Open Letter to Tyler Perry
Dear Mr. Perry:
“Club,” you say? Did you say, “Club,” as in “Single Moms Club?” My hackles are already up. The title, and more so, the subject of your soon-to-be-released film has me on edge. Why am I on edge? I am glad you asked. I am on edge because for the greater part of my adult life, I have been tagged with the label, “Single Mother.” While I am quite comfortable with my society-dubbed status, I do admit to being a tad uncomfortable with the treatment that will be accorded this touchy subject.
But you are the professional filmmaker, Mr. Perry. I won’t know how to direct my way down a one-way street even armed with a working GPS and a backseat Siri. So with much respect for your attention to your craft, I pray that you have captured with appropriate sensitivity the extraordinary complexity of the experience of a mother who is single - whether by choice or by circumstance.
My hope is that you will portray us as we are without yielding to the temptation to succumb to popular stereotypes. Statistics, i.e., numbers, are often cited to denigrate if not castigate single mothers for visiting upon society any number of social ills. The women (with names) who I have been fortunate to know have mothered productive citizens none of whom are drug-addled, prison-bound, underachieving criminals or prostitution-bound runaways. Were we to form a “club” I can guarantee you that there will not be any visible defining mark to distinguish us from any other group. Our scars are internal.
Sure, life has dealt us a number of blows. When life personally stared me down for two plus decades, I never blinked though over the years torrents of tears have escaped, a few drops at a time. There have also been laughter, joy and some luck much as there have been for my fellow singletons.
I will fork over the $12.00 plus parking plus gas plus snack to see the “Single Moms Club” when it opens in March. In fact, I will take along a few club members with me and I promise you, Tyler Perry, should it run afoul of our truth, you will hear from me again. From us.
My hope is that you understand that single mothers are not clamoring for special recognition. Desiring neither to be trivialized nor lionized, we don our S-emblazoned cape every day ready to take on the world of double-duty parenting and the attendant guilt that often leads to overcompensating for under manning the job. It’s not that we are lobbying for the Superwoman award. Far from it. However, like greatness, the cloak of multiplied responsibility is thrust upon us except, we don’t feel great much of the time. The “S” on our chest silently blares “stigma,” “statistic.” It screams from the status box on FAFSA forms and yells from the podium on graduation day as we accompany our graduate to her esteemed seat, proudly, singly.
My hope is that your research depicts the intangible cost__ the true cost of weighing health care and child care vs. a single income. Dollar amounts will never accurately convey the anguish of choosing one over the other gambling that with youth on our side neither of us would become ill. No accountant can calculate the earnings gained from multiple simultaneous independent contractor jobs against the decision to forego paid vacations and a 401(k), standard fare with a secure staff position. The lure of the former is not so much the lucrative offerings but the flexibility to take an unscheduled day or week off in the event of an early school closing or the inevitable babysitter woes. We squirrel away whatever we can for future college costs while stunting our own retirement-free future. Contradiction?
My hope is that you realize that dating is either a complicated issue or a total non-issue dependent upon multiple factors. Is it time? Is it safe? Is it the right thing to do? Is the child ready? Is the mother ready? There are more questions than answers and rather than stir already muddy waters some of us prefer the calm of managing hectic schedules and emotions in turmoil. For companionship, we throw ourselves wholeheartedly into every aspect of our child’s life, ensuring quality and quantity of time spent together while unwittingly creating a lopsided attachment. In my case, when my daughter headed off to college, I felt like I had lost my best friend. In many respects I did. I did. She did not. I was still wiping away the tears as she bounded away, unfettered, to explore new horizons just like she did when she was four years old and went to visit her grandparents without me for the first time. Clearly, she had need of other relationships and so did I. But, such is the life of some single moms. Our lives tend to be intensive rather than extensive.
I sincerely hope that throughout this journey you have come to understand or at least appreciate that a number of single moms are living the mother of all contradictions. Many of us seem to be doing valiantly on the outside. However, at times we struggle to maintain some shred of dignity while praying to God that the fraying edges of our own self-worth do not undermine the strength that we are trying to model. Ours is a nuanced life. It is a life that’s filled with pleasure and pain; not unlike what our coupled sisters face. We are in this together. I have long ditched my Superwoman uniform. I traded the outer battle gear for the under armour of peaceful resolution. I recognize that I, like every other mother, can only do what I can do. We do the best we can with the information and resources at our disposal. We soldier on with fortitude and faith.
My prayer is that after the film, because of the film, in spite of the film, film or no film, mothers everywhere of every stripe - single, married, divorced, widowed, foster, adoptive___ will support one another; that there will be no distinction by status; that we be celebrated for who we are and what we do. As we embrace the role with which we have been blessed may we remember that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.
Jennifer Lavern is a keen observer of the issues that affect how women view themselves and how they interact with their world.