Why Do Single Moms Still Get Erased on Mother’s Day?

Media and brands are missing the opportunity to speak directly to single/lone moms who construct their own days and lives—who buy their own Mother’s Day presents.

(Jose Luis Pelaez / Getty Images)

I’m a single-lone mom. 

We can, and often do, buy our own flowers.

Yet, if you were to look at the media that often surrounds us, you wouldn’t know it.

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the erasure and misrepresentation of single moms in the media. Before it was published, I shared it with a friend I knew wouldn’t hold back on his opinions. He wasn’t a mother or a woman, but he was argumentative, and he liked to pretend to be right as often as possible. It was good practice—you don’t write about the marginalization of single/lone motherhood without receiving plenty of “well informed” arguments in response. (I love my friend, I do.)

He told me I was wrong (surprise, surprise). He said that, actually, fathers were barely in any of the advertisements for Mother’s Day. This meant, naturally, that the mothers presented in ads were universal, seemingly neutral—any mother, from any family structure. He sent me ads to prove his point. 

I used them to write this piece. 

I don’t fault those who don’t live this life for not seeing how deep this exclusion and misrepresentation runs—for not noticing that most plots involving a single/lone mother revolve around the urgent need for a male role model, and/or that it’s essential for the mother to be married by the end of the show or movie for a supposed happily ever after. (I’ve asked my married friends; apparently the concept is a cruel myth.)

In fact, even as a single/lone mom, it can be missed. I had to be explicitly taught to analyze media messaging, at the time through the lenses of race and gender. Those lessons were burned into me, and I’m grateful—the media, more than ever, surrounds us, and has the incredible power to alter our subconscious. 

The misrepresentation and erasure of single/lone mom’s on Mother’s Day happens right before our eyes, surrounds us—and yet can be impossible for some to truly see. 

Still don’t believe me? Take a look.

There are the tired, obvious Mother’s Day depictions, here since time immemorial: the quintessential Mother’s Day experience shown as a perfect day, a man cooking mom breakfast alongside beautiful flowers and a card on the table (something many mothers in heterosexual relationships can’t relate to either, let’s be honest). 

There are representations of mothers and children that don’t seem to speak to a partner at all, seemingly universal, like this one—especially given that it’s been proven that mothers in heterosexual relationships continue to take on more than their fair share of family responsibilities. 

But the “universal nature” of most of the depictions we encounter aren’t actually all that universal at all—even if there’s no partner present in the depiction. Easier to spot if you have lived experience that looks nothing like the screen, harder to spot if you have never navigated it yourself: the wedding ring she’s wearing, the tie hanging over the chair in the bedroom. 

It’s difficult and rare—but not impossible—to find experiences of single/lone mothers reflected in mainstream media when it comes to Mother’s Day.

One of the few depictions I’ve come across begins with the image of a young woman getting dropped off at work by an older woman—a woman who will clearly be taking care of the sleeping child in the backseat of the car. In the commercial, I see the kind of family my son and I have always known—the kind where a grandparent steps in to fulfill an active parenting role in a child’s life. 

At the end of the same commercial, we see a different mother arriving home from work, carrying take-out food in as her children run to greet her. It is late, and no ready-set table or ready-made food prepared by an invisible, presumed partner awaits her return. There are no homemade meals, just warm food in paper bags, and it is clear that to the children, that is enough, because she is the one bringing it. 

If we pay attention, the story is in the details. The details that show how a life is lived. 

Many single/lone moms do not have someone setting the table or cooking us food. We do it all, or try to. And here’s the thing—there’s a lot of us. In Canada, over 80 percent of the over 1 million children in lone-parent families are headed by mothers, and in the U.S. over 15 million children live with their mother only—the second most common U.S. living arrangement. 

Despite these numbers, diverse and accurate depictions that illustrate family structures like ours remain few and far between. The dominant discourse of mothering and norms surrounding the nuclear family continues to reinforce, define, and categorize single mothers as “other.” 

For many of us, our erasure is not a relief or a comfort. 

To be misrepresented and underrepresented in media depictions connects to the larger issue of being seen or valued at all, resulting in our erasure from public discourse.

What’s being ignored here is an opportunity to speak directly to single/lone moms who construct their own days and lives—who buy their own Mother’s Day presents. Moms who, depending on the age and situation and ability of their children, do not wake up to breakfast in bed or presents from others. 

Mothers who celebrate themselves. 

Or are learning to.

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Natasha Steeris a teacher, writer and trauma recovery coach with an MEd in social justice education. She offers trauma recovery coaching to single/lone moms who support teens and young adults with mental health challenges.