No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. — Eleanor Roosevelt
In the past couple of weeks I've heard two smart, professional women cite their single parenthood as an excuse for their shortcomings.
Exhibit A, “Nincompoop Nancy”: “I have this $10,000 credit card balance I can't shake. I racked it up last year when I paid for my son's wedding. What was I supposed to do?! I'm a single mom!”
Exhibit B, “Idiot Irene”: “I understand why you might want to go with the other consultant who is much more experienced than I am. But keep in mind – I am trying to build a business while being a single mom. He's a single guy with tons of time on his hands.”
Hi, Nancy. I get why you want to give your kid all the advantages in the world. In this instance, sending him and his lovely new wife off into the world with a beautiful wedding. But personal finance basics apply to everyone: Spend wisely. Don't finance anything that is not an investment (home, education). A wedding is no exception. Um, hello?! You are twice divorced! Did you learn nothing from your own over-priced nuptial celebrations?! You don't get a spendthrift pass just because you're overspending on a child. And you certainly don't get a freebie because you're a single mom! If anything, you there is a GREATER responsibility to be financially smart: without a partner to depend on in retirement or in case of a financial emergency you run a bigger risk of being a burden on your kids. Ask your son — and your daughter-in-law especially — Which do you prefer? A big wedding today? Or for you to live in their home wiping your elderly ass for a decade?
And now you, Irene. Irene! You are a businessperson selling me a product, in this case coaching services. My business doesn't have an affirmative action program for single moms. If I'm going to invest thousands of dollars in your services, it's because I expect there to be a return on that investment. Not because you are a charity case in need of financial assistance. And when your sales pitch includes blaming your lack of competitive advantage on your personal circumstances I wonder how on God's green earth you can help me get over my own fears to succeed.
Related story: Last week a divorce coach reached out to bemoan her difficulty finding financially independent single moms to share their stories. I told her that I meet many successful single moms through work and personal networks, but I agreed — most do not lead with the “single mom” title, and instead identify by other parts of their lives: Parent, professional, Junior League President, etc. For better or worse, “single mom” has negative connotations. It connotes poverty and victimhood. At some point in life you embrace the fact that you are not in a relationship, that life didn't turn out as planned, and you went through a whole lot of pain as a result. Then you get over it. At least most women do.
Others wallow in that grief and don't ever really move on. And like these women I bumped into recently, you use your family status as a crutch for poor decisions. The net result was that others (and by “others” I really mean “I”) think even less of you than you do yourself.
When you frame yourself — and use as a manipulation tool — your single-mom status, you really play a victim role, and demean women everywhere. You believe — and assume others to believe — that unmarried mothers are ALWAYS poor, and ALWAYS in need of charity and special consideration.
In reality, that is sometimes true. Also in reality: You are a woman in 2018 who has more rights, opportunity and access than most PEOPLE in the world, and certainly WOMEN EVER IN HISTORY. Pause for a moment. Count all your blessings. Consider how much more you have to today, and how much you can achieve when compared with what your grandmother had. Mind-blowing, right?
The takeaway? Yes, you are a single mom. You likely feel many different ways about that: proud, empowered, liberated, ashamed, scared, angry, frustrated, stuck, isolated or part of a wonderful community — even a revolution! Some days I cycle through each of these! But “single mom” is never allowed as an excuse. Yes, it can be devastatingly difficult to face all the challenges that comes with parenting alone. But your task is to overcome those challenges. Dig into the strength that you do have to work through each difficulty. It is your obligation to shake free from this victimhood — for yourself, for your kids, for single moms everywhere. And for women. Stop using “single mom” as an excuse for the sake of the advancement of women. For which, I say: Thank you.
How about you? Have you used “But I'm a single mom!” as a leveraging tool to get what you want? Have others used that on you? Share your story in the comments!
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, 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, 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.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.