Jana Kramer's post sparks debate over use of 'single mom' term: 'Why are we demanding that mothers prove how hard their lives are?'

·7-min read
The term
The term "single mom" is causing debate. (Photo: Getty Creative stock photo)

A new post by newly single singer and actress Jana Kramer is raising questions about the significance of the term "single mom" and who it includes.

Last week Kramer, who filed for divorce from former NFL player Mike Caussin in April, posted an Instagram addressing critics who objected to her referring to herself as a single mother. The former One Tree Hill star and her ex share two children, 5-year-old Joie and 2-year-old Jace. According to a recent custody agreement, Kramer will have primary custody of the children while paying Caussin child support each month.

But because Kramer co-parents with Caussin, some felt she shouldn't be using a term which typically describes a woman raising kids entirely on her own. After catching wind of the backlash, the 37-year-old defended herself, writing, "People were hating on me because I said I was a single mom so apparently I’m not allowed to say that. But I am single. I am a mom. But to further drive my point home, I looked up the definition and it’s a parent who has the kids more than 50 percent... Come over for a glass of wine and then judge me all you want after [you] get to know me and my single momness."

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The nonprofit organization Single Parent Support Network (SPSN) uses a broader definition of single parent: "A parent not living with a spouse or partner and can be a custodial or non-custodial parent; a widow or widower raising their children; a divorced parent raising their children; a biological mom or dad who are raising their children; a foster or adoptive single parent who is raising children; a parent whose spouse has gone away for an extended period of time (i.e.: military or incarceration); a parent whose spouse has been ill for an extended period of time; a parent who has never married; a woman who was the victim of rape; a single parent who has chosen artificial insemination as a way to conceive surrogacy."

But as terms like "solo parenting," "co-parenting" and "single parent by choice" become more common, some have objected to painting parents in vastly different situations with the same brush. A woman raising a child without any support is in a different boat than, say, a divorcée sharing custody with her ex, though each situation has its own unique challenges.

Dawn O. Braithwaite, professor of Communication Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, tells Yahoo Life that these "address terms" are an important way to "help us understand our place in the world, how others see us and how we see others." As such, Braithwaite — whose research focuses on communication within a family setting, including co-parenting — suggests treading carefully with choosing an address term, especially when another parent is involved.

"I do think that the term 'single parent' connotes that there is no other parent in the picture," she says. "That may be the case, but if there is any other parental figure or possibility of that person in the future, this term does not seem as accurate and can cause misunderstanding."

Braithwaite adds that "co-parent" is a popular choice that encourages cooperation and allows some flexibility. She cites an example: "Ray and I are co-parents to our children and we share custody" or "Ray and I are co-parents but the children live with me most of the time. So I am solo parenting during the weeks."

Indeed, it's a term that Rachel Pierce-Burnside, a Texas-based diversity, equity and inclusion manager who shares three children with her ex-husband, prefers to use to describe her family situation. She considers herself a "mom who is single and not married — not a single mom."

"For me, being single and a single mom are not the same," she explains. "I believe in the power of words and because I happen to have a great co-parent in my ex-husband I choose not to use the term 'single mom.' I refer to my ex-husband as my parenting partner, co-parent or my children's father because that is truly who and what he is.

"I am aware that being single and a mother looks different for everyone and therefore can present different challenges, however, I choose to speak with intent when describing the nature of my parenting relationship because I believe it can translate in the dynamics of our situation," she adds. "I want my kids to grow up knowing that they will always have two very willing parents in their lives. Should either of us re-marry, my hope is that they will then understand they not only have two primary parents but are loved, wanted and covered even beyond us."

Of course, not every child has two involved parents, or, in the case of single parents by choice, two parents period. Jane Mattes, who founded the organization Single Mothers by Choice (SMC) 40 years ago, tells Yahoo Life that her group wrestled with how to define themselves as women who have decided to be solo parents from the outset, often through adoption or insemination.

"The real issue for us was making it clear that we were choosing to be single parents — we weren't coming out of a crisis, we weren't divorced parents," the SMC director says. "In those days, when you said 'single parent,' everyone assumed you were divorced because there were no other single parents except teenagers, and we were clearly not that. But in this world, it's much clearer to people, I think, that a true single parent is someone who doesn't have a co-parent."

Compared to "single mother," "single mother by choice" has a much more narrow definition. But not everyone who fits within that definition feels that it suits them, preferring instead to use the term "solo parenting."

"The preference is a very personal one," Mattes notes. "A lot of people don't really want to be called single mothers by choice, because in their mind that's just [saying that] they didn't want to be married, which is not really the point, but that's how some people feel about it, so to them the 'solo' word is more comfortable to them."

Rachel Sklar, an entrepreneur and writer who has covered single motherhood extensively and is herself a self-described single mom to a 6-year-old daughter, agrees that honoring personal preference and giving women agency to define themselves is important. To parse the various distinctions and limit the term "single mom" to only those doing it 100 percent on their own can feel like nitpicking, she says.

"Solo is solo, and it's hard," says Sklar, whose child's father is involved but lives long-distance. "Co-parenting comes with a whole other host of challenges... I don't assume anyone has it easier here. There are many ways to parent and there are many ways to be a single parent."

Making knee-jerk judgments about the scope of a person's parenting role is unhelpful, she says, particularly when single dads are seldom scrutinized to the same extent.

"Why are we demanding that mothers prove how hard their lives are?" Sklar tells Yahoo Life. "There are women in single-parent households with the resources to be comfortable and supported, there are women in stable marriages that lack those resources... This isn't the hardship Olympics."

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That's a sentiment many Kramer fans are echoing.

"I give props to moms that do it 100 percent on their own," one of the singer's fans wrote in response to her Instagram post. "But to tell me I'm not a single mom because I don't have my kids 100 percent of the time... Honestly why are we mom shaming each other? Why can't we support each other through each of our journeys? Which is not going to look the same for everyone."

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