I have been blogging about single motherhood for nearly a decade and have interacted with tens of thousands of single moms, and have access to millions of data points about moms parenting outside of a nuclear family.
The challenges of being a single mom with no help are real, and statistics about single mothers in the United States and world illustrate the real socio-economic challenges faced by tens of millions of families.
This post highlights many of the limiting beliefs that our culture serves up to single moms — and how assuming them to be true, we unconsciously hold ourselves back. Shedding sexist and dated assumptions allows you and me to step into our power, change our own narratives and that for millions of families everywhere.
Common narratives that single moms face and assume:
- “I need to work limited hours / earn low because my children need me at home.”
- “I need to fight for maximum custody of my children because I am the better parent.”
- “It is OK if I go into debt/ overspend on my children, because I’m a single mom.”
- “My professional shortcomings are because I am a single mom.”
- “I will always be a broke single mom.”
- “I will be lonely for the rest of my life because no good man wants a woman with children.”
- “Being a single mom is hard—right?”
- “I deserve to struggle all alone because I got myself into this mess.”
- “I need a man.”
What is a limiting belief?
Every human battles limiting beliefs — ideas that you consciously or unconsciously accept as true, and in believing it as such, it does become true.
A classic example of a liming belief is, “I’ve always been out of shape. That is just how I am.” If you accept that as true, especially if that message is reinforced by your friends, family, doctors and media messages, you will never get in shape. Only once you recognize that yes, you can get into shape, no matter how long it has been since you broke a sweat, that your habits can change for the better.
The key to changing your life is to change your behavior.
Before you can change your behavior, you have to change your mindset, beliefs.
Before you can change your mindset, you have to be aware of your current mindset. You may have an idea about what you believe, and what your values are. But I guarantee that your subconscious impacts your thoughts and life.
Belief change => habit change => life change
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Limiting belief: “I need to work limited hours / earn low because my children need me at home. Especially now that they are from a broken home (single mother guilt).”
Here is my favorite piece of research that has been produced since someone proved that masturbation does not cause blindness:
A meta study of 34 related studies by University of Maryland found the pressure to spend so much quality time with children stresses moms out so much that it may actually make us worse parents than if we just focused our time on making more money, and less on frontal-lobe development and deep connection with our children. Because guess what?
It doesn’t matter that much how much time you spend with your children.
“How Does the Amount of Time Mothers Spend with Children Matter?” authors found that the pressure to spend so much quality time with our children means all parents — working and stay-at-home — schedule both professional and housework around the children’s activities to maximize this presumed critical time together — at the detriment to all parties’ emotional wellbeing. To what effect?
The researchers found that for young children, not much.
University of Maryland meta study that found that after age 2, it makes literally zero difference how much time parents spent with their kids when it comes to measuring the children’s academic or psychological success. In fact, researchers found that the pressure to spend so much quality time with children stresses moms out so much that it may actually make us worse parents than if we just focused our time on making more money, and less on frontal-lobe development and deep connection with our children.
That is right: We are spending TOO MUCH time with our children.
This is stunning in and of itself (though more juicy data are to come).
This finding completely confronts and contradicts the prevalent parenting message of our time: More time with your kids is more.
Mothers are told in direct and indirect ways: The stay-at-home mom is the better mom.
Listen to my podcast episode on this topic:
The message is: If you work outside the home, your children will suffer. In fact, a couple years ago a Pew survey found a stunning 40 percent of Americans believe that when a mother (not parent, mind you. Mother.) works outside the home it actually harms her children.
If you are like me and the majority of mothers in the United States, and you work outside the home, it is very hard to avoid feeling guilty and stressed as a result.
And so we dutifully spend more time with our kids. Wrote the researchers:
For 3-to-11-year-olds, U.S. mothers spend an average of 11 to 30 hours each week either fully engaged in activities with their kids, or nearby and accessible when needed. And for kids in their early teens, moms are there between 11 and 20 hours each week. On average, in 1975 moms spent just over 7 hours per week with their kids. We are spending more time with our children, yet feeling more guilty and stressed.
The ramifications of this trend are enormous. The more-time-is-more parenting paradigm has given rise to and celebrated stay-at-home-mother-is-best paradigm, which puts actually puts women, children and families in financial peril. The University of Maryland researchers found that all this kid-time can result in parents, moms in particular, being stressed, sleep-deprived, guilty and anxious — which, as any parent knows, trickles down to the kids.
To further support your need to work (which is likely related to the fact that you and your kids need to eat, much less that you enjoy working, contributing, building and earning), here is my second favorite piece of research:
It is good for both girls and boys when moms work outside the home for pay
A Harvard Business School study of 50,000 adults found that in 24 countries, the daughters whose moms worked before the girls were 14 years old:
- Finished more years of education
- Earned higher salaries
- Were more likely to be employed and in supervisory roles than their peers whose moms stayed at home
In the United States, the Harvard study found that daughters of working mothers earned 23 percent more than daughters of stay-at-home mothers, and sons spent seven and a half more hours a week on child care and 25 more minutes on housework.
