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Being a single mom—and a human being

By Maya Khamala

Note: This piece was originally posted on Goalcast.

Fact: there are approximately 13.7 million single parents in the US today, collectively responsible for raising 22.4 million children. Of these single parents, 80.4% are mothers. And in Canada, 81.3% of children aged 0 to 14 in single‑parent families live with their mother.

As many single parents who happen to be women know all too well, the “single mom” cliché is not exactly a desirable accessory to carry around all day—in addition to a child (or three). And sadly, it can actually act as a deterrent to would-be employers, would-be friends, and would-be dates alike. I interviewed 3 single moms, all of whom preferred the term “single parent” or “solo mom” to the stigma of being referred to as a “single mom.”

Here, they share their experiences, their challenges, and their wisdom with the rest of us.

Single mom synopses: how does it happen?

Simple: life happens. If you’re human, life sometimes happens.

Loralie, 38, has an 8-year-old son, a 1-year-old daughter, and has spent the last 6 years as a solo parent. She has two 2 baby daddies, the first of which she separated from when son her son was 2. He visits his son once a week. Meanwhile, she is still involved with baby daddy #2, but he lives in NYC while she lives in Montreal. He visits once a month for 2-3 days, while she takes on the brunt of the financial burden and all responsibility for her kids.

“I could go after them for child support,” she says, “but no one’s gonna pull them back and make them be good dads.”

Yasmine, 33, has a 1-year-old son, and has been a solo mom for almost 2 years—since she got pregnant. Although her relationship with the father was short, and she found out she was pregnant only after it ended, she had long since decided that if she got pregnant after 28, she'd keep it. She has zero contact with the father, who, she says, is choosing not to be there.

“I felt a lot of shame about my situation,” she adds, “and it’s funny because my friends and family are open and non-judgmental. But now I try to focus on what is working…I’m grateful everyday.”

Mary, 44, has a 4-year-old daughter, and has been a single parent for almost 5 years, since partway through her pregnancy. Although she didn’t want a romantic relationship with the father, she still wanted him to be involved with his daughter.

“At different times he wavered, saying that he’d be supportive,” she says. “He changed his mind a lot throughout my pregnancy, and was not that helpful. He’s been there for the major events, but…I would say he gives at most 8 hours a month…I didn’t want to be a single parent, but I chose to have my daughter knowing that was the reality.”

What are the biggest challenges?

You know—besides time, sleep, life.

Yasmine, when asked of challenges, doesn’t skip a beat. “Time off,” she asserts. While her parents provide some emotional support, they do not live close enough to help with childcare, and she hesitates to ask her friends as she feels they’re too busy. She also cites the forms at the gynecologist’s office which ask for her “husband’s name” as among the more challenging and isolating moments she’s undergone.

“When you’re single and pregnant, it’s thrown in your face,” she says. “There are so many reminders that trigger shame or sadness.”

In Loralie’s case, she began experiencing serious anxiety for the first time after the birth of her daughter. “The biggest stress is being there for everybody and then trying to be there for yourself,” she reflects. “I’m still dealing with anxiety, but I’ve come out of that first-year fog. It’s very isolating. A lot of single moms I know say they feel they have no time for themselves, yet lack the financial resources for that one night out.”

Mary thinks long and hard when I ask her about her biggest challenge. “Not giving into cynicism,” she says finally. “Because I think I was very cynical before—I thought that was part of who I was…Also, not giving into despair. Not allowing any kind of mental illness that I might have to take over.”

What does support look like?

All three of the moms I spoke with are lucky enough to receive some level of government assistance, but also have to go to work to make ends meet. So having some measure of community support is vital, right?

“Without my friends around, I don’t know what I would have done,” says Loralie. “I have people who can babysit my kids. There are communal dinners, grocery exchanges, and mom’s groups. I actually do go downstairs for a cup of sugar.”

“I’m not really looking for community support, because for the past couple of years I’ve had to just be alone with my situation,” says Yasmine. “I talk to select people. I don’t like having a lot of mum friends. Especially when they complain. It’s like—you have a partner, you have money, you have a mat leave. It makes me feel annoyed and jealous.”

Mary discusses how she has a lot of support from family and friends. “My parents and friends are really generous with clothes and toys. Because of that I also tend to give back, to other people, rather than selling stuff online.”

You work hard for the money, right?

“I’ve been in survival mode at times, but I’ve always had food and rent paid,” says Loralie, who works in consulting but is currently job hunting. She continues, “When doing a job interview, already being a woman of color, I feel like if I mention I’m a single mom, there’s so much judgement. Sometimes I say I have children, but I won’t say I’m a single mom.”

Yasmine works part-time assisting a student with disabilities and is looking for another job. “My situation…it’s kind of like, a nightmare,” she laughs. “Not everything, but I’m living a super scary moment in my life, and just choosing not to focus on it. Right now, I have some time. But when I start working full-time, it’ll be crazy.”

Mary works in dance and choreography, and talks about the inherent flexibility of the contract work she does. “There’s a flexible schedule, but if I don’t show up, I don’t get paid…I’m not rolling in cash, but I have time to be with my child. If you’re a single parent, you need to have a really strong relationship with your child—so it works and you don’t go crazy.”

What about dating?

Although I hadn’t initially planned to ask about dating, it invariably came up—‘cause parents are still people with needs and stuff.

“Romantic relationships have not been a strong point in my life,” says Yasmine, “I’m not used to companionship ‘cause I’m always single. I’m used to doing what I want, except I have a team now…If I’m in a relationship, I want it to be top. I’m not settling anymore.”

“It’s very hard for me to do something as an individual,” says Mary. “I still co-sleep with my daughter. It’s very challenging to maintain a romantic relationship with a partner and be a parent at the same time…I do think it would be nice to share my life with another person. Probably anyone that I would date at this point would be another single parent.”

The best part

Being a single mom must also have an upside, otherwise no one would do it, right? Amusingly, Loralie’s “I’m the boss,” groups nicely with Yasmine and Mary’s identical responses: “I call the shots.” The 3 moms all went on to describe the freedom they have to decide what their kids eat, wear, and how they spend their time.

“The best part is having the freedom to choose, and the hardest part is having to do everything,” quips Loralie.

Advice to new or would-be single moms

In an imagined conversation between themselves and a new or would-be single mom, here’s the advice these 3 wise women offered:

“Prioritize yourself. It’s hard to do, but if you want your child to be well, you have to be well. Self-care is maintenance. Take 5 minutes a day to clear your head, whether meditating, or just sipping coffee—it helps to avoid getting frantic. Also, don’t compare yourself to others,” offers Yasmine.

“Don’t be afraid to ask. Be it your neighbours, friends, family—they’ll build a circle of support around you, and it’s gonna save you,” says Loralie.

Don’t be afraid to ask people for help,” echoes Mary. "Because you will lose some friends, and it’s not personal. It’s just because, inevitably, you’re not the same person you were…At some point, if you get a chance, take a look at what you’ve shut down in order to be parent and decide—is there anything I need to reopen? Be aware of how you’re still a person.”

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