If you're facing single motherhood – whether by divorce, choice or happenstance, you need support. All the freaking support you can get.
The key in this new phase of life is to be strategic in choosing who your support system is. I'm not saying ditch all your old friends, or be a snob. But maybe you do ditch some of your old friends and up the criteria for who you spend time with.
You're building a new life here, woman! Who you spend time with influence who that new person will be.
At the root of it, you need these people in your life. Maybe you find one person who embodies two or three of these roles. Up to you. And if you're falling short, fret not.
Millionaire Single Moms right over here, is our closed Facebook group where single moms can meet, hang out and keep it real. Rules include positive vibes, no male-bashing, and dreaming BIG! No income requirement.
Here are the types of people you need in your life right now:
1. A comrade.
Someone going through the exact same thing. Divorcing? Inseminating? Just got knocked up and gonna see it through? You need someone who is there, too. For networking purposes, if nothing else — share tips on lawyers, doctors, child support. For me, this is hands down my bestie Morghan, who I quote here, is a family lawyer. Our paths happened to coincide in infinite ways. We've done all kids of stuff together, include go through divorce, vacation and contemplate creating a blended family together.
2. A mother superior.
This is a mentor of sorts – – A woman who went through what you're going through and came out the other side being more or less who you want to be. I have a couple of these, including single mom bloggers Alaina Shearer of Ms. Single Mama and Honoree Corder of The Successful Single Mom – both of whom are wildly successful businesswomen and remarried happily.
3. The dude.
This is your single dad friend. I have several single dad friends, but the main jam is Marc. You need this friend because he is a man — a straight man who is going through the same thing you are, but with a penis. My friendship with Marc has proven invaluable for his perspective on dating and parenting, points of view that have made me a better girlfriend, parent and ex-wife.
Now, I don't know a lot of people at this stage of life who go out to bars and cruise dudes, though Morghan and I had a fun minute or two that involved some Jameson and firefighters and you can read about it here. Most of us set up respectful wine or dinner dates with fellows met online. In any case, you need someone to commiserate with — someone who will not judge you as being a filthy whore because you have sex with men who are not the father of your children, and also will not easily tire of your endless dating antics, because if you're lucky there will be many.
I've got a few of these (I like to circulate between several people, so as not to tire them of my tales). Several are single moms who live afar, and we catch up via IM after our kids are asleep. Others include my friends Betsy and Kris who have been married for a zillion years and think my dating life is hilarious and twisted and also hilarious. And then there is Sasha, who is 15 years older than me and married for the first time in her early 40s. This came after years working in the music industry and enjoying romance and her body in ways that not every woman does — but I do. “I can totally relate,” she says when I share without shame my latest dalliance. “When I was your age I.Could.Not.Get.Enough. You keep doing what you're doing.”
5. The local.
This mom may not be your besteset soulmate sister, but she lives nearby and that is a lot. This is a mom — better if there are three such moms – or more — who you can call when you're stuck at the office and need someone to snag your kid at the Boy Scout meeting. She's the one with whom you can coordinate childcare coverage for all those effing half and snow days at school, and will take your kids when you feel like you're on death's door with the flu, and she will not judge you when you call her every.single.day of spirit week and ask, “OK, what are we supposed to dress for today?”
Maybe you don't have a zillion things in common, but that doesn't mean that you don't have a glass of wine with her once in a while and gossip about the cute dads at the school or encourage your kids to be closer friends because that is what community and family is all about. And if you are really luck you will really come to love and like her, and even if one of you moves away, or gets married you will still be close forever – because you will always have that bond that is single motherhood. And even though you don't chose it or wish it on others, it is like war. Men who go through war together always cherish that time as precious and those friendships as their dearest, most brotherly. Because even though it is horrific and unspeakable, those difficulties are the stuff of life. That is when you are most alive. And the people who go through it with you are the only ones who understand.
Why it can be so hard to find other professional, successful single moms
Recently a divorced mom 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 a 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.
Now look – no one expects you to wake up with this perfectly constructed roster of friends. That is why I created Millionaire Single Moms — An awesome new forum for professional single moms to hang out, dish on divorce, kids, sex, dating, money, career — and MEET EACH OTHER IN REAL LIFE. You need friends. Single mom friends. This is where it happens.
Jump in – share. It's 100% FREE.
Like a 24/7 support group and party. At the same time.
