Friday, December 16, 2016

Single Mothers Speak on Patriarchy - An Introduction by Trista Hendren

Art by Arna Baartz

Many people have wondered why I am going off track with my Goddess work to write about single mothers. To me, it’s all related.

The way we treat mothers is indicative of how we view The Mother.

Under patriarchy, the mother is feared and hated, quite crazily, both for her power and her weakness; everything a man cannot courageously accept about himself is projected onto his mother, or wife.” –Monica Sjoo & Barbara Mor1

To me, honoring real life mothers is just as important as setting aside our indoctrination to believe in a male God.

As someone who has been both a married mother and a single mother, I can tell you that there is a big difference in the way the world treats you. There is also an enormous difference as to what your perceived “rights” are: namely whether or not anyone else will help you—financially or otherwise—to raise your children.

It’s hard to feel like a Goddess when you’re worried sick about how you are going to feed your kids. You can do all the affirmations and self-help work you want, but it is a rare woman who feels empowered living in poverty.

Amy Logan wrote in The Seven Perfumes of Sacrifice, “Every time they butcher a woman for honor, they’re killing the Goddess.”2 I believe that is true with every rape and murder of a female, and to a somewhat lesser extent, every time a woman is hit, verbally abused or forced to live in poverty.

Putting this anthology together was quite upsetting at times. Reading through the submissions of other single moms was often rather devastating. I felt overwhelmed by the task of changing a system that is so globally entrenched. I was often disappointed with the lack of response from other feminists—who had, perhaps never been in these shoes themselves.

Many of us don't aspire to be single mothers. I sure didn't. The first time around, I became pregnant fairly early into a new relationship. I was not aware at the time that the father of my child had struggled with addiction since his teen years. After more than a year of being a single mom and struggling alone, the father of my child went to an extended rehab and became sober.

After a year of maintaining his sobriety, I married him. I felt ecstatic. I was sure my misery and difficult years were over. I excelled at my career and lived a fairly affluent lifestyle while both of us were working. We had another child—and, a year later, he relapsed.

I wasn't expecting to find cocaine in my home. I wasn't expecting another extended rehab that did not take. I wasn't expecting that I would have to continue paying bills on one income while caring for two young children alone. We lived in a nice home and belonged to a country club. My children attended private schools and were enrolled in every sort of extracurricular activity imaginable.

Initially I received about 10% of our annual budget in child support and alimony. Needless to say, that did not begin to cover our expenses. In the years that followed, I divorced, filed for bankruptcy and lost my home.

I often say that I will never fully recover from my years as a single mom. Sadly, this is true for many of us, although it need not be.

Single Mother by Igor Morski

I may have left my status of “single mother” behind several years ago when I remarried, but the repercussions of those years have still followed me. I still have no retirement fund saved for my later years due to the three accounts I had to cash out to feed my children. My credit is still ruined and I have nothing in savings. My back and neck are still in chronic pain every day—a leftover from the tremendous stress of those years—and I do not have the funds to do much about it.

You don’t just recover from being a single mother. You deal with it the best way you can.

 I received hundreds of inquiries for this anthology, and few of them told a happy story.

The thing is, when you’re isolated as a single mom, you believe you are the only one going through all this. As Andrea Dworkin wrote, “The genius of any slave system is found in the dynamics which isolate slaves from each other, obscure the reality of a common condition, and make united rebellion against the oppressor inconceivable.”

Years of participation in a single mothers' group has shown me that although we may
feel alone, we certainly are not alone in numbers or our experiences. I believe it is time for women to stop suffering in silence and tell our stories so that we can change this dynamic. As James Baldwin once wrote:

The victim who is able to articulate the situation of the victim has ceased to be a victim: he or she has become a threat.”

I tell more of my personal story in Hearts Aren’t Made of Glass3. However, my connections with women in similar situations over the last 13 years convinced me that we needed a collection of stories. We must reveal the worldwide scale of abuse toward single mothers. It is not just individual men who are doing this; it is our laws and lack of understanding around this issue that allow it to continue on such a large scale.

In my own life, I am owed more than $46,000 in past due court-ordered child support, but no one—at the state or national level—seems interested enforcing that child support. I racked up another $22,000+ in legal fees in Family Court, that my ex was ultimately ordered to pay by the judge—but no one is enforcing that either. 

In the U.S. alone, there is more than $108 billion of unpaid child support.4 Marielena Zuniga notes in her study of Women and Poverty that:

In 2007, only 31 percent of female-headed families in the U.S. reported receiving child support payments during the previous year.” 5
I don't have a collective number on legal fees worldwide, but in talking to other women, I know I am not alone in this either. Men are successfully using the “Family Court” systems to tank us. This is particularly troubling when you look at how much women give of themselves to care for their children.

