Nadia Wiseman found herself struggling when she left an unsafe relationship: struggling to to pay rent for herself and her now-5-year-old son. Struggling to find direction for her newly single life. Struggling to find other women who could relate in her city of Montreal, Canada.
While she found ways to refocus her education and skills as a social worker, Nadia Wiseman launched Single MOMtreal, an organization designed to support single moms in need of resources like food and, clothes, friendship and, for some, help escaping domestic violence. So far, the group has served more than a thousand moms and their families.
“I knew that if I, an educated, professional woman, struggled with these things as a single mom, there were other women out there who were in the same situation,” she told me. “I knew I could help a lot of people if I could build a community of single moms.”
Single Moms Supporting One another
Last April she launched Single MOMtreal, which started as a Facebook group, and has has meetups, parties, and sprouted informal networks of all kinds of individuals and families supporting unmarried moms in Montreal. There is a board of directors, and Wiseman has a knack for attracting positive media coverage — which has inspired dozens of donors around her city to contribute money, food, goods and services to single moms in need.
Plus, friendships and mom-owned businesses are flourishing.
Wiseman says: “Montreal single moms are now helping and hiring each other. For example, some single moms hire other single moms to babysit their kids, others hire single moms to do their nails, others donate items, etc.”
For more info on Single MOMtreal
Single MOMtreal on Facebook
Nadia Wiseman on LinkedIn
More on the Kickass Single Mom Grant
Every month I give $1,000 to a single mom committed to building a positive life for herself, her family and contributing to the world in a productive way.
The Kickass Single Mom Grant supports endeavors that show promise for success — whether it is a career, business, charitable, community, creative or family project that is already underway and could use a financial boost.
This might include paying for formal education that will advance your career (or launch a new career!) that makes you happy and proud, propels you to financial independence and makes you a great role model for your children and others whose lives you touch.
You might seek to use this money to build your dream business — one that lights your passion, contributes to the world in a positive way.
Maybe you have a volunteer or nonprofit project that is blossoming.
Perhaps it is a personal project that you want to describe to me.
One part of this grant is to support incredible single women doing amazing things.
The other part is to highlight incredible single moms to inspire and uplift others who may not see in themselves what is possible.
No income maximum (or requirement). All nationalities welcome. Winners are announced the first of every month.
Tips for being chosen as a Kickass Single Mom Grant winner:
- Display some success and momentum. If you are building a business or advancing your career, show me what you've already accomplished. Not-yet-started endeavors will not be considered.
- Be very specific about how you will use the money. Show me you've thought it though, and are ready for the next level!
- It's not for paying off debt.
- This is not for helping your kids pay for college. They're adults.
- Don't complain about your ex.
- This is about creating something bigger than yourself. Only applicants who emphasize how they will pay it forward will be considered.
- The winner is not the saddest story, but the most proactive one.
Full transcript of this Like a Mother episode, featuring Nadia Wiseman
Emma: Hey, mama, have you checked out my book, The Kickass Single Mom? It is blowing up on Amazon, Barnes and Noble; your favorite retailers. The New York Post called it a must read, it was endorsed by Jenny McCarthy, I was featured on The Doctors talking about it, Oprah.com featured it, Time Magazine, on and on. I get beautiful messages from women every day saying that The Kickass Single Mom changed their lives.
Emma: The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous Happy Children, published by Penguin, available now.
This is Like a Mother with Emma Johnson for moms who think.
Emma: Okay, mamas, hi there. It is Emma Johnson of Wealthy Single Mommy, and this is Like a Mother, and this is my favorite time of the month when I give away my Kickass Single Mom grant. And for those of you that don't know this is a program, this is the one year anniversary. I launched this last February, and this is just my project. It is not a 501(c)(3). This is just my project, it's my money, my business money that I earn, my personal money, and I give $1,000 away every month to a Kickass Single Mom. And we have had moms that are starting new businesses, moms starting non-profits, moms who are just doing incredible things for their families; for the communities. This is just a woman who, personally, I think is amazing and is embodying what I believe to be an amazing a single mom.