When to break up with your mom friends
Early in my divorce process, I had a single mom friend who had been divorced for 7 or 8 years. We work in the same industry, she was funny and cool, and we really hit it off. She commiserated with me as I went through all the hating and drama and blaming. The insane highs and lows that are inherent in the trauma that is divorce. Plus, like me, my single mom friend often had weekends free to hang out. She dated and loved sex! I was so grateful for her friendship! She got it! I was not alone!
But a year or so into my separation, I started to find my groove. Life calmed down. My kids and I found our new routine. My business started to really take off. I found myself in a relationship. Things weren't chaotic or horrible anymore. Things were pretty good. It looked like they would only get better.
My single mom friend? Still all drama, all the time. She had a good job in her field of choice. But her boss treated her like shit — and had for SIX YEARS. She complained constantly about this man. But when I asked what she was doing to change her work situation, or offered solutions, she systematically responded with excuses. While I was intoxicated by my new professional success and income — just as my child support and health benefits came to an abrupt end — she complained on and on (and on and on and on and on) about her ex's professional failures and her resentment for having to shoulder all the financial burden of raising their kids.
Listen to my Like a Mother episode on this:
When people remarked how great I looked — something I attribute to a deep, inner happiness — I noticed that my friend wasn't looking so good. She is a naturally beautiful woman, fit and with fantastic style. But her face was always drawn into an exaggerated, almost comical frown. She walked hunched over.
As I started to thrive in my new phase of life, I started to see my single mom friend as inherently miserable.
I just didn't want to hang out with her anymore.
I felt guilty about that. I mean, she was my friend, right?! You don't just ditch your friends! Plus, she is a single mom like me. We're supposed to stick together — right?
Well, no. WRONG.
I compared this friendship with my other single mom friend, Morghan, who I write about often here. Our single mom trajectories are parallel – we divorced around the same time and our kids, the same ages, have grown up together. I launched this blog around the same time she launched her own family law firm, and we have consistently supported one another in brainstorming business strategies, making connections and referrals, and appearing in each other's media efforts.
Morghan is killing it in business (just like me!) and we are so, so proud of each other.
Yes, we still gripe about our exes some times. Yes, clients and vendors and colleagues and KIDS can be a pain in the ass — and we tell each other about those annoyances.
But she is a single mom and she is not a victim, and therefore she is still my very close single mom friend.
She brings value and joy to my life.
My other single mom friend brought value and some joy, too. For a time. Then that friendship ran its course. It served me for a time, and then it didn't anymore.
We simply grew apart.
Since then I have connected with so many other friends. As I grow into my own joy — in my business, my service to others, my creative life, my mothering, my sexuality, my WOMANHOOD — I have found that magically, I have attracted so many other amazing people on similar paths.
Beautiful, dynamic single moms — some starting out on their amazing single mom journey, others already in their full power — and all phases in between!
Others are unmarried, childless women.
Unbelievable colleagues of all types.
Men who have been my colleagues, friends, lovers, boyfriends.
My own children, who are growing into optimistic, engaged and otherwise totally delightful humans whose point of view I cherish.
These are people I chose to spend time with. That matters. Who you surround yourself with matters. Science is on my side with this. If your friends smoke, you are more likely to smoke. If your friends are overweight, you are likely, too. Divorced? Your friends are next!
I have started to see people in one of two camps:
- Victims who give their power and ability to be happy away to others by blaming the world for their own shortcomings.
- Everyone else.
I just don't have time for victims. They are on a different course. That is fine, but I don't want to hang out with you. I don't want to do business with you, and I don't think you're a good influence for my kids.
And so I don't call my old friend. I see her around, and she is a nice and good person. I wish her the best. But she kills my mojo. Call me sensitive, I don't care. There are too many other awesome people who will are in my camp, living full lives and taking responsibility for their happiness.
If you have that toxic friend, that single mom friend — even if she is the only other single mom in your own town! — it is OK to distance yourself from her. You will be kind, but it may be painful for both of you. But doing so is a gift to yourself. By saying ‘no' to that friendship you are telling yourself: “I am a positive person who is capable great things, and manifesting my own greatness!”
You can't keep that truth alive if you spend energy on others who suck yours.
Even other single moms.
This is one of the reasons I created Millionaire Single Moms, my Facebook group of 1,000 moms who are DREAMING BIG for their lives, and are FORBIDDEN from whining or playing victim. These are my women! Some have huge corporate jobs, others are hustling as they start new businesses, others transitioning from staying home with their kids back into the workforce — and everything in between. But they are positive, smart, real and, generally so awesome.
