[DASH OF SAS] Things solo moms are told
"Risa Hontiveros has four children?! Ah, those are all with different dads, right?" The woman asked me after reading the article about Risa Hontiveros in Happy Even After: A Solo Mom's Journal.
“Uhm, no. She's a widow. Her husband passed away quite unexpectedly from an asthma attack,” I explained, tacitly admonishing the woman with facts.
Embarrassed, the woman did not say anything more while going through the journal. Actually, if she had read Risa’s article in-depth, she would have seen that the title was “Just Keep Breathing” which is, according to Risa, how she coped with the unexpected death of a spouse leaving her to raise 4 children—the youngest was three at the time—on her own. “Just keep breathing,” Risa wrote. “Put one foot in front of the other and soon, the minutes will become hours, the hours become days...”
That incident and others similar to it, is par for the course for solo moms in the Philippines. You are shamed, pre-judged and summed up; details are not needed, but condescension and disapproval are warranted because there could be no conceivable (pun intended) reason for a woman to have a child, but not a husband.
The hierarchy of solo moms
My good friend—and I qualify good to point out that his comment was not made malevolently—once innocently told me, "But you're not a real single mom. You were married and her Dad is still present in her life." As if that made it more…acceptable.
I wasn't sure how to qualify that considering I was the primary caregiver of my child, and it was but her father's responsibility to co-share in expenses. I reminded him that since there is no divorce in the Philippines, I could not call myself a divorcée and I wasn't sure if annullée had yet to be accepted into the Oxford Dictionary. (As of press time, it has not.)
"You're not like my sister," he insisted. "News of a baby is supposed to be a happy time. You think my parents were happy when she told them that she was pregnant?"
That's when I realized that there is this hierarchy of solo mothers. At the top are the widows who lost their husbands due to natural causes and nobly honored the vow to allow only death to separate them; some are not thought of as solo moms.
Then there are the solo moms who were once married, but now are not; there will be more pity and compassion from the gossip mills if it was her husband who left her.
And finally, there are the solo moms who were never married. She may face a level of stigma that is inversely proportional to her age; the younger she is, the more likely she is going to be labeled as reckless and irresponsible—and those are the benign adjectives.
Well, regardless of age, adjectives for solo moms include damaged goods, segunda mano (second hand) and “may sabit” (has baggage).
Daryl** who got pregnant in college cannot count the times she was told, "Naku, paano na yan? Wala ng manliligaw sa iyo." (Oh, no. How’s that? No man will ever want you now.) Like getting pregnant without being married was a life sentence.
Mari**, who was in a similar situation, is now married. People congratulated her and told her how lucky she was for getting a perfectly decent bachelor with no kids to marry her and "accept her situation”. “As if I had less to bring to the marriage as a wife and partner because I have a child,” she said.
Oh, and my utmost “favorite”. A producer from a TV station asked to interview me about Happy Even After and asked me about dating. After dodging the question a bit, he asked point blank, “Ma’am, why would any guy want to date a single mom? Syempre, gusto naming guys virgin.” (Of course, us guys would only want a virgin.) I thanked him for his interest and declined to answer any other questions.
People don't think you'll ever find a man, and will be amazed when you do. People will predict that your child will grow up to be dysfunctional (I’ve been told that, too) and will be surprised if your child turns out to be balanced and well, just fine and normal. Is it because life as a solo mom is not supposed to be fine and normal but a lifetime of reparation for past sins? Because the life of a solo mom is meant to be played out like a teleserye, replete with crescendos of drama, pain and desperation?
That’s not to say being a solo mom is a walk in the park. There will be times when you feel that the shit has hit the fan set on turbo and there will be days that are pull-your-hair-out-by-the-clumps kind of crazy. (In that sense, it is not so different from the life of any one raising a child/children, really.)
But there will always be days when you will wish that people will remember that one simple golden rule: If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. On those days, it’s best to remember to “just keep breathing”. – Rappler.com
**Names have been changed.
Ana is the writer and publisher of Happy Even After, a journal for solo moms which is the first of its kind in the Philippines. Ana would like to thank Risa Hontiveros for giving her permission to cite the above anecdote in this article and Shakira Sison who inspired her to write this article after she read Things Gay People Are Still Told also on Rappler.