So, yes, I give her this money that she can use for her endeavor, but it is … Really the power of this is bringing her on this podcast, show casing her on social media, on my blog Wealthy Single Mommy, and showing other women what is possible. What is possible to be as a single mom. We are changing the narrative together, collectively, about what it means to be a woman today and getting rid of all these old stereotypes.
And today's guest is an amazing example of that. Nadia Wiseman. Nadia, thank you so much for being here with me today.
Nadia: Thank you for having me.
About MOMtreal, the social service organization that supports single moms
Emma: She is a homegirl. She is my Canadian sister. She runs a non-profit that she started last year called MOMtreal. Get that? MOMtreal in Montreal. And this is a social service organization that supports other single moms, and creates a network and a local community for single moms, which is such an important part of this experience.
Emma: And I'll let you, Nadia, tell us a little bit more about your story, and what you do. But thank you so much for being here.
Nadia: Thank you again for having me. I really appreciate it.
Emma: It's so good. I have loved watching you grow, because you just started this out of nowhere last year, and you were great, you reached out and were in touch. And I can tell you, as somebody who sees lots of very well meaning organizations and online projects start up that go nowhere … I'll be honest, I see them every day. Women reach out to me. Their hearts in the right place, and they reach out, and I'm like ‘Okay, this is probably not going to go anywhere,' cause most of them don't, but yours has. You are growing, you're in the media, you're getting money, and you're serving women.
Emma: So, tell us … Well, first of all tell us what MOMtreal is all about.
Nadia: Okay, so Single MOMtreal is all about helping single moms in Montreal. I decided to focus on Montreal, because I find when you focus locally … I mean, I get to help more people that way. So, I started this to reduce isolation, because I felt isolated for about four to five years as a single mom. Not everybody … You really have to be in the situation to get it completely, and I wanted other moms to feel understood.
Emma: Yeah. I know you have in-person events, which is awesome, but what else do you do? And you have a really active Facebook group, but you also are … You are collectively, as a group lead by you, serving women actual things that they need: Money and clothes. And talk about that part of your organization.
Creating community around single moms in need
Nadia: So, what we do is we offer secondhand items to single moms in need, and the way we offer that is by reaching out to the community asking for donations. So, at this point now people are actually coming to us, we don't even have to ask so much because they've heard of us, and they'll send us a message and say ‘We have things to donate, how does it work?' And it's so amazing, cause in the beginning I would have to really reach out and put posts all over the internet like on Facebook, and ask people if they'd be interested in donating to Single MOMtreal. And now people are actually just coming to us.
Nadia: I mean, there's somebody who drove half an hour just to bring secondhand items to our organization when she could have dropped it off like five minutes from her house. So, it's amazing, because a lot of people that are really motivated by helping single moms a lot of them are single moms, some are single dad's, and some are just family that the parents are together, the couple's together, and they're just so interested in helping single moms.
Nadia: I'm so happy about that.
Emma: It's so … And it's motivating, isn't it? Like I see that in my work. You just see the best in people when you do this-
Emma: Kind of work. Yeah, it's so beautiful.
Emma: So, it's the things like clothes. Just give us like a handful of the services that you're helping women access.
Services MOMtreal provides for women
Nadia: Sure. So, there's children's clothing, women's clothing that we've received, food that people already have in their homes that they want to donate, that they don't use, or they use but they just want to donate to help a single mom. The ones who donate food, I would say, 99 percent of them actually drive to the single mom's house and deliver the food-
Emma: So, how-
Nadia: If they need-
Emma: Are you connecting? But how are you connecting it? So, how do you identify a woman who is in need of services, and how do you connect her with that donor that's going to drive to her house?
Nadia: Okay, so there's two ways. Either the mother messages us privately asking for help, and as soon as we receive a message like that we post in different groups in Montreal. So, there's the West Island Moms, for example, or NDG Parents, so there's various groups in Montreal where we can post, and request for help. Not all the groups are open to that, cause they see it as advertisement, but a lot of people are cooperating, and I'm so happy to see that.
