Choice momism?

A piece about the decision to be a single mother and the sloganeering that accompanies it.


Rebecca Traister
December 12, 2006 10:10PM (UTC)

Check out this piece from the Huffington Post by Mikki Morrissette, the author of "Choosing Single Motherhood: The Thinking Woman's Guide." Morrissette writes in response to recent figures suggesting that the birthrate among unmarried women in the U.S. has hit a high.

Morrissette, who had a son and a daughter by a known sperm donor when she wasn't married, believes that this spiked birthrate for singles is not bad news, knowing as she does that "hundreds of single women who have become mothers through conception or adoption." She also introduces "choice motherhood" -- her term for "proactively choosing to become the best parent we can be as single women."

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She describes the experience of deciding to be a single mom this way: "Some of us do start out fearful ... Some of us grieve for the childhood dream not realized of sharing parenthood with a lifetime partner. Some worry about the impact it might have on their child to grow up without a father ... Then a funny thing happens. As time goes on, and the prospective mother becomes an actual mother, what she used to think would be important ... isn't."

Morrissette catalogs a lot of advantages to being a single mother by choice, drawing on interviews she's done with mothers and with their grown children to support her point that "being a good parent is more important than being a married one. While it's lovely that the U.S. government is spending $500 million on its Healthy Marriage Initiative, it is money that might be better spent helping all mothers and fathers who need it -- single or married -- put conscious parenting into action."

Amen and absolutely. What this country needs is not more hand-wringing about the morality of different parenting structures -- single, married, straight or gay. If we're so worried about how kids are being raised, we should make more of an effort to provide parents of all shapes and sizes and personal lives with the resources they require to be the best parents they can be. Great point, and not exactly surprising reasoning for readers of Broadsheet.

The reason I bring up this post is that I'm curious about what Broadsheet readers think of the term "choice motherhood." Personally, I'm a little dubious about it.

First, it makes me itchy to slap a "choice" label on anything we loosely define as feminist, since it's not a word that has done us great favors in the past. Many women's rights activists have pointed out that the language of "choice" was what we got stuck with in the fight over abortion rights after antiabortion activists smartly seized the rather more inspiring language of "life." So I'm not so thrilled about tattooing "choice" on our foreheads in every ideological arena -- it only increases the likelihood we're going to be stuck with it far into the future.

I also tend to agree with critics like Linda Hirshman, who has argued that the squishyness of "choice" lends a dubious sense of empowerment to literally any decision a woman makes, whether or not it's good for her or for anybody else.

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What Morrissette calls "choice motherhood" is an inspiring and exciting option to have in front of us, especially as it gains increased social acceptance and an infrastructure that may better support it. But the tacking on of "choice" as a kind of brand name brings a lot of unnecessary baggage.


Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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