The single mom stigma

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The single mom stigma


I have an embarrassing story to tell. About 10 years ago, I met a woman around my age while traveling. After chatting for a while, I asked if she was a student. She said, “I am a mother.” I smiled nonchalantly, but many thoughts were on my mind.

I met unmarried mothers as I researched the low fertility report for the newspaper, “Defend the Population of 50 Million” and I realized how narrow-minded I had been. Park Hye-jin, 35, said that she fell in love, thought she would marry the guy and had a baby. Kim Mi-jin, 46, said that no one would intentionally plan to become a single mom. They were the mothers who plucked up the courage to defend their babies.

According to the National Statistical Office, 8,000 to 10,000 babies were born annually to unmarried parents in the last five years. Experts predict that as society gets more complex, an increasing number of households will deviate from the traditional family unit based on marriage.

Korea still has cruel standards for single mothers. The scarlet letter of “fatherless child” is applied. When you search “single mother” online, you get negative content arguing that single mothers suffer from psychological and emotional damage and have trouble raising their children.

But the unwed mothers say that they are treated unfairly even among one-parent families, lower than bereaved wives or divorcees. In fact, the government includes unwed mothers in the one-parent family policy and does not offer separate assistance. Last year, the number of unmarried mothers was surveyed for the first time. The mothers were not accounted for when they actually make up a portion of childbirth as the government promotes having children.

“When the government acknowledges unmarried mothers as a type of family and promotes the policy aggressively, the awareness among the general public will change,” said Kim Hui-ju, a professor of social work at Hyupsung University. Multicultural families used to be viewed with similar biases. But social awareness has changed since the government started a multicultural family project called “comprehensive social support for female immigrants through marriage” in 2006. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and other government agencies provide support for multicultural families today.

When we see Oprah Winfrey, the Queen of All Media, we don’t brand her as a daughter of an unwed mother. When a woman gets pregnant before the wedding, the couple celebrates it as a gift. The baby is a blessing when they end up getting married, but if they don’t, the baby is considered a burden. Then, society is so bleak. I don’t want my children to grow up in a society where mothers and their children are discriminated for not having husbands and fathers.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 26, Page 33

*The author is a national news reporter at the JoongAng Ilbo.

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