This is what it’s like to be a single mom in NYC

Where you live affects your ability to thrive as a single mom


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.

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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.

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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.


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.

21 thoughts on “This is what it’s like to be a single mom in NYC

  1. New York taxes are quite high too though — you have to add that into the mix. You’ve made smart choices on schools (and being close to one that’s a great option for your daughter) but there are a lot of NYC families who have not been able to score that and have to look at private school — which adds a lot too. Out here in the Philly ‘burbs we pay 3% tax — and yet the police and firemen still come and our potholes get fixed! — and we are going to be able to send all our kids to great public schools for the property taxes that are less than the tuition for one kid at NYC private schools. I love New York too, and all the bustle and fun, but there are definitely trade offs.

  2. There is no right answer. And then brings the question: Do we stress too much about schools? You write: “but there are a lot of NYC families who have not been able to score that and have to look at private school” …. well, not most NYC families. Just rich ones.

    I’m pretty content for the moment. Check in with me next year :)

    1. I loved this article. It made me feel like my grandchildren really will survive growing up in a city. If their mother is happy, they will be happy.

  3. The idea of living in a major city would overwhelm me. I like my small midwestern city. I need trees, grass and nearby wilderness if need to get out of town. I love to travel to large cities but I like where I live to be peaceful and quiet. I do have the expense of having a car, public transit is a joke here.

  4. Emma, I love this post. As you know, I live in a densely populated neighborhood in Chicago-walking distance to my daughter’s school/work. Since coming a single mother, living in this tight(in many senses) community has made me feel safe and less isolated. We share a porch with a fantastic neighbor that has become an extension of our little family-and my daughter knows that if anything happens she can knock on any door in our building.
    She’s also learning a lot about living with all different kinds of people-I am grateful for that-not something I got in my small midwestern town, either.

    Like you, I always dreamed I’d live in a big city. I feel like I have it all-I’m a teacher and for what I sacrifice in income, I more than make up in time-in that time we camp, take road trips and spend plenty of time connecting with the natural world.

    After 24 years, I still get a thrill every time I drive in from the west and see the skyline rising above the roadway-or when heading into downtown on Lake Shore Drive along lake Michigan. Someday, my daughter will make her own choice about where to live-but growing up, she’s seeing a mom living her dream, which will hopefully inspire her to do the same.

  5. THIS: “my daughter will make her own choice about where to live-but growing up, she’s seeing a mom living her dream, which will hopefully inspire her to do the same.”

  6. I like your post.

    I think the ability to walk to a lot of places is actually great. I walk miles and miles weekly around my home, but for exercise not because I can efficiently go to a market or restaurant. Although our downtown is getting more urban with condos, apartments, and entertainment among the tall buildings and alleys. No NYC to be sure, but still kinda cool.

    And it’s definitely good you’re living your dream.

    The main thing I would not like in big city living is the endless noise outside the window. I deal with that some living in the outskirts of my home city, but not to the degree of NYC.

    1. Noise pollution is a real concern in most major cities, including my apartment. I live down the block from a hospital (sirens), a school (kids, honking parents) and on a busy retail street (car stereos, bus breaks, drunk assholes, ice cream trucks) and accross the street from a park that has mega-blasted concerts three times a week in the summer. God created ear plugs for a reason.

  7. Good post. Makes me want to trade in the ‘burbs for the city more than I already do. I’d like to move back to the small city/college town where I went to college. Could walk to everything I needed, it was nice to have the faster pace of the school year followed by the slower pace of summer.

    1. Yes, walkability is great, but it’s not perfect. I live a mostly walkable life, but do have a car I use all the time. Friday night we stayed late at the park where we had a picnic – and commuted by car. At 9p my kids were SPENT, grumpy and in no mood to circle around and around the neighborhood looking for parking. I cursed the city that night!

  8. You’re so brave, Emma! Moving to a major city at a young age. Like they say, if you can survive New York, you can survive anywhere. This post makes me want to move to New York but the real estate is too expensive, no kidding!

  9. Great article Emma. I totally agree with you about everything up until last year. Honestly, I’m tired of being single. I’m a professional woman, mother of one. Can you pls tell me where quality filed single men are at? I’m lost.

  10. Emma, I so very much connect to this lovely and very real article. I grew up in a suburb of the city and had little girl dreams of being a member one day, but our family moved to Florida and my life began as I became pregnant, married and then started a family. My marriage has fallen apart, and I don’t wish to stay in Florida. I work for an airline based at JFK and LGA and frequent Queens and the city – still excited to be even a part time member. Your points on “community living” and the value of neighborhoods and bodegas … it’s what I love as well. I read this article during a google search as to whether a single mother of three can afford to live the the NYC area. You made valid points…and the question remains.. does the reality ever match the dream?
    I hope to hear more of your journey. Thank you!

  11. Hey Emma I love this article! I am a single 30 year old mother of a 13 year old boy and 8 year girl. I currently live on the more eastern side of Long Island since I was a little girl. Nursing student graduating in May. I find myself constantly going to NYC and Williamsburg to visit friends. While there I fantasize about living there. I know this is the place for me! BUT is it for my children? The neiborhood we live in now isn’t the best anyway. Will moving to the city bring more bad influences on my teenager? These are my main concerns.

  12. I love this post. I know I am behind the times finding it. I really admire your drive, I shared the same dream as a child stuck in the midwest, knowing from early on I was meant to live NYC. At 24, I broke up with my boyfriend, quit my job, and decided it was time to make the move. About a month into my progress I found out that I was pregnant- put on the brakes, how was I about to become a single mother? Well it has been almost 8 years and I cannot wait to make it there. I raised my daughter knowing that we would be moving once she was old enough to stay at home alone. I have been saving money and dying to get there without counting the days down. Life is too short to wish away but as I itch to get home, I was soothed by your post. Hope you are doing well and the kids are healthy/happy/smiling. It was delightful to gain your perspective, would love to read more!

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