Just today a new member wrote:
I was excited to see this group because, locally, all the single mom groups have very low expectations for themselves. They seem to be more about how they can get everything from everyone else instead of going out and getting it themselves. This is refreshing!
Today I give you permission to shed from your life toxic people. I also invite you to join our group of awesome people — Awesome single moms, to be exact!
Sometimes single moms and divorced women are excluded from couples' events
My social life is different now that I'm not married. When I was married, there were times I went out with my girlfriends, and there were times when my husband and I went out as a couple with other couples. Sometimes the two of us would go out with a single friend, or the two of us with a coupled friend who happened to be alone for the weekend – but that was unusual.
Since I've been divorced, the times I've been in a relationship came with couples activities.
Otherwise, my social life is mostly very much that of a single woman. While I have a few very close friends I've know for years where both the husband and wife and I all hang out together, my closest friends are mostly women, and we hang out as women — whether they are coupled or single.
With new or not-as-close relationships, I am rarely invited out to dinner with couples– or even groups of couples. There are lots of exceptions, but in general, it would be kind of weird. A married friend was recently relaying a situation in which she — a president at a big health care company — was being pressured by her boss to go out for dinner with his wife and her husband — a double date. She felt she had little in common with the stay-at-home mom, and her husband — a professional musician — would have little in common with her executive boss. The situation would be awkward, my friend worried, because she and her boss (whom she liked a lot) would have much more to chat about than she and the wife — or her husband and the boss.
In sum, friendships are expected to fall along gender lines. And when one of the parties does not have an opposite-sex gender in her party, the whole dynamic is whack.
I get that, but it is annoying. It hurts. For one, no one likes to feel excluded. Also, it drastically reduces my social network. I enjoy being friends with men just as much as women. And then it limits larger networks — while it is less weird to have a single friend at a family Halloween party, that single friend is simply less top-of-mind when the evites are sent out because she is not in on the couples dinner circuit. This trickles down to the kids, and it also affects business prospects since so much networking comes from our social lives.
I don't blame the married contingent for this situation — what is comfortable is simply comfortable, and when it comes to new or less-intimate friends, the sense of obligation is low for making single people feel welcome or included. This trend is also the result of consideration (“June would be fun to invite to tapas, but I worry she'd feel uncomfortable as the only single person among three couples.”). But again, no one likes to feel like they're not invited to the party.
This phenomena is a bit dated — and calls up the debate over whether straight men and women can be platonic friends. Single women intuitively understand that they must be extra careful not to spend too much time at any party hanging out with the married men — just as married people do. If my married executive friend and her boss spent an entire dinner in a rapt huddle discussing health care reform and office gossip while the other spouses were left picking at their skate and chitchatting about college admissions, it might make for two awkward drives home later. A single person spending time with married people can be an especially delicate dynamic.
But this will change.
At this stage of life — I am 37 — most marriages of my peers are relatively young. The reality is that half of all married people will divorce. Many of those who do will remarry. I will not be single forever — and you likely will not either (and trust me: when your married friends are thinking about divorce, you'll be the first to know). I often think to my grandparents who played bridge every week for more than 70 years with the same group of six couples they met in high school. That is special, in part, because marriages simply do not last that long anymore.
If you are feeling left out of your married friends' social circles, do this:
- Let them know, politely, that you would appreciate an invite. Give your friends the benefit of the doubt that your exclusion was not malicious, but instead the result of consideration or oblivion. “Sometimes I feel left out when I'm not invited out with couples. FYI, I would never feel weird in that situation.”
- Don't be entitled. After all, no one has an obligation to invite you to dinner.
- Don't take it personally. Who knows why you're not invited. Maybe it is because you're really annoying — not that you're single. Or maybe the dinner guests only have four of their good pinot noir glasses and are weird about stuff like that.
- Remember that it won't be like this forever. People split up, for better or worse. They also get remarried, die and stray. In other words, the cozy couples beach weekends are not likely to be a lifelong tradition from which you are not invited.
Finding a single mom friend who is also ambitious, open-minded about sex and dating, and shares your parenting style may be a tall order, especially if you live in a small community in a state not aligned with your politics.
That is one of the reasons I am so grateful for the technology that connects humans in ways unprecedented throughout history.
Bumble, the pro-woman dating app, has a friend-finder feature that women are using to make platonic female friendships.
My closed Facebook group Millionaire Single Moms is a community of positive, single mothers committed to supporting one another in dreaming big — and has sprung friendships on- and offline.
Originally published Feb. 19, 2015.
Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, noted blogger, and bestselling author. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.