Nadia: There's also donors who have gone to the grocery store and have bought a lot of food to deliver to a mom in need. So, they're not just taking food from their houses, some people are really going out of their way, and going to the groceries, and even asking a mom in need to give them a list of what they need.
Emma: Awesome. Okay, so you're kind of like a hub for other social services. You are connecting these moms to other groups, and a larger network of services in your community.
Nadia: Yeah. I'm like a middle man, because between the single moms in need, because not all of them are need. You have some that are very well financially, but may feel isolated, so they'll come to our events. But for the ones that are struggling financially we do our best to find a donor. We match them with a donor in Montreal. And ideally that donor would be in their neighborhood, and it has happened where some donors are just a few blocks down, and we've actually created various groups in Montreal now.
Nadia: For example, La Salle Moms, Kirkland Moms, DVO Moms, so all different areas so that we can post as much as we can about our organization, because a lot of groups they don't like that. So, I figured if we create a bunch of groups all over Montreal we have more control, and we can reach out for help even more, and match single moms in those mom groups with non-single moms that want to help them. And it's been working out very well.
Emma: So, how many … When did you start, and how many moms have you served do you estimate?
Nadia: So, we started this … I mean, I started … I say we now, because now I have a team. I started this in April 2017. The way I started was by sharing resources in the community, because I figured a lot of single moms are not aware of the resources available to them to better their situation.
Many single moms aren't aware of resources available to help them
Nadia: We've served, so far, for sure over a 100 moms in need, because I'm a-
Emma: Okay. Well over 100 moms, and that's to get with social services, but there's many more. There's like 1,500 people in your Facebook group, and you've definitely served way more than that in terms of community, which I don't want you to-
Emma: To minimize, because that is huge, community. Offering community to women of whatever socio economic class they are in is such a service you are providing them.
Emma: Yeah, but you hinted. You said you felt that other people don't really understand the single mom journey unless you've been there, and I know that you have a story of your own. So, why don't you walk us back a little bit about becoming a mom? You're a mom of one son. Now, how old is he?
People often misunderstand the single mom journey
Nadia: He's five and half, he's turning six.
Emma: And he's adorable. I see his pictures on Facebook.
Nadia: Thank you.
Emma: But walk us back. You're an educated professional woman, and you had a great job, but talk to us about that, and your relationship, and your journey to where you are today.
Nadia: So, I got a bachelor's in psychology, I graduated in 2009. Then I did a certificate in autism, and I was working with the special needs population, mostly with kids, for over 10 years. In 2011, I was admitted to the school of social work at McGill. My plan was to become a social worker, and work with people who have special needs since I had the passion and the experience side-
Emma: And I just want to interrupt. You're in Canada. McGill for Americans that are not familiar … McGill is like the Harvard of Canada. That's a big deal. So, all right, go on.
Nadia: Yeah. I was so happy I got in. Not a lot … Like there's a lot of people who didn't get in. I was so happy. It was like a dream come true. I've been wanting to become a social worker for an extremely long time. So, for me it was a dream true.
Forced to choose between career and motherhood
Nadia: So, I started the program, and a month later I found out I was pregnant. I spoke to the school, and I explored is it possible for me to keep the baby and still become a social worker. They were telling me that some moms have done it, it's possible, and all that, but I found myself in a situation where I had to support myself completely. The person I was with was not contributing. I was really … I had no choice but to choose between pursuing my career, my education social work, or motherhood, and I chose motherhood. And I figured maybe I can go back to it one day, but it was really not feasible financially. I did the calculations, it was just not doable for me in my situation at the time.
So, I chose motherhood, and then I had to work because as a student I wasn't working, I didn't have a job. So, I dropped school and I had to work full time. I had no choice, before giving birth, because then I wouldn't have the mat leave, and I had to support myself at the time with the boyfriend that I was living with.
Luckily, my friend husband's family owns a business, so they hired me temporarily while I was pregnant. From that I got my mat leave. After my mat leave was over, I had to work. Going back to special needs, at the time, I figured was not the best idea because there was no stable income situation, and the pay was also a huge factor. It did not pay well. So, I chose to start working for companies to make a better pay, and to have a more stable income because I was on my own to take care of my child financially.
