Created By: Some Guy on July 1, 2010 Last Edited By: SomeGuy on July 1, 2010

Glamorous Single Mother

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In Real Life, being a single mother isn't easy. Let's be honest here. Children kind of need a lot of attention. It can be an overwhelming task for two parents, let alone one who also needs to have a day-job just so she can put food on the table.

Because viewing audiences tend not to like being reminded of how tough things can be, TV land has given us the Glamorous Single Mother- a character who juggles children, personal life, and work life expertly with little trouble or complications. In particularly extreme examples, her life will be indistinguishable from those of similar characters who do not have kids- they'll be little more than an adorable little Plot Device every few episodes.

This trope, coupled with Babies Make Everything Better can create some dastardly Unfortunate Implications in that they make getting pregnant appear to be a substantially less physically and emotionally draining task than it really is. It's probably not coincidental that this trope almost always involved upper-middle-class women, as opposed to the working poor that are affected by this in Real Life.

See also "Friends" Rent Control.

  • Probably the most famous invocation of this trope is the title character on Murphy Brown. Dan Quayle famously attempted to question the Unfortunate Implications this trope creates- and ended up the target of ridicule for suggesting that television could influence people like that. Interestingly, Candice Bergen herself thought Quayle had a point.
  • Gilmore Girls uses this, but mostly in the backstory. When the show starts proper, daughter Rory is a teenager and the relatively easy time Lorelei has raising her can be rationalized along those lines.
  • The Perfect Man was mocked for its use of this trope (along with many other things). Jean's predilection of moving to a new state every time a relationship fails would rightly be viewed as a sign of mental illness in nearly any other movie. Here, though, the only apparent consequence of these actions is that her daughter Holly wants to keep her mom from being let down again. How Jean manages to do things like afford a two-bedroom apartment in New York on a baker's salary is...not explained.
Community Feedback Replies: 11
  • May 13, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    Kate Gosselin is this trope in Real Life. Her continued fame while ex-husband Jon continues to fade - in spite of (or because of?) her well-chronicled abrasive behavior can probably be chalked up to the reasons stated above.
  • May 18, 2010
    I think single fathers aren't as rare as the OP suggest, but they are portrayed very differently. With most single fathers the mother is dead. And when she is still alive but left the family (voluntarily) the father is often shown to be especially kind and caring, probably to contrast him with the heartless mother leaving her children behind. His problems often stem from the inability to provide the typical "mother role" to his children (especially if they are daughters). Also, many stories with single fathers end with him falling in love again, thereby introducing a "mother" into the family again, because apparently according to TV a family can do without a father, but not without a mother.
  • May 18, 2010
    Consider the tv show Castle. Rick Castle has never known his father, and grew up in a single-mom household. His first marriage to an actress gave him a daughter, of which he got custody in the divorce. The first season and a half has the three-generation family in one (awfully lavish) apartment in New York, with one each of the Glamorous Single Mother/Father. The relationship between Castle and his daughter (I am so blanking on her name) is shown time and again to be more vibrant than most two-parent-household father's relationship with... anyone. And then there's Castle's mother, she's a definition and a half of Glamor : p.
  • May 18, 2010
    according to TV a family can do without a father, but not without a mother

    I don't know, I would say that a lot of fictional single mothers do end up (re)marrying, just as single fathers do. I won't argue with the fact that there's a conception that mothers are the more nurturing parent and are more involved with the raising of the children, but there's still an underlying belief there that a proper family consists of a mother and a father (and children, of course).
  • June 4, 2010
    Speaking as a single mom, this Needs A Better Description. It's kind of insulting as written (the term "broken families" always gets my back up at Mach 5 speeds, just for a start).
  • June 4, 2010
    Elaborate further, please. I can only address your concerns to the extent I'm aware of them.
  • June 4, 2010
    Well, first your premise is factually incorrect. You're mixing correlation with causation. The rise of divorce rates and decreased emphasis on two-parent households didn't create the single mother (the single mother has historically existed as long as the biological rule for humans has been that men have orgasms and women have babies). Divorce rates increased because getting divorced became less socially taboo and emphasis on two-parent households dropped because the number of two-parent households dropped and single parents fought to be recognized as valid families.

    Second of all, your first paragraph has stereotypes about the single mother (welfare benefits and community outreach programs? You do know there are millions of single moms that don't, in fact, rely on those to raise their children, right? Particularly given that using them is so thoroughly designated as a thing to be ashamed of that a lot of people won't even apply) coated in detached analysis.

    If you're going to do a detached analysis that includes stereotypes about the type of woman who becomes a single mother, why don't you touch on why it's usually the single mother instead of the single father?

    Plus, you have a stealth-hostile subtext permeating the whole thing about how unrealistic it'd be for a woman to manage a career and a child at the same time by herself. (Children starved for attention and an ill-kept household are what real single mothers deal with? Really?) And by the way, if a woman is managing a career, not just holding down a job- which is a totally different thing- her resources for juggling it and a child are going to be significantly higher.

    There's also an ongoing assumption that single parenthood is the result of partner loss or separation, not engaging at all with the idea that women actually can and do choose to have children by themselves, and have been doing so for decades.

    I'm not going to deny that this is a trope (successful single mothers are on TV, their numbers aren't negligible), but the description as is smacks of "nudge, nudge, wink, wink, we know what women who have kids by themselves are really like, right, guys?" Reality Is Unrealistic indeed.

    Stepping aside from the politics for a moment, it's also not exactly an appropriate write-up for a trope. It reads like an essay. I'm not browsing TV Tropes for an academic breakdown of your opinions on why single parents exist, or what policy makers are trying to do about it, I'm looking for that thing where single moms on TV magically don't have all those problems that single moms in real life sometimes do. Trope descriptions should be descriptions of the trope first, not the reasons why there is a trope and what it has to do with real life. This is why you see the "Alice and Bob doing verbs" descriptions, or entries written in the second person.

    If these criticisms seem mututally exclusive? They're not. Either make the political analysis more neutral (and, frankly, a bit more grammatically sound- you've got run-on sentences and one where a single mother manages to be both...three things, rather than the two things implicit in the word "both"), or make the description less of a political Thoughts On Yaoi.
  • June 4, 2010
    Yeesh. You ever consider maybe offering an alternate write-up? Your criticism is longer than what I actually wrote. It's not like there's a rule that says the only one allowed to write the description is me.
  • June 5, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    The Ann Coulter book Guilty says that such glamorous portrayal is a self perpetuating trope Better Than It Sounds.

    In Real Life single mothers never have any of the issues you describe because the government takes money from people who earn it (with a gun) and give it too them. This results in more single mothers because for very easy work (Have unprotected sex!) they get every need taken care of and don't need to do actual work.
  • June 22, 2010
  • July 1, 2010

    It looks like this is another one of those cases where no matter what I do, I'm probably going to piss some people off.

    The current description is staying. If anyone wants to change it, use your Wiki Magic after the article's been launched. I'm bumping solely for examples so that I can launch next time I remember this exists.