A version of this article originally appeared on VICE Brazil in May 2017.
In Brazil, single-parent households led by women are just as common as the “traditional” nuclear family. According to The Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA), almost 28 million Brazilian homes were run by women in 2014, meaning that single mothers are the breadwinners for 40 percent of all families in the country.
But despite the fact that they’re a commonality, single mothers still face various prejudices, doubts, and daily challenges. Even in two-parent households, Brazilian women work seven and a half hours longer than their male partners do and have enough of a difficult time as it is. Considering the amount of work that goes into raising a child, it’s worth imagining how much harder that process is without a partner.
In honor of Mother’s Day, Broadly interviewed three women raising kids on their own while also working themselves to the bone to provide for their families. All of them remarked that other people often view them as irresponsible and as gold diggers; assume that they’ve been “abandoned” by the child’s father; and automatically think that they’re desperately vying to find a new father figure for their children when in reality they’re just trying to date like the rest of us. We asked them to sound off on their experiences as modern day matriarchs without male counterparts.
Débora Pinheiro (30), publicist and mother of Josh (6) and Zoey (4)
VICE: When you were pregnant, did you ever think you’d be a single mother?
I was afraid it was going to happen for several reasons. My relationship with the father was actually very stable so a part of me didn’t want to believe it, but yeah, I imagined it could happen.
Motherhood is highly romanticized. Do you find that this complicates how we discuss being a mother in real-life conversations?
I always dreamed about being a mother and now, when I look back, I realize that even I had a romanticized idea of what motherhood is. I think that it’s damaging to promote this ideal—it doesn’t accurately portray reality. But I’m happy to live in a time where we can be more open about the challenges and hardships that come with being a mother. If you’re thinking about having children, it’s important to learn from the experiences of other moms. Yes, it’s beautiful. Yes, it’s magical. But it’s also extremely difficult; it’s a very important decision to make.
Do you think society accepts men who don’t help raise their kids or are otherwise completely absent?
Nowadays, a father who actually pays for his child’s pension is seen as a superhero dad. He doesn’t need to participate in the day-to-day or even see his kids. As long as he contributes financially, he’s considered awesome. But it’s completely different for mothers: We’ll be judged for getting a drink at a bar, working too much, or leaving our kids with a nanny. [Brazilian] society’s expectations of what a mother should be are extremely unfair. Nobody judges a man who abandons his family—they might be disappointed with him for a little while, sure. But if a mother makes the same choice, it would be the end of her.
"I think that it's damaging to promote this ideal—it doesn't accurately portray reality."
What’s the best thing about motherhood?
Seeing life happen. Seeing them grow and seeing their life happen right in front of you is, without a doubt, the best thing. I remember the day my eldest son looked up and saw the sky—I think he was one and a half. It was really emotional to see how he looked at all the blue up there with such fascination and pure joy. It was incredible. And even today, with every discovery and achievement [my kids] have, I get emotional. It makes me cry.
On top of that, children have a really pure love for their parents. It’s something that I’ve never experienced [in any other area of my life], and it’s very intense. I feel so blessed to have been chosen to guide these two humans through life. It’s so incredible.
And what’s the worst part?
The anxiety. Man, it’s hard. Will I have enough money to pay the bills? Are we out of milk? Did they finish their homework? Did they take a bath? Are they eating well? Did they get hurt? Did they take their medicine? Are they getting enough attention? Are they feeling as loved as they really are? It’s constant. There’s always something that I need to remember or do to make sure everything will be OK. Motherhood comes with an absurd amount of responsibility, and sometimes all you want to do is think about nothing and grab a coffee with a friend.
Bianca Oliveira (30), teacher and mother of Benjamin (4)
When you were pregnant, did you ever think you’d be a single mother?
Bianca Oliveira: I found out I was pregnant when I was already 12 weeks in. I decided to end my relationship with the father during the fourth month of the pregnancy, so I knew I was going to be a single mom—but I never imagined motherhood would be this lonesome.
Does it bother you to be called a “single mother?”
