Who is the archetypal American single mother? Is she a divorced professional who juggles motherhood and a stressful career in a frenzied attempt to “have it all”? Or is she a young, unwed mother, unemployed and welfare-bound? The truth is, there is no archetypal single mother, regardless of what entertainment and media would have us believe. These two familiar extremes ignore the myriad ways in which women become single mothers, as well as the diversity of the women themselves. What about single mothers who happen to be lesbians, or women of color, or working class women? Those characters, and their struggles, aren’t easily found on prime-time TV sitcoms or among book club selections.
Staceyann Chin is a multitasking single mother. When I first spoke with her, she was standing at the curb in front of her Brooklyn apartment building, one arm reaching out to hail a taxi to pick up her daughter, the other holding her phone to her ear. Sound familiar?
But Chin does not fit the stereotype of the frazzled working mother often portrayed in TV and movies. In fact, this writer, performer and activist wants to change the world’s perception of women. Her latest venture, the one-woman show MotherStruck!, is currently in performances at New York’s Culture Project. Chin’s autobiographical performance chronicles her journey to willingly become a single mom, as well as her struggles with racial, sexual and economic prejudice before and after becoming a parent.
Chin’s story begins in Jamaica. Abandoned by her mother and separated from her brother, she was raised by an aunt who frequently warned her not to get pregnant. Until college, Chin’s greatest fear was of repeating her mother’s mistakes. At university, however, she came out as a lesbian, and her fears became more immediate. Her peers harassed and threatened her, and after a sexual assault, Chin moved to New York.
Throughout her performance, Chin references her aunt’s warnings—even as she recounts her struggle to get pregnant and raise a baby. Chin’s pursuit of motherhood includes marrying a gay man who died unexpectedly just shy of 30, a failed attempt at
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