Parenting is not always harder as a single mom

I recently listened in fascination as a married shared her experience of parenting while her husband was away for a 10-day business trip: She gets more hugs since the kids' affection is not divided by two. She is a more fun parent than normal, stepping into the role her husband typically plays. The kids are better behaved since there are fewer adults around to nag and discipline.

Then she tagged me on a Facebook post:

Being a single parent is… being exhausted, your head aching and with no patience left but pushing through anyway because the kids need to bathe and eat and there's no one else who's going to make that happen other than you. Hats off to those who do it every day.

Of course, one can easily pick apart this happily married, two-income mom's claim to being a “single parent.” I'll allow her to indulge in the title if it helps her cope. But I dismiss assumptions that it is  always tougher to parent when you do not have a partner.

Now, if you have a great marriage with a supportive, involved partner who really gets what it takes to care for children, a home and two careers — well, that is certainly easier than going at it alone. If you really enjoy this person's company and you jibe on parenting tactics, that trumps all.

But as someone who was in a contentious marriage, I can tell you that parenting solo is far easier than doing so with the wrong spouse. Less tension in the house. More of a sense of control. Clearer expectations for the children.  As my ex and I heal from our divorce I find that we are slowly finding ways to support each other as co-parents that were not possible when we were married. Plus, it is all about expectations and adapting. As I told friend, she is simply not used to being alone with her kids all the time, whereas I am. If I were suddenly forced to co-parent for two weeks I would go nuts. As I wrote last week, the more time I have with my kids, the more time I want with my kids, as we get into the groove of operating as a party of three.

And then there is the individuality factor. Some people simply find it easier to parent by themselves — just like some prefer solo sports like biking or distance running, to team efforts like rugby and dodge ball. But unlike sports — which can be experimented with at whim — parenting and marriage are big-ticket decisions that can only be explored with an enormous front-end commitment. And sometimes you find your groove in situations that you cannot predict.

About Emma Johnson

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,, 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.


  1. Seanna on August 21, 2013 at 8:39 am

    I have always been a single parent, was married while I was pregnant but that fell apart while I was still pregnant. So I have no idea what it is like to co-parent. I do get annoyed when parents who are still together say that they are single parents, especially when it for a week-long trip. Especially when it comes to supporting them financially, I have the burden on my shoulders alone. There is no one to tell your frustrations with life to. It can be lonely. But I also feel like I can take on the world by myself, so also liberating.

  2. Kelly on August 21, 2013 at 11:08 am

    Somewhat similair to Seanna, I divorced my children’s father when they were 1 and 2 (& the time married was tumultuous to put it lightly). Sometimes, I wonder what it would be like to actually parent with someone else who feels the exact same intense love I feel towards my kids. What I miss (or have always hoped for) the most is when something good happens- having no one to share it with. Sure, I can call my best friend, who is wonderful & supportive, or my parents, but no one other than that child’s parent will feel the same joy. I wonder what it would be like to feel that! On the other hand, I totally agree with the rest of what you said. And I too get annoyed with the ‘alone for a week or two’ sympathy… good intentions I know, but ugh!

    • Seanna on August 21, 2013 at 11:28 am

      Kelly, I have had my son full time since day one (he is 21 months). When people come to me for sympathy, I just look at them like really?

  3. Emma on August 21, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Kelly and Seanna – I totally get that sentiment 100%. But 1) we all have different thresholds and abilities. I happen to be able to handle a lot. Some of married mom friends seem to be born without the bandwidth to get through a day with their families. They may function differently if they found themselves in different positions, and rise to the occasions. 2) it is dangerous / not productive to view yourself as always worse off — meaning, “You think you have it bad? Well I’m a single mom!” At some point you just have to accept your situation for what is, better or worse, and decide to thrive. It is a slippery slope to a victim mentality. And then grumble to your blog friends from time to time :)

    True story: A friend was recently grumbling that her husband wouldn’t buy her a new oven. She doesn’t have kids. I said: “Why don’t you just buy it yourself?” She said she couldn’t afford it on her salary (I guess they have separate accounts). And I thought: “Bitch, you have a husband and no kids, and I have two kids and no husband – why in hell would I be sympathetic?” But, well, that is where she is. And this is where I am :)

    • Kelly on August 23, 2013 at 11:16 am

      I totally agree with the ‘rise to the occasion’ thought. I really don’t think my job as a (single) mom is too rough- I do think it’s easier MUCH of the time! I guess I meant the only thing I regularly miss is the sharing of joy. Again, like Seanna said, I’m sure many of us get the ‘I don’t know how you do it’- but you just do. You just do what’s next on the list- you rise to the occasion and take care of business! :)

      • Emma on August 26, 2013 at 3:33 pm

        Kelly – I want to write about that ‘joy of sharing’ – I did explore that in my post ‘Facebook is my Babydaddy’ – but that is really such a loss for the whole family. I miss that, too.

  4. Seanna on August 21, 2013 at 11:48 am

    I didn’t want to come off that I play the victim card with my married friends. I just get annoyed when adults don’t act like adults.

    I get a lot of “I don’t know how I would do what you do” from friends (whether they are single, married, with kids, without kids). I am going to say this in the most midwest way possibly, sometimes you have to cowboy (cowgirl) up.

    Survivor maybe my theme song ;)

  5. Tiffany on August 22, 2013 at 10:18 am

    I am married with 2 children, when my husband left for a week on business, it gave me a glimpse at what single parenthood might be like. So I thought. After awhile, I realized the life I have is based on decisions between 2 people and a division of labor. When there is only one to support that life, it is much more challenging. If I were a single parent it would not be the same experience because that life would be one I made to work for me alone. Bottom line, raising children is hard, singly or partnered. Enjoy the babies and do the best you can with what you have.

  6. Derek with on August 24, 2013 at 10:41 am

    I’d imagine punishment and reinforcement could be easier because you have a one stop shop for decision making. This would increase consistency.

    • Emma on August 26, 2013 at 9:15 am

      I certainly enjoy that aspect of single parenthood – but like most things, it is complicated. The kids miss out on the benefits of seeing two caring partners work out differences, and getting two perspectives on their naughty behavior :)

  7. Nicola on June 17, 2016 at 6:34 pm

    I always worry that people will judge me for saying this, but… I really like being a single mom. I prefer it. Yes, it’s been a lot more work, it’s often scary, it’s financially gruelling, and it’s a drag not to have help when I’m sick or overwhelmed (I don’t have family or friends nearby who can help out). But, my relationship with my daughter has grown so much since her father and I divorced. Part of that is that I am happier in my life, which translates to better parenting (in my case). The other part is that we get WAY more one-on-one time, and that has allowed us to bond in a way that we weren’t able to, before. It has also pushed me to become a better person– I HAVE to bring my A-game, because nobody is there to pick up the slack if I don’t.

    I agree with other posters that not having anyone to share parenting joys with is lonely and difficult but, all in all, I love being a “party of two” with my kid. (I don’t know if this needs to be said but, obviously, I am speaking about my own experience and nobody else’s. Lots of people don’t enjoy single parenthood, and that’s perfectly valid, too).

    • Nicola on June 17, 2016 at 6:36 pm

      Aw, shoot. I just realized this post is several years old. Ooops!

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