, so they all pretty much end up happily. Seems cool, right?

I have to ask then, as a Black single mother, where is MY positive, funny, romantic representation?

In 2009, CNN featured an article about out-of-wedlock births being at an all-time high.

Nearly 40 percent of babies born in the United States in 2007 were delivered by unwed mothers, according to data released last month by the National Center for Health Statistics. The 1.7 million out-of-wedlock births, of 4.3 million total births, marked a more than 25 percent jump from five years before.

There are so many negative statitistics related to the likelihood of how these lives of these children will turn out. Oftentimes, these statistics are associated with people of color (Black, Non-White Latino). According to the article 72% of Black children are born out-of-wedlock, compared to 65% American Indian, 51% Latino, 28% White, and 17% Asian. White women have the second-lowest rate, yet Hollywood seeks to glamourize their plights and paint the picture that when White women have children outside of traditional marriages, it is because the women choose it, they are older, they just want to be happy with babies and don’t want to wait for men to come around. “Knocked Up” is the only movie that made it “accidental”, but the main character had a great career and a high paying job, so it was assumed that she would do just fine because she could handle it.  She briefly considered abortion, but opted to keep the baby and prepared herself to raise it alone because the father was a less-than-responsible stranger. In the end, however, they fell in love through bonding over the pregnancy and it all worked out for the best.

This idea of choice is important. According to the article 50,000 of women delivering babies annually are single mothers by choice. It cites women getting older and dealing with biological clocks ticking as motivation and sperm banks as the answer. However, these methods are costly, so chances are that these women are financially capable of handling the expenses of raising a child alone.

What about Black women? Are we making the same choice? This article  talks about the rise of single  Black women adopting children, suggesting Black women too often encounter men who show little interest in being married, so they take it upon themselves to become mothers as their child-bearing window begins to close. According to this article, Black single women made up 55% of public adoptions in 2001.  There are 330k+ Black women aged 35-44 who have never been married or had children, which the article suggests is the motivation for Black women seeking alternative means to become mothers.

Can we afford it?  From the articles referenced above, we spend an average of $15,000 to adopt or go through in vitro fetilization or the use of sperm from sperm banks.    But then, this article says that 38% of Black single mothers live at or below the poverty line. Economics is definitely a factor for women of any race, but it seems as though Black women are more likely to face economic challenges. But, many of us highly educated, career women are still spending money to become mothers. 

So where is our movie?

I could comment on the lack of positive representation of Black women, Black love, and Black families in Hollywood in general, but that’s another idea. I’m wondering how something that was once a negative stereotype most commonly associated with Black women is now suddenly becoming the “in” thing among White women… and why is Hollywood now romanticizing it?

Where is the non-Tyler Perry written/directed/produced/acted/scored/distributed/animated movie about a successful single Black woman who CHOOSES to become a single mother, does so successfully, and falls in love in the process? Or maybe she doesn’t have to fall in love, but find some support. One of the earlier articles said that 80% of children born out-of-wedlock are born to romantically involved parents, so being unmarried doesn’t mean not being happily in love or in a good relationship.

So where is our movie?

Where is our TV show?

I’m pondering all of this as I find myself a divorcing single mom co-parenting a small child and finding myself ready to date again. I’m pondering this because of my concern that my being a single mom is a negative in terms of being found appealing as a mate. I’m pondering this because of the negative stigma still attached to Black single moms that I hope to debunk or at least avoid. I’m pondering this because I’m wondering about the likelihood of finding a mate who takes us as a package deal if so many single non-mothers are struggling to find mates. I’m just doing a lot of pondering and I’m wondering how you readers feel about this Hollywood trend and the lack of positive representation of Black single mothers in media.

11 thoughts on “The Rising Popularity of Single Motherhood?

  1. Hm… interesting as usual. But I do have to say, is it really something that should be romanticized? Being a single mother is hard work, and like you said, it seems oh-so-easy when they do it on TV, but it doesn’t reflect the reality for the vast majority of people, regardless of race.

    Also, we’d be our own worse critics if we saw more representations in popular media of single positive black mothers. You know one of our “black leaders” would have something to say, saying that such a show/movie would be anti family.

    Oh, and last thing. Don’t the single white ladies get married or otherwise hooked up by the end of the movie?

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    1. I’m not saying that it has to be romanticized… but if it is going to be… why is it only for White or White-appearing women?