In other words, when moms work for pay, there is more gender equality in the workforce, and more gender equality at home.
So, how does this apply to single moms specifically?
One, science absolves you from working-mom guilt for a) earning a living like adults do, and b) spending plenty of time away from your kids.
Here are all the great things that happen when you let go of the working-mom guilt, and give your career the attention and time you feel it deserves:
- You feel great about that decision, because it is the right decision! All that worthless, toxic guilt and unclear priorities are now gone. Good vibes ensue. Everyone in your household benefits from this new clarity, and positive direction.
- Your income grows, and you prove to yourself (and everyone who is watching) that you can be both a single mom, AND financially successful. Your children benefit from this security in countless ways.
- You set an incredible example for your children. Again, that Harvard study proved that all those work-for-pay moms bred achieving women, and caring, helpful men.
- You help close the gender gap and change the motherfucking world! When women work, so many good things happen in the world. I outline all the ways that the SAHM ideal only benefits the patriarchy in this post, and by working, earning and achieving — while raising fabulous children! — you do your part to correct this.
So, what to do about single, working-mom guilt?
- Get over your mom guilt by focusing on the science, including what I outlined above.
- Focus on a career that you love and that fills up your heart. Here is a list of 13 high-paying careers you can do from home.
- Surround yourself with other ambitious, supportive, big-thinking people (men, women, married and single moms and women). Do not allow yourself to get dragged down by women who are still stuck in the mindset that they need to martyr themselves for their kids.
- Prioritize your finances. Invest and build wealth! Create a plan to pay off debt, increase your income, build wealth through buying a home, investing in your retirement, or a new business. Read my 17 steps to a rich life as a single mom.
- A good therapist will help you get over that useless emotion of guilt. BetterHelp is the top online therapy platform, with an A+ Better Business Bureau rating and more than 11,000 counselors to choose from. Get 10% off BetterHelp now >>
Limiting belief: “I need to fight for maximum custody of my children because I am the better parent.”
Forty years ago when Americans started divorcing en masse, early research suggested that very young kids do best by being with the mom full-time. There was a study or two decades ago that supported the idea that children do best with a primary residence (which was automatically presumed to be the mom), and maybe visits with the second parent (dad).
That was the advent of what New York divorce attorneys call “the Friday Night Special” — kids live with their mom, spend every-other weekend and Wednesday dinners with their dad. The dad builds his career, the cliche goes, and pays the mom child support, and maybe alimony.
The notion that kids’ time should be primarily with one parent — the better parent — has instilled in you and me by a culture and court system that dictates: “When parents break up, a fight must ensue. Everyone battles to win — win money, win children.”
Unfortunately, the only winners in these epic battles are attorneys and a court system that profits from your family misery.
To feed the presumption that children benefit when they spend most of their time with one parent, the divorce and separation process is designed to inherently create a conflict over which parent is better.
Thankfully, 55-peer-reviewed studies have unequivocally proven that when children have approximately equal time with both parents, they do best — including in high-conflict situations.
It goes without saying that exceptions apply for cases of abuse and neglect.
Unfortunately, just as our culture is stuck in the notion that full-time stay-at-home moms are best for children, so, too, do we assume that children should be with their moms. I get it. A few years ago I wrote this:
After one meeting with my ex and our lawyers to negotiate the custody agreement of our divorce, I went home, busted out the calculator, and cried. I freaked out at the idea of being away from my kids for extended hours or days, and I need to know how many hours each week I would spend with my son and daughter under various arrangements. How many hours they would be sleeping, in day care and with their dad? How many minutes each week would they be mine? When we separated, I was pregnant and my daughter was not quite 2. I subscribed to many tenets of attachment parenting. I was used to being with my tiny children the vast majority of the time, running errands with one or the other strapped to my chest, their tiny bodies cozied up to mine in bed, the little one would nurse at least a year like his sister.
Anything less than that seemed devastating. They needed me so, so much, I thought. And I needed them.
Fast-forward three years, and when my ex texts to say he’s skipping a visit for reasons well within his control (a party, volunteer work, a last-minute weekend trip to California), I lose my mind. I get crazy-angry at his cavalier approach to parenting and how that affects the kids. I resent be taken for granted, as if I were a babysitter on-call 24/7, and unpaid. I also resent that I don’t get my scheduled kid-free time.
Those hours are a precious commodity I fully utilize to nurture friendships, date, work, exercise and relax. When the kids come home Sunday evening from their weekly overnight, we are all so happy to see each other and I can feel in my whole body how much more energy I have for them.
Never in a bazillion years would I have imagined I’d feel like that.
When you share parenting with your ex, and take steps to truly co-parent in a positive way, only good things happen:
- It is best for kids, for one.
- Two, you stop fighting (as much), since there isn’t that much to fight over. This frees up so much psychic and emotional energy.
