Single mom in the city — why urban living is awesome for single parents

Many days, I hear the suburbs calling my name, but city living is fantastic for single moms.

My life illustrates this perfectly. I live in a pre-war co-op building in Queens, New York — a friendly place where everyone really does know my name. And my kids’ names, and much of our business. This is a place where death announcements of residents’ loved ones are posted in the first-floor bulletin board. The highlight of my holiday season is the annual Christmas party in the lobby — a potluck dinner attended by the whole building, a cross section of renters and owners, long-time residents and newcomers, all kinds of ethnicities and nationalities.

The community of this building wraps its arms around my family: there is the handful of older women who spoil my kids with gifts for all the holidays — even all the Hallmark ones. By some act of God, our downstairs neighbors, a 50-somethings couple working in media and theater who do not have children, find my kids’ early morning footsteps, jumping and squabbling charming. I occasional wake up to find a loaf of her banana bed hanging from a sack on our door knob, and recently, a hand-written invitation slipped under the door for Helena to spend an evening hanging out, baking and playing Barbies. There is the married mom of three teenagers who last month sat with my sleeping kids while I gave a radio interview, and once waited in the rain for the tardy laundry service guy with my dirty wash so I could make it to the day care on time.

These and many more folks create a precious web of community that gives my kids and me a sense of security. I take huge comfort in knowing that should one of my kids need to be rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night (every parent’s fear), there are no fewer than a dozen doors I could knock on — at any hour — and feel confident any would open, invite me in, and happily care for my other kid.

The social aspect of city living is perhaps the greatest asset for a single mom — especially one like me who works from the isolation of her home office. There are dinner and brunch invitations, and I am constantly short of coffee mugs and wine glasses, a small price to pay for the welcomed drop-ins who casually walk off with their beverages. In the past week, no fewer than three neighbors spontaneously hung out — one stopped in to retrieve the spare keys I keep, another borrowed my vacuum, while a third brought the color copies he printed for me. I enjoy a stream of adult conversations that I doubt would happen so frequently or organically if I lived in my fantasy’s tidy cottage surrounded by peony bushes and a yard separating me from my neighbors.

It is the physical proximity that city life forces that also brings closeness. My kids are known and adored by these people who have known them since before they were born. A team of older women gather on warm afternoons outside the cafe located in the street level of our building. They let the kids walk their small dogs up and down the block and notice haircuts and new shoes. It’s the casual hellos, and it’s-so-hot-out-theres, and oh-my-you-kids-are-getting-so-bigs! that my children and I exchange a dozen times each day with neighbors in elevators and hallways that collectively create a true home. In the city we live on top of one another, and in the city we know each other and we know each other’s business.

There is always a downside to every situation, and that is that in the city we live on top of one another, and in the city we know each other and we know each other’s business. My life is not 100 percent about being home and with my children and neighbors. Sometimes — especially weekends, when they are with their dad — I have a life outside of this building. And sometimes, when that life comes inside this building, my date and I can find ourselves in the elevator next to an otherwise friendly neighbor, all three of us staring awkwardly at the digital floor numbers click- click- clicking up until one or the other party is relived by opening doors.

Last Saturday I came downstairs to meet my date, all 6’3″ of his broad shoulders in a slim-fitting T-shirt standing next to his black Harley glittering in the late-afternoon sun. As he kissed me hello and fastened a helmet on my head, I could feel a half-dozen familiar eyeballs watching us from 10 feet away. The weight of my city life  was upon me as I joined him on the loud, purring bike, placed my heeled sandals on the foot pegs and he wrapped my arms around his trim waist. And without looking back, we rode off into the the rest of the world.

Emma Johnson is a veteran money writer, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, REAL SIMPLE, Parenting, USA Today and others.

The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children (Penguin, 2017), was a #1 bestseller and was featured in hundreds of media, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, and the New York Post, which named it to its ‘Must Read” list.

Her popular blog, and podcast Like a Mother, explore issues facing professional single moms: business and career, money, sex, relationships and parenting. Emma regularly comments on these topics for outlets such as CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine, Woman’s Day, The Doctors, and many more. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” one of “20 Personal Finance Influencers to Follow on Twitter” by AOL DailyFinance, “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and “Most Eligible New Yorkers” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker on gender equality, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality.

Emma grew up in Sycamore, Ill., and lives in New York City with her children.

5 thoughts on “Single mom in the city — why urban living is awesome for single parents

  1. I’m applying to NYU for a phD program for 2015. I’m a solo parent (divorced), and her dad’s not involved. I was thinking about how to do that in the city, and this makes me feel better. You live in a 2br? Sounds expensive.

    1. You might find you really like city living — especially if you know you’ll have an out in a few years when you finish your degree :). We bought 9 years ago before my neighborhood exploded, so my cost of living is very reasonable (relatively). Feel free to reach out directly if you have specific Qs!

  2. I am the mother of one seven, soon to be eight year old son. I have a desire in creative writing and film studies, but unsure if I can afford to go back to school. I am divorced and would like a new start for me and my son but odds seem to be against me. I have to think about my son’s well being, and wondering if his well being is a scapegoat for me to not take that chance. I have and Associates Degree, but not in a area that fulfills my dreams of becoming a writer. My desire is to move to a foreign country to attend school, but once again I have to think about my son. If I attend a school in New York, what and where would be a right place for me and my son? I made terrible choices as a youth and now I’m looking at my age and time (2015) and wondering if it’s too late or tough it out and do it; for my son and for myself.

  3. I know this post is old but I came across it just recently putting in a Google search for single mom wanting to live in NYC…before I unexpectedly got pregnant, NYC has been a dream of mine and I just needed to know that something like this is possible. I love the article and it gives me hope that I’ll be able to do this in the next few years!

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