This post originally appeared in May, 2014, but I republished it now to celebrate the launch of Single Mom Society the awesome new forum for professional single moms to hang out, dish on divorce, kids, sex, dating, money, career — and make friends.
A few weeks ago a divorce coach IM’d me on Facebook: “I am having the hardest time finding successful single moms to connect with. Is this your experience? What’s going on?”
On one hand, the few times I’ve sent out media feelers to find these very women to profile for various projects I faced the same challenge. I’m talking upper-middle class on-up — women in any industry but could clearly be held up as a shining example of building professional success while parenting unpartnered.
On the other hand: I bump into these women all the time. At professional events or while interviewing sources for business stories, one of us will bring up this blog and my brilliantly successful conversation companion will say: “Oh, I’ve been divorced for 15 years — raised my kids without a nickel of child support;” or, “I’m on my second marriage now. It was really hard, but you get through it,” or, “I’m going through a divorce. I’m not sure I can do this!” I met one compadre last week — a high-level marketing exec who — in the pre-interview meet-and-greet — shared about her own divorce, singledom and remarriage. We had a nice dish about whether you can be feminist and also accept — or seek — alimony (“No way!” she said. “Those women are so entitled. I chose to downshift my career when my kids were young, and I could be earning more now — but that was my choice.”)
These women often have public profiles, are CEOs, entrepreneurs with 7-figure organizations, bankers, partners in management consultancies and the like. When they hear about my family status it frees them to share theirs — and the tone is generally matter-of-fact with a twinge of sisterhood relief- Finally! Someone who gets it! Because, like my colleague, I find these high-achieving women don’t initiate a whole lot of chitchat about being a single mom.
The negative connotation that comes with “single mom” is certainly a factor. And this is likely heightened amongst this group. After all, if you are a wildly successful woman in her 40s or older (meaning you grew up when the cards were really stacked against women), you were likely really freaking brilliant from the start. You’re used to being the smartest kid in the class and not failing. And whether it is productive or not, divorce usually leaves both parties feeling like they failed. That they’re failures. This sense of shame is only heightened among these high-achieving women who are not used to anything but kicking ass.
Another reason: These women are indeed scarce. I don’t need to tell you that women tail men when it comes income and professional rank across all high-earning professions, but the more money and education people have, the less likely they are to divorce. Single, professionally successful moms simply are outnumbered by their poorer counterparts.
But I sense that the most compelling reason these women do not lead with the fact that are — or were — single parents is that successful people don’t dwell on obstacles. Instead of being someone like the women I mention in this post who used single motherhood as an first-line excuse to make bad decisions and miss goals, these successful single moms just power through. They let go of anger for their exes. They accepted that they would have to work more and spend less time with their kids than they originally planned. After the initial crisis of divorce they simply embraced their new families as whole and moved forward with grace — and success.
But I wonder: Isn’t it terribly lonely to be one of these tight-lipped single moms, alone in her success and disappointments? Who do they talk to about the singular worries of single moms: The stress of dealing with exes, or burdening the financial brunt alone? What about the thrills and anguish of dating anew? This is a unique experience, single mothering.
No one sets out to be a single mom. No little girl in the whole world dreams about how awesome it will be to grow up and build a family by her lonesome in a charming yellow bungalow with a peony bush out front. This show you and I are on? This is Plan B (or maybe Plan K? Plan W?). And most of us ideally would not be single moms, but remarried or otherwise in a romantic partnership.
But here we are. It is what it is and we need each other. We want to know each other. Connect. Not just the really super-successful ones we can uphold and admire. Just a bunch of professional, educated women who happen to be not-married moms. It’s perhaps the most human experience to crave community – to be around like-minded others. To feel accepted. Normal. Also: to learn from those who achieve more than us, and can lend a dose of aspiration.
So this is a call to action: If you are a single mom and sense the presence of another in your vicinity — at the playground or school event or even the grocery store line — step up! Introduce yourself! Trust me: You have gobs to talk about! And if you are in the ranks of the very, very successful unmarried mothers — reach out, will ya? Maybe together we can share your story. It will inspire the rest of us, and maybe you will find companionship where you once did not.
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