- Third, now that the kids are happily with their dad half the time, you are now free to build that career, date, spend time with friends, travel without children (my fav), eat a sandwich without being interrupted by being begged for a bite, or simply chill out.
- Four, this does so many great things for gender equality: your kids see that both genders are equal parents, you are no longer burdened by the expectations to be the full-time homemaker/mom and, are now freer to earn and grow a business and career. Others are watching you and your success. You inspire the world around you.
In January, 2021, I published the results of a survey of 2,279 single moms and found a direct link between their income and their time-sharing arrangement with their kids’ dad. As it stands, the vast majority of single moms have their children the majority of the time, with 51% of survey participants saying they have their children in their care 100% of the time.
A summary and white paper, endorsed by Anne-Marie Slaughter and others, are here. Highlights:
- Moms with a 50/50 parenting schedule are 54% more likely to earn at least $100,000 annually than moms whose kids are with them most of the time (with “visits” with the dad) and more than three times (325%) more likely to earn $100,000 than single moms with 100% time with their kids.
- Moms with 50/50 parenting schedules are more than twice as likely to earn $65,000+, and nearly three-times as likely to earn that sum than moms with 100% parenting time.
- 13%, or 1 in 8, single moms have a 50/50 arrangement — and 98% of them are content with it.
If you drink my Kool-Aid and come to understand that a) equally shared parenting is best for kids, b) you don’t have any more rights to time with or decisions for than their dad does, c) you see how shared parenting is really great for you (as well as feminism, because what is gender equality if parenting time is not equal?), you may find yourself with little support for these beliefs.
Again, our culture will tell those who love you most to relay to you the following messages:
You are the mother. The children should be with you.
You would always complain that he never did his share of parenting when you were married. Why should he get them equal time and say now that you’re divorced?
What? His new wife / girlfriend will be around half the time? You’re going to allow that?
He cheated and left you. You need to punish him and get the kids!
He’s a jerk and we never liked him. Don’t let the kids spend half their time at his house!
It is too hard on children to go back and forth between homes. Save them!
If you are arguing that you are the better parent, examine your motives. Is it because everywhere you turn, the world is telling you that your job as a woman is to be a mother, and children need mothers more than fathers, and are by way of biology, the superior parent?
Would you feel your friends and neighbors would judge you a negligent if had equal — or lesser — time with your kids?
Would you feel like you are “giving in” to his demands and losing at divorce?
Do you simply worry that you will miss your kids so much, and are not sure what to do with any newfound time they’d spend with their dad? Are you unsure of who you would be, what your identity is, if you were no longer a full-time mom?
Be honest here … are you trying to punish him for hurting you? That is certainly a human feeling, and Lord knows divorce and breakups are nothing if not ripe with human feelings. But that same Lord gave you restraint and intellect.
Even if you say you are a more engaged, or attentive, or healthy parent. Who says that you are right? Even if you spend tens of thousands of dollars on attorneys, therapists, experts to prove you are a better parent, why should that mean that the kids’ dad deserves a lesser relationship with the kids — not to mention the kids’ with their dad, their other parent?
The documentary Divorce Corp does a great job at explaining how messed up this thinking in. In one segment, a child advocate points out that when courts determine parenting time based on who is the better parent, a father who scores an 8 on a 10-point scale would get just 27% of time with his kids (the classic every-other-weekend, Wednesday dinner deal), if the mom scores a 9. Meanwhile, a dad who scores a 3, could get 90% time, if the mom scores a 2.
Why shouldn’t a dad who scores 3 or higher just get 50% time?
Better question: Why do we start the discussion with a fight, instead of a presumption of equality?
Again, if the kids are safe with a parent, there is no reason they should not spend equal time with that person. Even if you are absolutely the better parent.
Read more of my manifesto for closing the pay gap by mandating a presumption of 50/50 parenting.
Limiting belief: “My professional shortcomings are because I am a single mom.”
Recently, a single mom pitching me consulting services said to me:
“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.”
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 who has more rights, opportunity and access than most PEOPLE in the world, and certainly WOMEN EVER IN HISTORY.
Limiting belief: “It is OK if I go into debt / overspend on my children, because I’m a single mom.”
One woman told me:
“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!”
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?
No, no, no.
I often hear about women carrying large sums of debt, living without budgets or retirement accounts or any cash savings, but buy their kids plenty of toys, Disney vacations, clothes, meals out.
The rationale: My kids suffer so much because theirs is a broken home/ their dad isn’t around / they went through so much with the divorce / I work such long hours and don’t have that full-time, stay-at-home mom which is their God-given right, so they deserve all this stuff.
Here is what kids deserve:
- A safe home
- A vegetable once per week
- A hug once per month
Kidding! (Kinda.). All the research is there, and you know in your heart this:
Kids’ priorities and needs are to be safe, healthy, loved, appreciated.
Instead, we see single moms over-prioritize spending on their children over their financial solvency. A few years ago, an Allianz survey found that early half (47 percent) of single moms say that saving for their children’s education is their No. 1 greatest motivation for developing a long-term financial plan — above saving for retirement. Compare that with just 26 percent of other modern families who said the same.
