I wrote this a couple years ago, and the story is the same. Also, I will add very critical additions to the NYC single mom story:
Dating as a single mom
Nowhere in the world is there a higher concentration of interesting, successful, progressive men — many of them devoted dads. Men in NYC, more so than other parts of the country, I've found, are incredible daters. First dates are nearly always a nice dinner out, he pays. He just pays. Like a man. Theater tickets, concert reservations, invites to private media parties are not uncommon. The downside is that dating culture here can divulge into Sex And The City / Sienfeld antics — such an embarrassment of riches there is scant motivation to commit, a better offer surely around the corner, or with a single swipe-right.
Professional opportunities for single moms
If there were 400 hours in a day, I would still never be able to attend all the networking events, conferences, lunches, dinners, cocktail parties, breakfasts and other events designed to bring ambitious, successful people together with the goal of connecting and making money together. Also: NYC has an incredible energy of support and collaboration, especially among women, all of which makes building a great career and the surrounding tribe necessary all that easier to assemble.
Awesome single mom friends
See above. Many of them breadwinners, so many doing incredible things in the world, statistically far more progressive politically and socially than the mean in this country. Some are single, others married, and many are single moms. I find myself welcome in all circles
What do you think? Where do you live? How does that affect your ability to thrive?
This is what it is like to be a single mom in NYC …
I just passed my 10-year mark living in New York City. Throughout an entire decade in this city, one thing was constant: Whenever I caught a glimpse of the Manhattan skyline — while jogging along the East River near my home in Astoria, Queens, or driving along the New Jersey Turnpike — I always got a giddy shiver down my spine.
For as long as I could remember, this was the place of my dreams. The place I fantasized about moving when I felt stuck as a kid in my small, Midwestern hometown. That is where writers live, I knew. Where people were direct, brash even, just like me. It took me a few years of adulthood to get up the nerve to move here — until I had the comfort of a boyfriend to join me. We moved here with no jobs and little money. My writing career took off. I joined friends at fabulous restaurants. It was easy to network — everyone who could help me in my career was here. This, finally, was home. I was 26 years old.
Today my life looks entirely different. That boyfriend became a husband, father of our two children and now an ex. I achieved my dream of being a writer in New York, but instead of a Dorothy Parker-esque existence (no drunken lunches for me!), I spend my days in a sunny home office that doubles as my bedroom, overlooking a playground we frequent almost daily.
My children are ages 4 and 6, and maybe because it is universally true, or just because I am projecting my own childhood experience, I worry my children need a place to run. Green lawns and trees to climb. They don’t have that here. They are city kids.
And yet I don’t relocate to any of the lovely suburbs in New Jersey, Westchester County or Connecticut. I stay in Astoria, Queens, because it is my home. Our home.
When I feel my cheeks burn with fury at the litter blowing through the streets of this neighborhood or put in my ear plugs at night to block out the sirens, café chatter and horns outside, I am calmed by the comfort of the community I’ve amassed here.
My building alone — a 1926 six-storey co-op with about 90 units — is home to dozens of neighbors, ranging in age from chipper-if-struggling musicians in their twenties to the gorgeous Cuban sisters in their eighties who share a one bedroom on the second floor.
Some of these people have come to be close friends and confidants, there as neighbors are — through the joys of new babies and the horrors of family tragedy, sometimes bringing by bottles of wine or wrapped gifts for the kids. It is no small thing to go to sleep — blocking out the kooky upstairs neighbor’s stomping — knowing that should one of the kids awaken with a scary fever and need to be rushed to the hospital, there are countless doors on which I could knock.
This sense of community is what humans crave, but that pull is stronger in cities. I find there are so many people here who, like me, come from someplace else. Other states and towns. Other countries. Their ties to those places have been loosened by distance and time. So we make communities and connections with those who are in close proximity.
Dense neighborhoods lend plenty of proximity. Pretty much every service I need is accessible by foot: grocery stores, doctors and dentists, the post office, a hair salon, any variety of restaurant. And a Gap for crying out loud. I consider time my most valuable commodity, and city living wins for most efficient.
There are other practical reasons to live in a city. The monthly maintenance check I write to the co-op relieves me of any responsibilities for fixing broken boilers, leaky roofs, the garbage disposal or snow shoveling. Sure, if I lived in a single-family house, I could outsource those tasks, but in a city apartment I don’t even have to manage the third-party service. It’s all taken care of.
The reality of cost of living in New York City as a single mom
It’s also cheaper to live in New York City, versus the suburbs. Yes, the real estate prices are through the roof (no pun intended). But as this New York Times article found, families spend 18 percent less by living in the five boroughs, as they save on real estate taxes and transportation.
If you don’t believe me, think about your car expenses — loan note, insurance, gas and maintenance. In most parts of New York City you can replace those costs with a monthly subway pass of $112, or $2.75 per ride. I do own a 1999 Subaru Forester — a junker for weekend trips to the beach and mountains. If I moved to the suburbs and needed a reliable vehicle for daily errands and job commuting, I would be forced to invest in a new car.
Apartment living brings hidden joys. I am grateful for my home — a 1,300 square-foot two-bedroom, two-bathroom home with high ceilings and tons of natural light — a feat to afford after my divorce and considered spacious quarters in this expensive town. But these digs are small in comparison with what I would likely live in should I move to a more bucolic location. There are tradeoffs that come with small square footage: I am forced to live minimally. I must think critically about every purchase — and I believe that is a valuable exercise.
I also appreciate how close quarters bring people together. I like that my children share a bedroom, at least now that they are small. Soon I imagine we may invest in a partial wall, but for now, I adore listening to my daughter singing lullabies to her little brother after I’ve tucked them in. And I remark at how when one of them happens to wake in the middle of the night and silently slip into my bed, the other systematically does the same, sensing the absence of the other.
As my children grow, I’m sure I will feel very differently about our living arrangement. Indeed, these days when I jog along the East River in the mornings, I do not get that jolt upon seeing the city skyline. The thrill of making my New York City dreams come true has faded.
But like many youthful thrills, that one has been replaced by something else: When the kids and I leave our our apartment each morning, we cannot walk a half-block without bumping into a familiar face, someone who at least nods hello, but often stops to remark at how big the kids have grown or at the recent chilly weather. These are the stitches that connect us to our neighbors, the threads of community and the making of home.
All about single mom city living
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 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.