The single mom stigma

February 17 | Guest post by Lindsay
By: DavidSaddler – CC BY 2.0
By: DavidSaddlerCC BY 2.0

I've been apartment hunting for a while now. Taking my time, waiting for the right place to come along. In my search, I've been honest with potential landlords: I'm a single mom, professionally employed, and I have a little girl.

I found an amazing space that I could've seen Evelyn and me living in. A five minute walk to the daycare, an eight minute walk to work. I gave the landlord my references, information to do a credit check, and financial info. In the end, she told me she chose someone else because they were a couple, which for her meant more financial stability.

Unfortunately, this wasn't the first time this had happened to me. I had another landlord tell me via email that he saw a single mom as a "liability" and wouldn't rent to me because of it.

Cue my rage face, boiling blood, and feelings of ire mixed with defeat.

I've never — not even once — been late on the rent in all my adult life. I have a stable job at a world-class University. I make a decent income. I'm not rich, but I can pay the bills and live comfortably. So why, then, am I seen as a "liability" to landlords?

Oh, right. The single mom stigma.

I wish I could tell the assholes (let's call a spade a spade) who discriminate against me that I'm not a down-on-her-luck single mama. I'm a single mom by choice, which means I saved for years to become a mother. I'm a lesbian, which means I planned this, more than many people do. Any of my references would check out perfectly.

I've considered lying to landlords, by omission anyway, and not sharing the fact that I'm a mama. I know landlords love single, quiet women with no pets. But how could I lie about my little girl? It wouldn't feel right to me.

This discrimination, and the stigma that cloaks the "single mom" label, is everywhere. I was on Reddit last night, cramming a PB&J sandwich into my mouth while reading all about the reasons why people (well, men in this case) would never date single moms. The stereotypes and assumptions astounded me. And then they made my heart wilt a little. "Do people really think this poorly of single mothers," I wondered.

I'm tired of "single" being synonymous with "lesser."

So what is a single mom who doesn't fit under the "single mom" stereotype to do? Combat the stigma, one opinion at a time. And maybe give the discriminating landlords a piece of my mind, one scathing email at a time.

Any single parents out there facing this as well? How have you combatted the single mom stigma?

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  1. I think that is actually illegal. I think you can't discriminate based on family for renting. So if you have that as their reason in writing, you could pursue legal action (or at least threaten it). I definitely think you would feel better if you protested in some way–using your voice is empowering, even if it still doesn't work out. I'm sorry you have had to face this BS. Good luck.

    36 agree
    • In the US, this is absolutely illegal. I know OP is in Canada (judging by their bio), so I can't speak to that. But, for anyone else in this situation in the US, you are *not* required at all to disclose any information about anyone under the age of 18 living in your house ("family status"). Furthermore, if you do, landlords cannot deny your application based solely on that fact.

      14 agree
      • Totally understand. Another resource for folks in your (or similar) position(s) is to check local Fair Housing Partnerships/Associations. They are wonderful resources for people having difficulty finding housing for a variety of concerns.

        4 agree
  2. It is so disappointing how people react to me being a single mom. I work extremely hard, provide for my daughter with no child support, and it just irritates me when people treat me differently. I never imagined this would be my life, but I have done well by it.

    6 agree
    • We can be proud of ourselves, even when others ignore us and/or discriminate. We can help ditch the single mom stigma, one loving action at a time!

      6 agree
  3. hey there,

    Firstly, I want to say 'right on, single mama!' I, too, have run into many of the problems you write about, and share your frustrations. I am a divorced queer single mama of two sweet gaybies. It's hard work and harder still as a single.

    Your comment about not being a 'down and out' single mama does give me pause though. I do understand wanting to say that you don't fit people's stereotypes of single mothers. But when you do that by resisting the fact that you are poor, and hence, unstable – you also miss out on debunking the link between poor and unstable.

    I'm a broke, phd student single mama and I struggle to make ends meet every month. But that doesn't make me unstable or undesirable me as a partner, a tenant, a person in the world.

    Anyhow – just my add-on two cents.

    Thanks again for writing some of the hard stuff! And rock-on, fellow single mama!

    21 agree
    • Really good point you make, Natasha. I think in my effort to make a point that not every single mama fits the stereotype, I may have unintentionally made it seem like being "poor" or trying to make ends meet was a negative thing. That wasn't my intention at all – I'm sorry!

      8 agree
    • Thank you, Natasha, for saying what I was feeling. I didn't choose to be a single mother, but I am a wonderful mother nonetheless. Emphasis on "nonetheless". I've dealt with decades of discrimination from people regarding my single parenthood, some even in my own family, so it was a bit jarring to read that same view from another single mom. Happily, you said what I was thinking, making the observation with tact and without offence. And, more happily, Lindsay heard you without defensiveness. Bravo to you both!

