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Are you a married, single mum?

When I first heard about the expression 'married, single mum, my brain just got frozen with the contradictory meaning until it just suddenly made sense. Oh, yes, this definitely exists! Just the other day, I was discussing with a friend about the best way to raise a family. We both agreed that it's crucial to share household tasks equally between partners. However, when we tried to think of real-life examples, we could think about only one family, an urban legend where all tasks are equally shared. In reality, let's just say it out, it's usually the mother who takes care of most of the children and home-related tasks. This made us realise that most of the people in our circle are married single mums.

The term refers to a new way of describing how a mother can be married, have a partner in crime to help raise their children and share the responsibilities, while still being the default parent. This means that she is the one who knows what vegetables the kids eat, when they are running low on milk, and when their next doctor's appointment is due.

This is a fundamental challenge faced by modern families, stemming largely from traditional societal roles and current workplace norms, which are areas we should work on together. I would add that there is no need to criticise men or our parents, who operated within different societal norms. However, it is important to discuss the phenomenon of the single married mum and be conscious of the consequences.

To illustrate, let's consider a typical family scenario with a couple in their forties, Emma and David. Both are employed while their children attend school and nursery.

Sticking to stereotypes, it's likely that Emma picks up the kids most of the days, while David does it maybe once or twice. Emma stayed at home for a while after their children were born, which naturally changed her employment situation, perhaps even leading to a job change to be closer to the school or having more flexibility, whereas David continued in his pre-family career trajectory. Consequently, we might assume that David earns more and works longer hours. It all seems fair because he takes on more responsibility at work, bringing home a higher income that they use to support the family and children. Emma shoulders more of the household responsibilities, but it's a fair arrangement as they both contribute in their unique ways.

However, both Emma and David feel they're stretched thin with their respective responsibilities, and they're bothered by the imbalance. Emma is frustrated by being the primary caregiver at home, and David is concerned by the weight of providing for the family, particularly in the current economic climate, often working late into the evening as a result.

Both feel they've been thrust into this stressful situation, almost involuntarily, due to societal expectations they internalised from childhood and adhered to as adults.

Imagine now that they both have the opportunity to spend four days working abroad. Who would handle the grocery shopping beforehand to ensure there's enough food for the family? Who would remember the laundry routine and provide detailed instructions for any tasks not completed in advance? And who would simply pack their suitcase, confident that everything at home will run smoothly without them? It's clear, isn't it?

Now let's imagine it's not David travelling but Emma, who receives some well-intentioned advice before the trip to relax and assures her that David can handle things because he's an adult, and dads need to get involved too. No one offers David such advice before the trip, assuming he won't worry about anything because Emma usually handles tasks related to the children entirely on her own.

Because Emma, like many other mothers, is partly a single married mum, meaning married but, in certain situations, a single parent. This doesn't make David a bad father; it simply means that if Emma were required or wanted to work more from tomorrow and be more focused at her workplace, it would probably cause her less difficulty than David taking over household tasks from her.

Being a married but single mother means that the physical and mental burdens associated with children fall mainly on your shoulders. You are present in significant parental situations, keeping important things related to your child's life in mind, whether it's medical, institutional, or social matters. Even if you can't manage them for some reason, you oversee and delegate them. If you're unable to be there, you give your child's other parent an itinerary as if you were handing it to a new babysitter. If you have plans in the evening, you arrange and possibly prepare dinner, informing your spouse where to find it. If your spouse has plans in the evening, they go ahead with their event, without considering the need to ensure your shared child has dinner that day.

David might still cook often or regularly make plans with the children. But he's accustomed, perhaps due to societal constructs and ingrained patterns, to Emma being the default parent.

What is the problem with being a default parent?

It is important to acknowledge that married single mothers often face negative consequences. They are the ones who will most probably choose a less senior but flexible role to be able to align their work with school schedules and other caregiver responsibilities, so their careers tend to take a backseat, leading to a widening salary gap with their peers who do not have kids or are men. The physical and mental load of motherhood and household chores can also leave them feeling overwhelmed and stressed. In fact, research shows that around 80% of working mothers suffer from stress-related health issues such as obesity, high blood pressure or fatigue. Furthermore, if women do not receive sufficient support from their partners, it may affect their marriage as most women have career aspirations and want to feel successful in their professional lives. This can lead to resentment building up over time.

It's a sad reality that almost every second marriage ends in divorce. Unfortunately, this often has negative consequences for women who were married, single mothers for many years and are now finding themselves as real single mothers. They may realise that their career and salary are not where they want them to be, and they struggle to achieve financial independence.

We're currently in a transitional period where we've achieved a lot in terms of equality, but many outdated patterns persist. There are old and new social expectations, and default and non-default parents are still figuring things out. While biological factors such as childbirth and breastfeeding initially play a significant role, after a child is 1-2 years old, it's irrelevant from an objective standpoint who takes on the default parental role.

Meeting the financial, physical, and mental needs of the kids isn't tied to gender; it's simply a parental duty.

What do you think?

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