Allianz didn’t surmise why single moms are disproportionately making this financial mistake, but I will: Mom guilt.
Don’t do this. Your kid can get loans for school, you can’t get loans for retirement. Financial pros will tell you that retirement savings trump college on all fronts: more tax benefits, longer vestment periods, and a higher priority overall.
Here’s the thing: If your financial decisions are made out of guilt, those are lesser decisions. If you go into debt, spend too much doing the holidays, chose a mortgage you cannot afford (even if it is in a great school district, or prevented your kids from relocating), your whole clan is at financial risk.
Yes, your kids might have been thrilled with that Xbox at Christmas, or thrilled with the cruise, but they also have a stressed out mom.
When moms are feeling overwhelmed about money, they make bad decisions. Single moms in financial straights:
- Stay in miserable or low-paying jobs because they are afraid of risk, which likely has upside potential.
- Date, move in with, marry the wrong guys — even if they do help pay the rent.
- Continue to choose the short-term, materialistic win (gifts, meals out, new clothes), over long-term financial security, like steady saving and investing. After all, the further you fall behind with investing goals, the less inspired you are likely to save and invest, because it will seem like you will never get ahead. It becomes way too tempting to stick with the small thrills, no matter how fleeting or empty.
- Are very likely to be a burden on their children. Your kids do not owe it to you to take care of you in your old age, or poor health. You do not get to write up and mutually sign in your own mind a contract in which you spoil your children today, and they nurse you forever. If you are creating that story, consciously or unconsciously, your children see and know that. They resent you, and they may or may not fulfill their end of a bargain they had no part in creating.
How to align your money habits with your values—and stop being a broke single mom?
That question answers itself.
Here is what science tells us about happiness: Many studies have found that experiences and financial security (not endless wealth, security) contribute to our wellbeing. A sense of community, spending time with people we like, giving back and a sense of gratitude are all key.
Debt is connected with stress, depression, relationship issues and abuse.
Write down your values as they relate to money.
Do you believe money buys happiness?
Do you strive to own things?
What do you want to teach your children about money? Are you teaching them those things?
Do you find yourself buying to keep up with the Joneses? Even if you know you should be focused only on what you can actually afford?
The bottom line is that if you justify bad money habits with your single-mom status, that is playing victim to something you in fact have a lot of control over.
Because we already faced the limiting belief that all single moms are poor.
Limiting belief: “I will always be a broke single mom.”
True: lots of single moms are broke. Also true: lots of single moms are not broke. Your family status does not preclude your financial status.
Think about it: In ‘traditional’ nuclear families, in which the dad works, and the mom stays home full-time, there is just one income in the house. One! Yes, the mom cares for the very young babies, which is a huge financial help, since child care in the United States is prohibitively expensive. But now most kids go to preschool around age 2 or 3, because we know that is what is best for child development. Yet, the mom is still home. Maybe she helps the household bottom line because she cooks meals that might otherwise be bought at a restaurant, and cleans the house, which might be outsourced to a cleaning service if she were to work full-time.
But that unemployed mom also costs the family. She needs a car, clothes, food. It is expensive to bring another adult on vacation, and to the theater and sports events.
If that breadwinning dad loses his job, becomes disabled, or dies, that mom’s earning potential is now questionable because she has been out of the workforce for a few years — or even decades.
Yes, in a great marriage / partnership, both partners equally share in household duties, and are equal parents. In reality, that doesn’t happen in most heterosexual relationships. Whether or not the mom has a career, she does more housework and child care.
So many women I meet find their groove professionally and their incomes skyrocket after becoming single moms. This was my story. Here is what happens:
1. You are scared shitless of being a broke single mom.
Fear of homelessness is common, and normal (again, right here! That is how I felt!). That lights a fire under your ass to hustle, set higher goals, get laser-focused on getting rid of that horrible fear of not being able to take care of your kids. Success ensues.
2. You are now free from a toxic relationship that was likely holding you back professionally.
Here’s the thing about the patriarchy: It hurts both men and women. Women get paid less, are shoehorned into stereotypical female roles (mother, caretaker, subordinate), while men are shoehorned into stereotypical male roles (tough, breadwinner, the secondary, inferior parent). Regardless of how feminist anyone believes they or their partners are, these pressures are present in every heterosexual relationship. Some couples overcome them better than others.
But the likely scenario is that either you a) unconsciously held yourself back professionally to fulfil your presumed role as wife and mother, and appease his male ego, which was egged on by society that told him he would be less of a man if he earned less than you; or b) you earned more, he resented you for it, and conflict and divorce ensued. From the Miami Herald:
Despite the fact that women typically earn less than males, 24 percent of working wives earn more than their husbands. That’s good news for couples, right? Wrong.