      4 agree
  4. In this case I would absolutely lie. We lied when we were trying to rent a house (formerly occupied by the people I babysat for!). The owners are devout christian and we couldn't gauge how batshit crazy they were (turns out not too badly), so we lied by omission (we are also queer, but look straight). *shrug* I have no shame or regret in that, even though it did feel wrong at the time. I do what's best for my family. We were stellar tenants, too, and we loved that house like crazy.

    8 agree
    • In the end, I ended up having to do just that. A friend of mine pretended she was my partner for the purpose of applying for a house. I/we got it. Sometimes I feel bad about the fib, but I'm an amazing tenant and so…I don't feel TOO bad about it.

      9 agree
  5. While I don't agree with the illegal discrimination, I can kind of understand preferring a couple to a single renter. If you lose your job, then you may miss rent. If one person in a couple loses their job, then they may still make rent. I'm going to also guess that these asshole landlords have had really bad experiences with single moms before, and they're discriminating based on that. It's not right, but they're trying to make a living and protect their investment too.

    8 agree
    • That's true – and I totally 'get' that. But what about making a consideration for the individual, rather than just discriminating over a group of people? I have several references they could've checked and helped allay their fears.

      12 agree
    • This is what credit checks are for. A single mom with flawless credit shouldn't be considered a risk, or at least no more so than any other family. My husband and I have always been a single income couple. This actually makes us less reliable I'd think because if he loses his job, he has double the expenses eating away at any savings.

      21 agree
  6. I think there's a broader stigma about singleness in general, too. I'm thinking of my own mother who hasn't gotten remarried after my parents split up 20 years ago. She's had a few longer term relationships but never more than a few years. When I talk about my mom, people often seem surprised that she hasn't yet ended up with someone long term after all these years. I think some of this comes out of people's own fears – so many people (myself included) are happier WITH someone that the experience of others who are perfectly happy WITHOUT a partner might make them uncomfortable or confused – it's partially their own fears of loneliness, coming out as totally unfair discrimination against you as a renter.

    In the US, apartment complexes often display the double bar equality sign on their materials. I don't know how accurate a reflection it is, or if it's really just saying "we like all kinds of couples but we still don't like single women w/ kids," but personally I tend to favor apartments that do display that logo. I'm not married to my opposite-sex partner and though that isn't usually a problem, I really wouldn't want to be in a place that was judgy about people's relationship (or lack thereof) choices.

    Oh, and even though we are a couple, I earn most of the money. Two people doesn't always equal two incomes! (whether with or without kids)

    13 agree
    • I would prefer a place that didn't discriminate as well, because what happens if Husband and I break up while I'm in that apartment? I'd be pissed if I went from a good tenant to an iffy tenant in my landlord's eyes just because my husband didn't want to be with me anymore.

      3 agree
    • The equal-sign on housing materials is not the "equality" sign of the Human Rights Campaign, it's a separate logo. Also, not all places in the United States have non-discrimination laws based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing. (Or jobs. Or adoption or parenting or . . . yes, I can get worked up about this.)

      2 agree
  7. This was tough to read. I'm straight, and I've given up on finding a partner in life. I daydream about the daughter or son I'll adopt in a few years, and the fun little life we'll have together. I know it will be hard to be a single mom, but this is one more element I hadn't yet thought about – not even being able to find a place to live with my child. It's heartbreaking.

    4 agree
  8. Back in the day when I was trying to find an out from a domestic violence situation I had SO MANY landlords flat hang up on me. I was too honest in even letting them know the circumstances but because I was trying to line my ducks up (escape/housing, protection order, THEN divorce papers) I had to explain married but he's not coming with, small town/everyone knows everyone so PLEASE don't call around/talk about it…
    I finally found a landlord that not only understood the quirks of the circumstances but further supported me by asking if there were any other ways he could help and letting me know he would provide any protection/anonymity he could. He was so fantastic about me needing out with two kiddos and only a part time job- even willing to work with the Department of Social and Health Services and help me secure one of the first ever domestic violence housing grants in our state- a completely unknown pilot program. He gave me an opening that I took and never looked back.

    There's too many out there that see "single mom" and all the stereotypical warning flags that go with it. I TOTALLY understand their hesitance and the reasons that there are stereotypes. I get that they're protecting their income, the other residents, their property, etc. But every now and again you find a good one that's willing to look past the stereotype to the person. Few and far between but they do exist!

    Oddly (or luckily) after that I never had a landlord even bat an eye at me being a single mom with 2 kiddos- or maybe I just didn't see/hear it. I always had a good job, good rental history…and it seems a whole lotta luck.

