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What Not to Say to a Single Mom (or Dad)

How to Avoid Being Rude

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Two women arguing.

Learn what not to say to a single mom.

Photo © Medioimages/Photodisc/Getty Images

It still shocks me when I hear about the rude assumptions people make about single parents, and particularly single moms. So if you really want to be supportive to a single mom or dad at work or in your neighborhood, make sure you avoid the following phrases and questions:

  1. "Do they have the same father?" Now there's a judgmental way to start a conversation! This kind of question presumes that you think most single moms -- and this mom, in particular -- have children from multiple partners: an assumption that may be incorrect and, regardless, is most definitely none of your business.

  2. "I don’t know how you do it." This phrase is most often spoken with good intentions, in an attempt to recognize her efforts and perhaps even connect on some level. But it comes off as condescending. Try something like, “You’re doing a great job” instead, or "Your boys are so well-mannered. We're working on that at our house."

  3. "Why did you keep having kids?" Yikes! This is a variation of the equally-insulting "Haven't you heard of birth control?" Again, not your business! Didn't your mother teach you that if you can't say something nice, you shouldn't say anything at all?

  4. "Wow, I wish I were getting child support each month to raise these guys. Must be nice!" First, you don’t know that she’s even receiving child support. And if she is, you don’t know whether that money is sufficient or received on a regular basis. According to recent child support statistics, the average amount of child support due was $5,960 per year. That's less than $500 per month. But when you look at the statistics regarding child support dollars that were actually received, the average is closer to $300 per month. Is that sufficient to cover even half of one child's living expenses? Housing, food, clothing, extra curricular activities, etc.? No.

  5. "Why do you work? Couldn't you just live off the system, since you're a single mom?" Do you even know how few single moms actually receive government assistance? When you look at the actual statistics regarding the "typical single parent family" in the U.S., it's clear that quite a large number of single moms are raising their kids with zero financial assistance, government-supplied or otherwise.

  6. "I’m a single mom right now, too! My husband is out of town." C’mon! Running a household by yourself for a few days does not make you a single parent! Saying this to a single mom tells her that you know very little about what her day-to-day world is like -- and, worse, that you don't really care.

  7. "It must be hard for your kids: coming from a broken home, and all." Anything that includes phrase "broken home" has to be one of the worst things you can say to a single mom. It suggests that the home she’s built for her kids is inadequate. Sure, she may be doing it all on less income than a dual-parent family, but she’s not raising her kids with less love, so back off!

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