A study from University of Chicago reveals that when the wife makes more than her spouse, divorce rates rise 50 percent. Tension arises between the couple due to the male feeling emasculated in his role as a provider, or from the woman feeling as if she is not being supported enough.
Now, you’re single. You don’t have all that pressure to be June Cleaver, or guilt / marital conflict because you were [I just spent 20 minutes on Google searching for pop-culture examples where the wife earned more than her husband, and came up empty :/]. Now you are free to build your career and earn as much as you damn well please.
3. You are now free to be fully financially responsible.
Tessa’s single-mom money story is both familiar to me, and common:
When we were married, my now-ex and I earned about the same, but were on completely different pages when it came to managing money. I am frugal, took full advantage of my company’s 401k plan, preferred to have a have a large cash cushion, as little debt as possible, and only shopped when I needed something. My husband, however, had no retirement savings, and had a habit of shopping all the time — even though he carried a $15,000 credit card balance, and had no care about our financial future (even though of course he said he did). It made me so mad, but also like I didn’t matter, that our family’s security didn’t matter to him, and that I didn’t have any control over our security or life! Unfortunately, my big mistake was that I joined my finances with him early on, and his money issues were mine.
Financial infidelity, and financial stupidity, are so common in couples: Secret gabling addictions, identity theft, overspending and debt at the expense of the whole family, poor career and business moves that cost the household, and on and on. So, so stressful if you are the responsible spouse!
Guess what? You are now free from all that baloney! Where money was long a source of stress, loss of control, fear and contempt, can now start to be an amazing sense of security, abundance, vision for an amazing future, and most importantly: POWER.
Because bitch, money is power. Never doubt that.
Still fearful you are destined to be a broke single mom? Read on …
How to get over your fear of being a poor single mom
It is completely human to assume your life will conform to stereotypes or other ideas that informed your concept of what your life would be like in this stage.
Take time right now to dig into your own limiting money beliefs.
What are you, as a single mom, capable of when it comes to your career and money? What is the first thing that comes to mind?
Where did you get that idea? Was it something you were taught growing up? A message from the media or your family? What money messages did you receive from you parents when it came to finances and career?
Write these ideas down. Share them in the comments below. Own them. Your assumptions about what you are capable of are not good or bad. This is just information. You are understanding where you are on your single mom journey, and where you want to go (because really, you can go anywhere you want. Anywhere!).
Focus on how your own career and financial opportunities are so much better than for women in generations past.
Today, you and I have unprecedented access to education, jobs, legal rights — opportunities that were unheard of for women even one generation ago, and are still but a dream in most of the world. Things like get a credit card in your own name, access birth control, keep your job while pregnant, and get into top universities. While we have so far to go in achieving gender equality, solely focusing on the gender gap, and not on your opportunities, is in of itself a limiting habit.
Gratitude is the answer.
I have long practiced daily gratitude, and teach my kids the same. There are many studies that prove that by focusing on what you do have, developing an attitude of abundance, and not focusing on your lack, you physiology actually changes, and your attitude and happiness factors increase. Anecdotally, I will tell you: The more you focus on the positive, the more you attract the positive. The more positive people you surround yourself with, the more success you will have.
Start your own gratitude practice.
Share in the comments here, or in your journal, or on the back of some announcement from your kids’ school exactly all the things you are grateful for. Your health. Being alive as a woman today. That you can open a bank account in your own name. That you are no longer dragged down by him.
So, here you are in single motherhood. It feels overwhelming, daunting. All around you, it seems, are happily married, two-parent homes where everyone has more.
Limiting belief: “I will be lonely for the rest of my life because no good man wants a woman with children.”
Here are some comments I heard when I divorced, most of the from people who love me:
Too bad. And it will be hard to meet men now that you’re a mom.
Better hurry up and get married while you’re still young and cute.
Only really neurotic / poor / loser men are interested in single moms.
A quality man will never commit to a single mom. They consider them used goods.
To one of the above, I actually said, square in her face (we were in a small elevator, crowded by myself, a toddler, baby in stroller, her and her dog): “FUCK YOU.”
Not only are all of those messages rude and unhelpful, they are untrue!
I have met hundreds and hundreds of single moms who have successfully found love and partnership. I have had a few great boyfriends in my single-mom tenure, including my current partner of two years — who loves the fact that I am a mom. I fact, he (like many men I know) prefer to date women with children. The reasons include:
- They are single dads, and feel the shared experience of parenthood is critical to relating to a woman.
- They missed the boat on being a father, and hope to enjoy that experience through step-children.
- They can quickly assess a woman’s character by observing her parenting.
Other times, great men simply fall for women who happen to have children!
Limiting belief: “Being a single mom is hard—right?”
When people learn you’re a single mom, is the pity automatic? Do you hear things like,
“I don’t know how you do it.”
“You’re amazing— must be so hard to do it all by yourself!”
“It must be so hard for the kids, I’m sorry.”
Etc., ad nauseam, blah blah, right?