    23 agree
  9. I'm not a mum, (single or otherwise) and don't really have any advice on renting except shared outrage at the unfairness, but I am married to a man raised by a single mother. I didn't witness the struggles she must have faced all I see is the results of amazing parenting in my husband. He is kind, hard working, thoughtful and strong. I am so grateful for my mother-in-law because she raised a wonderful man. So on behalf of future spouses everywhere I want to thank and encourage you single-mums out there. You're doing great!

    12 agree
    • This makes me so happy to hear! On my worst days, I worry that maybe I'm cheating my daughter out of a second parent (there's no telling what the future holds, of course, but I mean for now)…and it makes me really pleased to hear of adults who are awesome human beings who were raised by single moms.

      8 agree
    • I also have a husband raised by a single mother. He is an amazing human being BECAUSE of all the crazy hoops his mom had to jump through. From what I understand they moved around a lot to make ends meet, and they lived in some dumps. I'm sure some of it was related to her financial struggle, but your post made me realize that there probably was some discrimination involved.

      We have a mutual friend who became pregnant, and as she was struggling with the reality of becoming a single mom, she and my husband had this amazing bonding moment where he reassured her that she would be a great mother. Her son is now 8, and they're both doing wonderfully.

      2 agree
  10. I have to think this must be a generational thing. Let's be honest, most people in a position to own an investment property are a bit older and probably grew up with all these negative images of unmarried mothers. My husband and I are in our 20s and in our discussions of one day potentially buying a duplex and renting out half, we both agree that single moms would take paying their rent a lot more seriously than non-parents. They've got someone depending on them, after all.
    It never made sense to me that single parents are seen as less reliable. There's no chance of them "breaking up" and having to move out because of it. They want to keep their kid in the same school so they won't want to move unless they really have to. And I've never met a child that was allowed to be as loud as the deaf old lady above us now 😉

    10 agree
  11. Thanks for mentioning this!! Finding housing is hard for anyone and I agree it is even more challenging for single parents. I am one and have found finding a unit impossible so far, three months and no luck. Legally they can't discriminate and technically two people are legally allowed to rent a studio, but I am also a horrible lair and when they ask who's going to be living in the unit I tell them and let's just say I have only seen one apartment unit so far (the actual inside) aside from having a steady income, meeting income requirements, and credit requirements. Best.

    1 agrees
  12. Imagine what it's like for single moms who actually are down on their luck, which happens remarkably often because housing isn't the only place where single moms are discriminated against. Employment discrimination is a serious issue for single mothers. I'm sure that you understand how difficult it can be to obtain daycare, now imagine if you are only making $10 an hour because many employers also see single moms as a liability.
    As a woman who had a child while single on accident, and never got any support from the child's father, and had to move back in with her mother (despite having a good job, not that it lasted long after my son was born and I was the only one able to care for him if he was sick or daycare fell through), and fit into probably a great deal of the single mom stereotypes referenced in this post, it stings a little to hear other single moms distinguish themselves from me because they planned their pregnancies, or were not "down on their luck". Another way of saying that is that you entered into single parenthood luckier than I did, or dare I say it, with more privilege.
    There are lots of ways to become a single mother, but we all have to deal with that stigma for the same stupid reason, because ultimately the world feels women should not have babies without first obtaining some man's permission. I don't think I'm any more deserving of discrimination and stigma just because it happened to me the stereotypical way, though. I'm sure that's not what this post meant to imply, but it sure feels that way to this mama. After all the slut shaming, the pressure to abort (because single moms are bad, duh), the pressure to relinquish (because single moms are bad, duh), the shame of poverty, etc., it hurts to hear other single moms say "I'm not one of THOSE single moms, I'm a responsible one."
    I worked my ass off too. I sacrificed to be a parent too. I didn't deserve to be discriminated against or stereotyped either.

    14 agree
    • That really wasn't my intention at all when I wrote this post, but I can definitely see where this post may have come off that way. I'm so sorry. I really don't think ANY single mom – no matter how she came to be one or what her financial situation is – should ever been seen as "less than".

      There are systemic oppression issues here that are far deeper than my post explored. That wasn't the intent of the post, but I am aware of it and I'm sorry if my post smacked of anything that seemed arrogant.

      5 agree
      • I figured that was probably the case. I just couldn't leave it unsaid because then what impression would those inclined to judge single moms leave this post with? But thank you. And I am really sorry you've gone through this.

        2 agree
  13. This happened to me too! When I was in my early 20s, I found the perfect place, and the landlord said he wouldn't rent to "an irresponsible young mother." I had great credit and worked 48 hours a week. How is that irresponsible? He had a daughter my age (not a mom, just a young lady) who was a "wild partier" so therefore all young women that age must be too. And because I had a child out of wedlock, I must be REALLY wild. I had another landlord tell me disdainfully, "We don't want to rent to people like that." You don't want to rent to someone who works her ass off and always pays her bills? I wish I had known at that time what my rights were. It's inexcusable.