As Vanessa Olorenshaw writes in Liberating Motherhood, “When it comes to women, how far do patriarchal and exploitative capitalist values rely on women providing unwaged care, on which our society can freeload and from which it can wash its hands of financial responsibility?”6

So often, we are told to just suck it up—for the sake of our children. The only group that our silence benefits are the men who don't do their part—and the agencies who allow them to get away with it.

We are not less strong for admitting how terribly hard and inhumane it feels to be single mothers. We are shining the light on an important human rights violation—and allowing other women to do the same. We are demanding better lives for ourselves and our children.

$108 billion is not a small problem. And it doesn't begin to measure the long-term effects on women and children. As far as I know, no one has calculated the worldwide total of unpaid child support either—but I would guess it is somewhere in the trillions. As Ann Crittenden writes, 
“A society which beggars its mothers beggars its own future.”

As we were finishing this book, I happened upon the documentary, “TheTrue Cost.” There I learned the story of Shima—a single mother in Bangladesh who is one of 40 million garment workers around the world. I was heartbroken to hear her story of making approximately three dollars a day while caring for her young daughter alone. Sometimes she would bring her daughter to the factory with her, but the chemicals were harmful for her young body and she had no one to help care for her. Ultimately, she had to leave her young daughter in the care of her parents outside the city—for about a year at a time—to provide her daughter with a better life.

No mother should have to make this sort of sacrifice. If women in Western countries are suffering as single mothers, it is logical that women in poorer countries suffer even more. This is a global problem that this anthology is just scratching the surface of. As Zuniga notes:

Nearly one-third of all households worldwide are headed by women. In certain parts of Africa and Latin America, as many as 45 percent of households are female-headed.”7

I had hoped to include more stories from women like Shima in this book. However, just the ability to write your story connotes some amount of privilege. Throughout the period of collecting stories for this anthology, I was met with a similar response. Women wanted—often desperately—to tell their stories, but lacked the time to be able to sit down and do it.

Furthermore, there are many parts of the world where educating girls is not a priority—and it is painfully obvious that those women and their stories are often not heard at all—at least in print.

We have included many voices of women who are not native English speakers in this anthology. However because this project was self-funded, we lacked the ability to track down and translate stories of women who did not speak English at all.

Sadly, as someone who is still suffering financially from my own years as a single mom, I did not have the time or the resources to carry out this project all the way.

This anthology is meant to be a starting point—which hopefully will inspire others to carry on this work and make radical changes for single mothers and their children. 

I hope other single moms will join us in shedding the secrecy and shame around this issue. My vision is that other women will join their sisters in demanding fair treatment. All of our children deserve to grow up surrounded by love and peace—not pain, poverty and stress.

An excerpt from Single Mothers Speak on Patriarchy.  Order your copy here.

UPDATE: I feel compelled to share that I did finally get ALL of my back child support and attorney fees after fighting long and hard for it for years on end. NEVER GIVE UP SISTERS.

1 Sjoo, Monica and Mor, Barbara. The Great Cosmic Mother. HarperOne. 1987.
2 Logan, Amy. The Seven Perfumes of Sacrifice. Priya Press. 2012
3 Hendren, Trista. Hearts Aren't Made of Glass: My Journey from Princess of Nothing to Goddess of My Own Damned Life. Girl God Press. 2016.
4 Hargreaves, Steve. “Deadbeat parents cost taxpayers $53 billion.” CNN/Money. November 5, 2012.
5 Zuniga, Marielena. “Women & Poverty.” Revised September 2011.
6 Orenshaw, Vanessa. Liberating Motherhood: Birthing the Purplestockings Movement. Womancraft Publishing. 2016.
7 Zuniga, Marielena. “Women & Poverty.” Revised September 2011.


  1. Thank for your honesty I was a single mother of five while dealing with PTSD from childhood sexual abuse subsequent addiction and domestic violence not to mention the violence I inflicted upon myself by not allowing myself to love myself. While writing this I realized how I felt and therefore treated myself was violent. So again thank you.

  2. I was just talking to one of my single mother friends, when you are a single mother you have a few mother friends like you. We were talking about how the lessons as a single mother never leave you, it becomes part of who you are. The pre-mother woman changes forever as the single pre-mother changes forever as well but it is followed with fear. Doing it alone, just thinking about it makes me chest tight! I had a heart attack this past January so that means different things to me now. But seriously, I immediately went to what I got for child support the first 8 years of my sons life. If I behaved, essentially I got his generous $350.00, but the court order was $87.00 a month in 1987! My son was born allergic to everything and I was on my own with medical expense. One day when he was 8 things shifted and we ended up in court and my child support went up to $637.00 a month plus half of all "out of pocket" medical. It was a gift, but way late for me. We are strong, powerful and relentless and that, that moves mountains. Thank you for this!