Welcome to my world. I frequently meet strangers who, upon learning that I am a single mother tell me that I have the hardest job in the world. They have no idea how I manage it. “It is so TOUGH to have little kids all by yourself!”
Yes, it can be stressful to be a single mom, just like it can be stressful to be adopted/have crooked teeth/lots of body hair, and any other number of things. But you know better than to waltz up to a new snaggle-puss acquaintance and let them know you have their life all figured out — and that that life is worse than yours.
But when you and I are bombarded with these negative messages, that affects how we think about our potential. When you are raised with messages from your family, community, the media, that single motherhood is a shameful, downtrodden existence, that narrative can become a self-fulfilling prophesy once you become a single mom.
Married people want single people to get married
I know this scene, and so do you:
You’re chatting with a friend, maybe new, maybe old. Or your sister, cousin, mother or aunt. They are married. You are not. They ask if you’re seeing someone?
Oh! you say. I went out with someone last week. Let me tell you about him!
Or maybe you indulge them in a recent hot fling you had while on a business trip to Portland, or hash out some hesitations about someone you’ve been seeing, casually, for a few months. Maybe you tell them about a recent heartbreak, or the fact you haven’t had a date in months and months.
“Don’t worry,” that married person will say, giving you a smile so sad it looks like she just watched Steel Magnolias. “You’ll find someone.”
Maybe, that pat promise of hope is just what you want to hear.
Or maybe you want to scream: EFF YOU, WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?!
By a married person responding to your dating experience — whether it be full of fun, love, heartbreak, or a mix of the above — translates into:
If you are lucky and stop being such a slut, maybe you will find the good fortune of having what I have.
Your life is incomplete, while my life is complete because I have a spouse.
Marriage is the answer, obviously.
Is it better to be married or single?
Look, lots of single people want to get married. They have ideas of ‘the one,’ and/or and sanctified, traditional unions being superior to not having a sanctified traditional union. Or whatever. Everyone has their jam, and for some people, that is marriage.
But not everyone feels like that, and in fact, increasingly fewer people do. To wit:
- One-in-five adults ages 25 and older have never married, up from 9 percent in 1960, while just 51 percent of adults ages 18 and older are married — marking record lows
- A Pew / Time magazine survey of 2,691 Americans in association found that nearly four in 10 Americans think marriage is becoming obsolete.
- That’s an 11 percent spike since 1978
- Forty-four percent of people between the ages of 18 and 29 saw marriage as obsolete, compared to 32 percent of those 65 and older
- 57 percent of Millennial moms are unmarried
- Divorce rates have hovered around the 50 percent mark for four decades
Per the divorce stat, assuring a divorced person that marriage is right around the corner is absurd. That person has been married, and at least that marriage wasn’t so great for them.
And chances are, marriage wasn’t so great for the condescending married person, either.
By nature of my public work around family and romance, and the fact that I’m a single, divorced mom unabashedly out in the world, I am perhaps especially likely to hear, via clandestine emails, murmurs by the booze table when the husband is on the other side of the party, about how so many married people really feel about their sanctimonious union.
“He does absolutely nothing around the house — and I make all the money!”
“He hasn’t showed interest in sex in years.”
“I am living vicariously through your dating life.”
“I hate him and have been trying to divorce him for years.”
“I really, really want to get back to work. But he won’t let me.”
“She has zero sex drive, and we haven’t had an night without one of the fucking kids in our bed in eight years.”
“We fight all the time.”
“She shops and goes to yoga every day, and acts like she is so exhausted after I get home from 12 hours at the office.”
“We’re miserable. Have been for years. We’re waiting for the kids to go to college.”
“That tank top is so pretty on you. Really. No, really. What’s your number?”
And any number of other confessions about the dissatisfaction and/or horrors of marriage.
All of which highlights the hypocrisy and self-denial that is inherent in so many married people — an institution, along with the nuclear family, that is still upheld as an gleaming ideal, despite the fact that both models are waning in practice or sustainability.
In fact, the majority of families today are NOT nuclear families, thanks to the increases in single-parent households, gay partnership and marriage, multi-generational families and any number of configurations in which people define “family” — whether by choice, circumstance, desperation or because, well, stuff happens, both beautiful and ugly.
All of which is really beside the point.
The point is: My experience as a single person, whether I’m happy or not, whether I’m looking for a spouse, partner, date, lay, adult conversation, to work out my daddy issues, to not be lonely when my kids are with their dad, for professional gain or find someone to pay my bills, is zero commentary on your life, spouse or marriage.
You are on your own path, and I am, too — and maybe there is a shimmering pot of ever-after matrimony at the end of your trip, or maybe you just enjoy the ride, and understand that everyone’s journey — married, single, partnered, dating, celibate, open relationship, serial monogamous, whatever — is full of heartbreak and joy, fun and misery, and ultimately, thankfully for those of us who live in a free and Western world, one of your own making.