    2 agree
  14. Single moms are hardly ever, if ever, discriminated in my country, and people are sympathetic to them. I think they get more cred than housewives or married moms. They might discriminate over having a child when applying for a job but not over not having a man in the household and it very much depends on the place

    1 agrees
  15. I am on the other end of this. I am a landlord. I have a few renters that are single parents. My husband and I find that they are actually better tenants most of the time than the married couples we have or had had. I have one lady who has had a series of bad luck over the past year with jobs. Lay off's, cut in hrs at her job (she is on Section 8, not sure what it is called in Canada, so she has to have a job to keep her help. They did pay her full rent for 3 months as she could prove she was having issues when she lost her job. But she is now working again). But she was very honest with what was happening and she did her darnest to make arrangements when she had money to pay her share, plus the water bill she has to pay (I think her electric is covered by Section 8 or something). She knew that if she f**ked with us and blew us off, she would be in trouble with the Section 8 people (the Section 8 people where we live don't play around. Not sure about other area's).

    In general tenants know that no rent = eviction= no place to live, no matter single parents or married with kids or otherwise. Yes, you are going to have people who will play you and you learn their games and nip it in the bud before it goes out of hand. Yes, we got screwed when we first started purchasing property about 10 years ago. But like I mentioned, you learn how people work and we also learned during the initial look when looking for a new tenant (almost like being a body reader) what to stay away from before you put people in a rental. So if you don't get a good vibe from someone and they happen to be a single parent, trust your gut. Maybe it is not the single parent thing and something else that is turning the landlord off.

    3 agree
  16. I apologize but I'm a bit shocked that any human would give discrimination a pass, especially if there are avenues to follow for justice. If anyone lets themselves be discounted for being who they are… they've already lost.

  17. My mom has two income properties. One is rented by a two-parent family, and they have been kinda flaky about paying the rent on time. The other is rented by a single dad and his teenage son–and they are the nicest tenants ever! 🙂

    1 agrees
  18. I think the only way to deal with being a single renter is to over-prepare when meeting landlords. Show up with a file that includes references, a recent credit check, a letter of employment, and be ready to sign on the spot. Even sign a longer lease. Anything you can do to make yourself stand out over and above the competition.

    1 agrees
  19. I'm rather late in responding, but when I was a property manager, more than one-third of my tenants were single moms (one was a widowed grandma raising her granddaughter). I'm not in property management anymore, but would happily rent to any of them again if I were. They were all model tenants – kept their places clean, didn't throw parties, always paid the bills on time, and their kids were perfect angels. In one case, I had an applicant whose ex-husband had ruined her credit (I'd been instructed not to rent to applicants with bad credit due to certain ex-tenants with bad credit not paying their bills), but she had a great job and great references from her last landlord. We worked it out by having her parents co-sign her lease for the first year, and she wound up being the best tenant I ever had.

    The coupled tenants I had were hit-or-miss. One married couple with kids didn't pay their rent for months on end (the property owner took them to court and just recently started getting back payment, 10 years later) – they had jobs, they just didn't want to pay their bills. A different couple complained constantly (about problems THEY caused!), let their kids run wild, broke a few occupancy laws (long story), and flat-out harassed me (I lived two units away). Another couple turned out to be drug addicts! One elderly, married tenant had a drinking problem, called the owner of the property just to harass her (while drunk) on a regular basis, and may have set the building's parking garage on fire (the police couldn't prove he'd done it, but it was started by a cigarette of his preferred brand and no one else in the building smoked) – he also frequently stiffed the owner on rent.

    I'm thinking of buying a duplex in the next few years and would be more than happy to rent to a single mom again (and, having had a few scary controlling exes, would be more than happy to rent to an abuse victim).

  20. As a manager for a landlord, while I don't discriminate against being a single parent, I do evaluate between different applications for the best potential tenants. Sometime it happens to be a single parent that wins out based on credit, job, prior length of tenancy, criminal, eviction, lien, and number of other factors. While it may not be fair, I would consider a dual income or single income couple with 1 kid a stronger candidate with everything else similar. But with your background, I can't imagine many people beating you out in the area I rent out. It just a matter of your competition, not discrimination. For example, last year, I had to choose between one single parent making 90k and a dual income couple making 110k both with credit in the low 600. I want to go with the 90m single parent, but what prevented me to do so is thr reason for the 600 credit. The couple didn't care much for credit and basically don't have much credit accounts. The single mom owed a ton of student loans and are late on all of them plus a few other accounts. That was an easy decision.

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