Anyway, long story short, during those times I was working for companies I went through things in my family. We lost two family members, my sister-in-law, and my cousin. So, not only was I dealing with the stress of being a single mom and having to make it on my own financially there were two deaths in my family, very young people in their early 30s. So, that added to the stress. Then there was relationship stress.
I didn't mention this, but the father of my child and I we split before I gave birth like about two months before. So when I say I was going through relationship stresses, it was with somebody else. So, things kept piling up, and piling up, and piling up, and I also changed jobs a few times during those four years.
So, constant change, constant struggles, dealing with the loss of members of the family one day I had a panic attack. A very, very bad panic attack at work, and my hand became numb, my mouth became numb; I was terrified. So, that was kind of the beginning of me saying to myself ‘Okay, this is too much. I need to do something about this. This is … I'm just like anxiety overload, emotion overload, too much is going on. I need to take care of myself. I need to be well, not just for myself, but for my kid.' So, I took some time off.
Turning down a good salary to work in a community center
Then I was offered to go back to a company with good pay, a good position. It was a great position. Really it was like ‘Thank you so much offering this to me.' I made the decision to turn it down, even though I needed that salary, and I decided to work in a community center instead. And my pay was cut by like half, but I say ‘You know what? I think my health is more important than money at this point,' and I wanted to go back to living a more centered life. So, that's why I chose to work for the community center instead, and at that community center I was working with a young adult that has special needs, and I was helping her integrate in the work world. She started off as a volunteer, and she ended up getting hired.
Emma: And so, through all of this, what I keep hearing you say: So, it's a balance between real life, and paying your bills, and taking care of your kid, and dealing with family stress, relationship stress, and like real life stuff. But, also, you had this inner calling to do meaningful work, and for you that means serving disadvantaged people. Disabled adults, community and community centers, and then … So, how did starting MOMtreal … So, you're living it. You're living what is a reality for so many single moms. And so how did you connect this experience, because you're not really out of it yet, right? You're making an okay … You're barely making a living at the community center, so where did you have the will with ‘I'll just start this non profit'?
Nadia: The will came from … First of all, it's my nature. I love helping people. I would say that's number one. It's my nature.
After I had the panic attack, and I took time off and all that I started seeing a therapist, and the therapist kept telling me ‘What are your goals? What are your dreams?' Because I buried my dreams and my goals. He pushed me, so I started thinking again a charity is what I really want. I've wanted this for a long time. Yeah, I wanted to become a social worker, but when I got into social work that was like, to me, it was like a realistic way of helping people. I guess, the whole having my own charity at that stage was not a 100% possible in my head. You know what I mean?
So, he pushed me to think about what are my dreams and goals, and also one day I had attended, I don't know if you're familiar with the Jewish religion, a Shabbat lunch. I went to synagogue; there was a Rabbi who said, in such a powerful and motivating way to the group, ‘Be a leader.' I was always a leader. I was always a leader when it came to where I work. I always took initiatives, I always wanted to better things, the process, to create. So, with the mix of having gone through my own experiences as a single mom, my nature of wanting to help people, the therapist pushing me ‘What are your dreams and goals', and the Rabbi saying to be a leader that all influenced me. And having gone through struggles …
Reaching out for help
I'm just thinking of the timeline. February, March, April. I think February 2017 is when I reached out to an organization in Montreal for help. I needed to get my stuff together. Everything was falling apart, and they really, really helped me, and because they helped me so much I really felt the need to let other single moms in the community know that there are resources out there that can help you get back on your feet, and help you reach your full potential. So, I started sharing those resources with them. I need to just tell them there are these resources out there that can help you.
Right. And I know one of the specialties that you have been focusing on is domestic violence, which is something we are not talking about enough. Especially, when we're talking to educated professional women. It is still such a taboo.
