What Is a 'Married Single Mom'?

'Married single mom' is a buzzy new trending term on social media. But what does it mean and is it even appropriate?

Top view of young mother preparing breakfast and talking to two daughters making drawing and eating with father working on computer in background

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"Weaponized incompetence," "default parent," "mental load," and "invisible load."

These phrases have entered the parenting conversation over the last few years, particularly on social media. Though they may sound new, buzzy, and, at least In the case of "weaponized incompetence," inflammatory, they all serve the same purpose: To point out that one parent, usually the woman in a heterosexual relationship, often winds up with more responsibilities, seen or unseen.

Here's a new one for you: "Married single mom."

The phrase emerged in discussions around a viral video of a mom exiting her car with a handful of stuff and her two children. She essentially falls onto her toddler while trying to remove her younger child from the car. Meanwhile, a man is standing there with a phone in his hand, doing nothing to help.

We're not going to share the video. It's sad and frustrating, but there's no context to the social post. Are they even married? Was he in the middle of walking someone through an actual crisis via text? We just don't know.

Still, this much is clear: This woman had her hands full (literally and figuratively) and no support, at least in this situation. It's really not surprising, if you're paying attention—our villages these days consist of "must-have baby products," like robot bassinets (SNOO) and daycare providers. (Daycare is great! Providers are saints! All new caregivers still deserve paid leave. All of these things can be true at once).

The comments and headlines on the video were harsh, saying it was the definition of a "married single mom."

What is a married single mom? If you don't want to Google the video, it's basically an extension of default parenting. But it takes things a step further.

See, the default parent is the person who winds up with most of the tasks because they're...there. Pediatrician appointments? On the default parent. Last-minute childcare cancellation? The default parent takes off work (and deals with the fallout from that) or attempts to work and parent from home (a tall task that comes with far less empathy than in the early days of the pandemic when it was funny to have kids pop up on Zoom calls). The default parent is also often the one the kids go to even when that parent is busy, despite the other parent being available.

It's not that the other parent never lifts a finger when they can be around. But it's assumed the default parent will handle much of the load, even if they're being pulled every which way, too.

Mom holds child while another has a tantrum

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Married single moms do it all while their partners play video games, scroll on Candy Crush, and insist they don't need to help with night wakings during the newborn phase because "They have to work and you have eight weeks of unpaid 'time off.'" (Air quotes because it's not time off.) Partners in these situations may also use "weaponized incompetence." ("Oh, I didn't change the baby's diaper because I don't know how!).

Married single moms aren't moms whose partners are in the military. Partners who work long hours or repeatedly leave dirty dishes in the sink aren't necessarily forcing someone into "married single mom" territory. Breastfeeding a baby doesn't make you a "married single mom." Married single mothers do everything for their children, even if their well-rested partner looks on (or at their phone).

The phrase isn't without controversy. There are actual single moms (or parents) out there who can't attempt to have important, heart-to-heart conversations with their partners to split up tasks. We shouldn't take away from the mountain of tasks they have to complete, often with even fewer resources (notably money).

But sometimes, even the best attempts to get someone to help out are unsuccessful—even if you're direct. Even if you're patiently persistent—or impatiently persistent. Those situations aren't fair either, and those parents deserve a hand.

Is "married single mom" an appropriate term for it? Honestly, I don't know. I think we label and diagnose too many things these days. Instead of "jerk," a person is an "unhealed gaslighting narcissist." And we often misuse those terms, some of which are real mental health diagnoses best made by an actual provider. Moms don't need catchphrases and labels. We need support.

So next time you see a mom struggling to carry a bag of groceries and a baby, lend a hand—whether you know her or not. Unless, of course, you're in the middle of responding to a life-altering text thread.

And if you have thrust someone into married single motherhood because your biggest concern is your next move on your Chess app, cut it out.

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