I get so irritated sometimes*. Motherhood has nothing to do with my relationship status. And it has even less to do with the person that I choose to be with in the future. [ Editor’s note: In Brazil, the term “solo mother” has an empowered, feminist connotation, whereas “single mother” is often considered derogatory and implicative that the woman has been abandoned by the child’s father.]
Do you encounter a lot of prejudices for being a single mother?
Yes. Especially because my son is half Japanese. When people saw me by Ben’s crib at the hospital, they’d ask for his mother and they’d be shocked when I said it was me. I’ve already heard people say that he’s too light-skinned to be my son. And people always ask me why my son’s father left me. They immediately assume that, as a black woman, I’m a single mom who’s been abandoned by the father. It’s really difficult.
"People always ask me why my son's father left me. They immediately assume that, as a black woman, I'm a single mom who's been abandoned by the father."
Is it difficult to have a romantic relationship when you’re a mom?
Totally! When a guy finds out I’m a mom, he quickly makes the excuse of “not being ready for that much responsibility yet” even if I never asked for anything of the sort. They always assume we’re only looking for someone to be our child’s father. The funny thing is that sometimes all we want is someone to kiss or have casual sex with (because believe it or not, single moms have sex, too!). What’s even worse is that many people think single mothers are easy because they’re so desperate. They think we’ll agree to anything, even if it’s a booty call at 3AM. The presumptions are [vast and varied].
What’s the best part of motherhood?
The best part of motherhood is living with my son. He’s a sweet, kind, and intelligent kid. It’s being able to build and share the love we feel for each other. It’s knowing that because of this, at least one part of the world is more beautiful.
And what’s the worst part?
The worst part of motherhood is the noise—being a mom robs you of silence. There’s always someone telling you how to behave, pointing out your failures, and giving you unsolicited advice on how to raise your kids. Oh, and blaming you. Moms can never have silence again.
Ester Ganev (31), makeup artist and mother of Zion (10) and Noah (7)
VICE: As a single mom, have you encountered any prejudices?
Ester Ganev: I remember the first international trip [I took with my children]; we went to Buenos Aires. Everywhere we went—the airport, our AirBnb, etc—people would look around and ask me, “But where’s your husband?” as if it wasn’t possible not to have one, or that it was otherwise irresponsible of me to be traveling alone with my two kids. If it’s possible to walk around with them in my own city, why wouldn’t it be impossible in any other city in the world? Also, because I’m white and my kids are black, I’ve noticed a lot of people looking at us and double-checking if my sons are really mine or if they’re street kids.
Is it difficult to have relationships while raising children on your own?
I think it is. Being in a relationship generally is already difficult enough, and for a solo mom it’s even harder. I’d like to be in a relationship with someone, not just find a father for my kids. This seems to be very difficult to grasp for [some potential partners]. I think in the type of society we live in, I can’t expect compromise.
"I'd like to be in a relationship with someone, not just find a father for my kids."
Did you ever imagine you’d be a single mom when you first got pregnant?
I was very young and got married thinking I would stay married forever [ laughs]. No, I didn’t imagine I’d be a single mom. It didn’t even pass through my head after the divorce. The father of my children was abandoned by his father, so I didn’t think he would abandon his own kids.
Do you think society romanticizes motherhood?
Absolutely. I became a mom at a very young age. I remember the day I had Zai (after an unnecessary and obstetrically violent C-section). I looked at that little baby, all groomed and fragrant, and thought, “Where is the whole ‘when a baby is born, a mother is also born’ thing?” The only thing I felt was this crazed need to not let the baby die [ laughs]. [Before I had kids,] I would see breastfeeding campaigns advertising the importance of building a bond between a mother and child and would think it was totally crazy because of course a mother gets attached to her baby. And then I felt guilty for not having that overwhelming abundance of love everyone talks about.
Are people baffled to hear you’re raising children on your own?
The first question is, “But how old are you? Did you start young?” and they then ask me where my kids stay while I’m at work. I like to think they ask me these questions because they want to know that the kids are doing well [ laughs]. And that they’re always cared for.