Yes, and for a long time I've been … I don't want to say embarrassed, because there's nothing to be embarrassed about, but for somebody who like has a bachelor's in psychology to say ‘I've been manipulated. I've been abused,' it's hard to talk about. But I think it's really important, cause a lot of people are hard on themselves when they experience these things, and I've been experiencing these kinds of things since I'm 14 years old up until this day, I'm 35. So, that's a long time.
There's a lot of single moms that come from that kind of experience, who find themselves in shelters, who when they leave the shelter they don't even have enough money to buy what they need for their new apartment. So, what Single MOMtreal is doing now is we want to make them feel comfortable to talk about it. I was on the phone recently with somebody going through it. Tanya, one of our team members, has been helping a mom that came out of a shelter a lot by providing things for her apartment.
We're working on getting a company to donate home items. I used to work for that company, and they've agreed to help. It's just a matter of time until we get what we need from them. Bedding, curtains, everything you can imagine in textiles for the home.
The correlation between domestic violence and financial abuse
Emma: Sure. Because there's a direct correlation between domestic violence and money in almost every single case of violence there is financial abuse. You can't get out if you don't have your own money, and there is systematic control within those relationships to keep women from having control of their money, because then they have choices. When you have money you have choices, when you don't have many you don't have choices. So, these things-
Emma: Go hand in hand, and it's so important the work that you are doing, and I hear you. I hear the hesitancy in your voice, and in your story to share, because there is so much shame surrounding this, but it is so common. And the work that you are doing it's so important, and I'm so grateful to you, Nadia Wiseman. Thank you.
Nadia: Thank you.
Emma: Nadia Wiseman of Single MOMtreal. Nadia Wiseman of Single MOMtreal, I want you to talk to the women listening to this. So, single moms, maybe they're women in a bad situation. They know they need to get out, but they don't have the confidence that they can make it on their own and take care of their babies. As a single mom, what is the one thing that you want to leave them with?
Nadia: If you feel you're in a bad situation, and you need an out there is an out. Please, don't stay in it. There are solutions. Do not feel embarrassed. If you have friends or family you can talk to, or a social worker, or a therapist please reach out to them. If even … I mean, Emma Johnson has a huge group, I have a group. Even if you're not from Montreal reach out to me, to her, please do not hesitate. We are here to help. There are community resources in your area. I can even help you find them.
Nadia: A lot of women stay in abusive relationships because they don't have the money to get out, they're dependent. That's just one of the reasons, there's plenty of reasons, but if it has to do with money if you go to a shelter, for example, the shelter gives you time to save money to get yourself organized. And then when you leave you have enough money, you may be lacking some for all the stuff you need in your apartment, but you will have enough money to get your own apartment, and to start over, and to start a better life for yourself and your children.
Emma: Thank you.
Emma: There is hope. There is hope, and you're not alone. Sadly, there are millions of women in your situation, and that is both disheartening, but also I really believe the shame factor it can go both ways. Shame keeps people, keeps them quiet, and in bad situations, but I feel like the connection like knowing that other people are in bad situations like you it can save people's lives, really.
Nadia: Yep. It's not just the physical life, it's also an emotional life, it's a psychological life.
Emma: That's so true. Very true.
Emma: Nadia, thank you so much for your work. I know you're going to keep in touch, and we will be highlighting your work for years to come I'm sure. Thank you.
Nadia: Thank you so much.
Past beautiful Kickass Single Mom grant winners!
Tanai Benard: Driving 18-wheelers through floodwaters to help Hurricane Harvey victims
Erin Williamson: Entrepreneur works for global gender equity
Jennifer Little, founder of the Little Hands Book Bank in Texas.
Shawnta Creech went from homeless to culinary school graduate with a salad dressing business in the works.
Sexuality educator Vanessa Osage, giving young people and their families agency over their bodies and sexuality
Sheri Hopkins started Black San Diego. “I wanted my daughters to grow up seeing strong leaders who looked like them.”
Tiara Caldwell: A doula for low-income new mothers. “I wasn't going to let a corporation tell me what my dream was.”
Teri Teves: Supporting other women by building her small beauty business.
Apply for the Kickass Single Mom Grant now:
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.