1. Where did that limiting belief come from?
First, figure out where you got the idea that you will be lonely just because you are a single mom? Is it because, like me, a whole lot of people told you as much? Did you grow up (like I did), with a single mom who was down on men and dating? Were there other, early messages from your family, examples in your neighborhood, the media that perpetuated this lie?
Sometimes simply remembering the root of your idea, honoring it, and kissing it good-bye is enough. Tell that notion: “Thank you for your service, but you can go now.”
2. Find some single mom romance success stories, but careful with your tribe
Every day, a mom in our Facebook group, Millionaire Single Moms, shares about her new romance, engagement, moving in with a partner, or other joyful romantic milestone. Sometimes, they simply went out on a great date after years of being romantically dormant. (Read: 9 reasons dating is better as a single mom)
Just like with professional goals, if you surround yourself with people who are negative about dating as a single mom, that becomes your reality. Let those people go, and spend time with people who enjoy dating and romance, and are positive about your prospects on the market, that suddenly becomes normal and natural.
Ready to start dating? Read reviews of the best online dating apps for single moms (and how to create a profile).
3. Learn to love being alone
Once I got over being used to being with a man, expecting my best times to come from a guy, I suddenly got really happy and of course attracted a great man who has been my partner for 2 years. I often think that I would be really, really sad if things don’t work out with him, but not devastated like I was after earlier breakups in my life.
Limiting belief: “I deserve to struggle all alone because I got myself into this mess.”
Here are some self-blaming messages that single moms often tell themselves:
“I screwed up and got knocked up outside of a committed relationship. If I’m struggling, it is my fault.”
“He left / I left / we broke up. I couldn’t keep my relationship / marriage / family together. If I’m struggling, it is my fault.”
“I chose the wrong guy. Signs of his drinking / addiction / cheating / chronic unemployment / shitty personality were there all along, and I ignored it, so this is now on me.”
“I knew deep down he never really wanted a baby. I basically chose to be a single mom without choosing to be a single mom. I’m pathetic! (But also a single mom by choice — which sounds kind of cool.)”
Your shame is likely rooted in some not-great decisions. My son was conceived during a really bad time, right after my then-husband came home from the hospital after suffering a major brain injury, was out of his mind, and we were screaming at each other all the time. I felt really guilty for getting pregnant then, and he was really angry at me for it, but then I got over it. Having a gorgeous baby who grew into a beautiful child helped.
So did forgiveness. Shit happens all the time. Most mistakes happen in a regrettable split-second. Like automobile accidents, and not pulling out at the last second because it feels so good.
Maybe your mistake was rooted in malicious, manipulative planning (like trapping a guy), or limited self-awareness (like dating a jerk because you didn’t believe you deserve better), or a momentary lack of good judgment followed by months of childlike hope that his neurons would re-connect and life would return to normal, even if all the medical literature assured that would never happen (me).
For the record, almost half of pregnancies are not intended. Which is pretty astonishing considering that we all know how babies are made, and women are only fertile a couple days each month.
Which brings me to the big lesson here:
No one deserves to be punished in perpetuity for having a baby in less than ideal circumstances — including by yourself.
Here is how to get over the single-mom guilt and shame that is holding you and your family back:
This requires that you get really, harshly honest with yourself about why you had those babies with that guy in the first place.
During this exercise you cannot blame your kids’ father.
I have a psychologist friend who hooked up with and had a baby with her client who sought her care because he had custody issues stemming from his acute drug addiction and legal problems stemming from beating up his kids’ stepfather. Needless to say, my friend’s relationship ended, and co-parenting has been a nightmare full of more arrests and more using. I know she feels badly for having a baby with this man, but instead of owning that, she says: “But he was in a really good place at the time, doing yoga and meditating every day. I didn’t see it coming. He tricked me.” No, sister. You chose that.
On some level, even an unconscious one, you sought out and committed to that man. Own it. Forgive yourself. Try to figure out what you were thinking and feeling and what needs you were trying to fill. That may take years or decades, but open the window to honesty. Otherwise that shit persists — including the self-flagellation happening just one level below the blaming.
Don’t look for support where it doesn’t exist.
All those people in your life who perpetuate the guilt with passive aggressive comments about your family story, or withholding of help or love because your family isn’t their idea of acceptable? Move along. Maybe you love them, and they are fundamentally good people, but you don’t need any more of that shit right now. Trying to get love and support from a judgey parent / sibling / friend / playground mom is like seeking blood from a stone. Don’t even try! Instead …
Find your tribe.
Guaranteed there are other single-parent families in your town. They are your homies. They made mistakes and felt bad about it. Help each other move forward. Find more cool moms in Millionaire Single Moms on Facebook.
Limiting belief: “I need a man.”
You’ve read this far. Do you notice a message threading through all the points?
Here it is:
Your family is whole, just as it is.
You are a whole woman, right now, in the family you head, right this minute.
There is no such thing as a “broken home.”
Today, 40 percent of kids are being raised by what the Census Bureau considers single moms. That is 10 million of us. We will be a statistical majority within our kids’ lifetimes. Single moms are the new normal.
