Nobody said being a single mother is easy. Every single mother has to be the mother and the father to her child, taking on two extremely difficult roles in one, and doing so while maintaining her own self-care. With Father’s Day passing this weekend, there is still public controversy about whether single mothers should be honoured if the father of a child be absent. Stroking this controversy was toilet paper company, Angel Soft, who released a commercial, two years ago, recognizing single mothers on Father’s Day. Back in 2011, Hallmark’s Mahogany Line released a Happy Father’s Day card specifically targeted to African American single mothers. Unsurprisingly, the card generated criticism from the African-American community for being racist, and for simplifying the problem of absentee-fathers within the community. Today, Hallmark still offers a Father’s Day card aimed at single mothers, although the card no longer targets single African-American mothers.
My father cooked and cleaned when I was growing up. He bathed me and took me to school, and after he picked me up from school, we spent hours working on my homework together. He was my mother and my father when I was a child, as was my mum who also did all the things my father did. My father taught me about body hygiene, and my mother taught me about periods. My mother bought me my school shoes, and my father disciplined me when he thought me to be out of line.
Both parents were both parents to me, dividing their share of raising me, not according to gendered norms, but as partners within a family where both were the head of the family. On Father’s Day, I do not think to give my father a “Happy Mother’s Day” card. Similarly, on Mother’s Day, I do not honour my mother with a “Happy Father’s Day” card. Should either one had not been present during my childhood, I would still honour each respective parent as the mother or the father.
Honouring mothers as fathers on Father’s Day is not needed, for the single mother who raises her child, or children, on her own, does so as a single mother, not as a single father. She does not refer to herself as a father, although does attempt to replace the loss of a father’s presence. My father was often away for long periods of time, and my mother became the only authority figure in my household. As a younger child, my mother worked long hours and was barely at home, leaving me with my father. Without the presence of one, the other stepped in to become both parent to me.
While I do not trivialise the struggle every single mother goes through, it becomes unnecessary to switch the gendered celebration, when single fathers are also honoured on Father’s Day. My aunt, a single mother herself, receives a Mother’s Day card from me, for she has been like a mother to me too. Yet, I do not presume to send her a Father’s Day card on Father’s Day, though she has often acted like a father to me too. The debate here, perhaps, is not about honouring mothers during Fathers’ Day, or vice versa. It is about honouring parents during two differing days that cater to both genders. Within our current culture of rejecting rigid gendered norms, the mother can be the father, and the father the mother, whether in single-parent homes, double-parent homes or within other non-traditional family settings. Coincidentally, there is also a National Single Parents’ Day, celebrated on March 21st.