      I dont think we’d be all that critical about it. I mean, it is our reality. Most Black children are born to unwed parents, so I dont know why we should be critical of a story that shows the mother finding happiness in both her choice to have a child and/or maybe in a relationship with someone who accepts her and her child as a package deal. Many Black men do this all the time, why not show the positive side. Everyone talks abt the men who abandon, but what about the men who step into their places?

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  2. Have you seen the Bristol Palin psa about being a single mother? Essentially, it strips her of her family support and resources until she’s standing there in a dingy apartment with her hair messed up. The picture isn’t pretty or entertaining. Plus, it doesn’t fit the narrative that the country needs in order to blame and explain crime, economics, etc.

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    1. I think Bristol Palin is different because its a PSA and she isnt “Hollywood”

      I’m more interested in these RomComs that exclude US from the idea that women, esp older women, can be successful, take child-bearing into their own hands, and still find love… in whatever order works best for them. They arent doing it alone. Stats show we’re doing it too.

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  3. Excellent & thought provoking post. We are similarly situated as single moms in the process of divorcing. Not really thinking of dating to be honest, cause my version of single motherhood is tiring 🙂

    This is our reality, for better or for worse, and having it represented on the big screen in a non-comdeic way (please!) would be refreshing.

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  4. I think if it happens, it won’t happen in a non-comedic way. That doesn’t even happen for White women. And it’s true, I think, like Moko says – the White women end up with a man by the end of the movie. And if I remember correctly, Tyler Perry (boo hiss) DID make a movie about a single mother who found a man. This wasn’t about adoption or elective single motherhood, though.

    While we all have children, I know many woman who have had to use fertility treatments or adoption because they were focused on their careers and then realized they wanted kids and had a hard time. Although I had my first baby at 24, while I was in school and working on my career, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

    I hear you on equal treatment on the big screen, but I don’t trust Hollywood to get it right. Representations of Black motherhood on the big screen have been problematic for years – I doubt getting this particular aspect will be any different and not a caricature or a cliche. Perhaps if someone writes a GOOD book, and then a GOOD screenplay, we’ll see an accurate and honest portrayal.

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  5. I dont trust Hollywood either, but the truth is, any of those characters in the mentioned movies could have been Black. But they weren’t. It seems that nontraditional childbearing is only acceptable/funny/romantic whatever when the character is White… and has a White male love interest.

    In the TP case, the woman had been married and was destitute with her 3 kids after their father abandoned them. She didn’t choose that, as you noted.

    I just wonder if these “positive” portrayals are society’s way of finally acknowledging that people are opting to have children without being married and that the world isnt ending because of it. I guess if White women do it, it is OK. Any other woman does it, and its a negative commentary on the state of that group of women. Blah. Before it became trendy and cool for White women to choose to become single mothers, Black women have been single moms for as long as we can remember, making due, doing what we know how, and most of us end up happy.

    There have been books and stories writtend about it. No one cares about them. Mama, by Terry McMillain (arguably her best story) could have been picked up, for example.

    I don’t know, maybe I need to write the story myself.

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  6. You are dead on when you say nobody cares. I just read an academic article that pretty much blames rates of violence in black communities on single motherhood. It doesn’t take the time to actually map out the mechanism, or acknowledge that the vast majority of people raised by single mothers are not violent felons, but pathology and black single motherhood are indelibly linked in American psychology. It doesn’t seem “authentic” that single black motherhood could be a good thing for children or that black women could be happy doing it alone, by choice.

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    1. Right and that idea about the success of many single Black mothers must be pure anamoly.

      Nevermind how many successful Black people were raised by single mothers. Nevermind how many Black college graduates were raised by single mothers. Nevermind any of that.

      I’m not trying to herald single motherhood as the next greatest thing. It’s not. It’s hard as hell and I am a co-parent! I couldnt imagine doing this with absolutely no help from anyone.

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  7. dang! BRILLIANT post… I wonder the same thing. The double standards are become more unbearable by the day! I think you’re SPOT ON with this one. Jennifer Aniston can make her comment about women having babies, and there’s a minor stir…let a Black woman say it, and her career is OVER. Same thing with adultery- Angelina Jolie’s career has continued to blossom- Fantasia has been COMPLETELY thrown under the bus!

    Maybe we should get Tyler Perry to do the movie. lol

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