Lots and lots of us prefer to parent without a co-parent living in our homes.
Single-moms by choice is the fastest growing sub-segment of single parenthood.
In other words, you do not need a man.
If you fee like you are incomplete without a man, there is good reason for that.
Until about a minute ago, women did kinda sorta need a man throughout most of Western history. Without the ability to hold a paying job, own property or any other legal rights, women were not full citizens, or even close. Instead, women lived ins societies where they were defined by, hopefully cared for, and definitely controlled by men:
Fathers, brothers, husbands.
Without one of the above, women were left to the wilds of the patriarchy.
It was ugly.
Today, thankfully, things are different. Better.
Yet pressure to be attached persist.
From people who love us most. And people who define themselves by a man. And the media.
Attitudes have not kept pace with our opportunities and successes.
If your top goal is to find a man, pump the breaks.
This signals to your kids that their family is broken, and they are broken by proxy.
You signal to men that you will accept far less than you deserve — because any man is better than no, man, right?
You do not prioritize yourself. You may have be devastated to find yourself at this crossroads, and that is OK. Single motherhood is no one’s Plan A (that I’ve met). This is an incredible opportunity to find out who you are, what you are made of, the type of mother you were meant to be, and the type of woman.
If you skip the alone-time part of single motherhood (which you are free to revisit at any point), you miss out on a fantastic opportunity at a new life experience, namely being single.
I like to think about divorce and single motherhood as simply another life experience. I have been single, I have been married. I had the experience of divorce, of being a married mother, and of being a single mother. I have dated as a single woman, and I have dated as a middle-aged mom of toddlers. Each experience was worthwhile, as is being alone and without a man while also being a mother.
This includes the type of lover and girlfriend and date and partner you may be.
In fact, I urge you to date, explore, hook up, enjoy your sexuality for everything that it is. You may find the many moms who are stunned to realize how incredible sex is at this stage of life. After all, sex is now for sex’s sake (not for baby making), dating can be enjoyed without the pressure of finding a husband in time to make those babies.
And if and when you chose to be with a man in a committed way, it will be an act of love and choice — not obligation, fear, or necessity.
That, woman, is freedom.
The power of freedom is what you deserver most of all.
I have been thinking a lot about how my work with single moms is my greatest influence in the resistance. I have also been honing my deep understanding that earning and achieving professionally is the greatest act of activism each of us can participate in. You model a different, better story for your children, your friends, family, colleagues and everyone who is silently watching. Your own life either perpetuates a stereotype, or tells the world to FUCK OFF, and write a new set of rules.
Generational poverty and inflexible class structure are real and powerful. Also: each of us is responsible for our own happiness and wellbeing. The moment anyone suggests they are owed anything, their own individual power and society overall crumble.
To women of any privilege — race, class, education — you have an even greater obligation to step into your power. By achieving leadership at work, in your community, in your financial standing, you are in a position to advocate for new and better policy. You become a model that sets new norms for everyone around you: your colleagues, your bosses, other women in your community and family, and your children. You break the cycle for all of us.
By being alive in 2021 and living in the Western world, you and I have incredible privilege, and with privilege comes responsibility. The biggest impact you and I can make right now, today, is to earn and achieve. Decide right now to not depend on a man, play small for the sake of over-parenting your kids, or not seeming “too greedy” at work. These choices keep the pay gap alive and thriving. That is when the wealth gap widens. Corporate boards and Washington remain void of women. Anti-women an family policy persist. As a person of privilege, it is your responsibility to work to change those realities for those who have less.
I 100% agree with you on universal child care. But there will never be universal child care until the people in power feel the pain of expensive child care. White, rich men with stay-at-home moms don’t care about universal child care because their wives take care of it without question. Single dads don’t care about universal child care because their kids moms take on the responsibility of paying for, arranging and combating the mom guilt and juggle of child care. Only when we have equal parenting, and equal numbers of women in power positions will these sorts of family- and women-friendly policies take place.
In short: When single moms like you and I thrive — the world thrives. YOUR POWER IS REAL!
How do you help a struggling single mom?
If a friend, colleague, neighbor or relative is a single mom having a hard time, here is how you can support her:
- Be a good friend. Feeling isolated, ostracized, unsupported and otherwise alone are some of the top concerns single moms express. Check in with her. Invite her to parties (she will often be excluded). Listen. Urge her to check in with you, and count on you in case of an emergency.
- Careful with indulging the pity. There is a lot of support for single moms to feel sorry for themselves, and blame their lives on their single-mom status. There is some validity to this, but it serves no one to wallow there. Point out to her all the single moms who have built successful careers, bought homes, raised happy kids, found love.
- Watch her kids. Offer to have her kids over for playdates, offer up babysitting. Be specific. Opposed to saying, “Let me know if you need me to watch your kid,” text her: “How about if you drop the baby off Sunday for the day while you go take some me-time!”
For specific help with money, finances, emergency services, check our Single Mom Resources Page.