Who tells single moms’ kids nice things about their mom?

In the past few weeks I had really sweet experiences with friends' paying lovely compliments to me via my kids.

Like last night when my neighbors came for dinner with their new baby, and over stew and winter salad Helena complained how her mom (that would be me) yelled at her in the mornings. “Well,” my friend said. “When I see how bright and funny and well-behaved you and your brother are, I think what a great mom you and Lucas have.” Which shut my kid up real quick-like.

Or a few weeks ago, my oldest friend Amanda visited from St. Louis. While she, the kids and I ate banana apple muffins in the living room on Saturday morning, Amanda told my daughter what a great mom she has, how she has an interesting career and takes them on cool trips and  some other stuff I forget because I was just so touched and grateful for her friendship, but also that there was someone other than me pointing out my finer points to my kids. Marketing experts know that promotion is far more powerful when coming from a credible third party — in this case, someone who is not naggingly demanding respect and gratitude all the live-long day (that would be me).

Which brings up a big question for single moms: For all you do for your kids, who do you have in your life to point out those things to your kid? In a perfect world, each of us might have a spouse or partner who genuinely adores you, and organically displays that adoration through myriad words and gestures. In the absence of such a partner, who puts into perspective for your kids what a great cook, or hard worker, or loving parent you are?

How do your kids learn to appreciate you? Or do they?

Often, I feel like my kid's really don't appreciate me as much as I think they should (what can I say, I have an ego — it needs stroking from those I love most!). But then I realize that they are listening all the time. I hear Helena telling her friends or the parents I'm meeting for the first time at soccer practice: “My mom is a VERY GOOD writer! And she has a radio show and is on TV!” I realize that she listens when my friends come over and we talk business, and she pays attention when I tell her about my day.

And Lucas goes beyond in his over-exaggerated way to be positive, will say: “Mommy, those muffins are looking GOOD!” or “Thank you for making movie night.” Maybe it his naturally sunny disposition, or my nightly drilling of gratitude practices or constant “What do you say …?” (Acceptable answers: a) Please, b) Thank-you). Or maybe I have nagged my kid into a gratitude stupor that extends to his mother.

I reached out to the mamas in our Millionaire Single Moms closed Facebook group. Here is what other single moms say about how to teach kids to appreciate them:

It’s by example. My 15 year old son and I discuss everything that will have a major impact. We discuss the pros and cons. I guess it pays off because after I took a new job and was feeling guilty about being away from home for such a long day he wrote me a note telling me how much he appreciates all that I do for “us.” — Betsy

I try to emphasize to my son (he's 6) how we are a team. He and I together are a special family and we work together. My mom and dad (who are divorced) both do show support when they visit or talk to my son about being a helper and being kind to me because I work so hard. — Kasia

By teaching them the value of money, so we all know how hard it is to earn it, looking for better prices or bargains as part of the deal While shopping. And then equating precious time as a value, as a resource, and as a necessity in our lives. So everyone's time is valuable and everyone's hard work is meaningful. — Evie

I know ex still tells our daughter nice things about me because sometimes he does it in front of me. (Also he's very good with words… it's the actions he struggles with). And I make sure to say only nice things about him in front of her. That was one thing we agreed on. Also, my sister (also a single mom) and I live together so we get to co-parent some. We make sure the kids appreciate the other one, including helping them pick out cards or small gifts for the other or making sure we get thanked for things we do for the kids. — Robyn

I constantly tell my daughter that we are not lucky, we work hard. She is little but understands that we have a house because mommy worked in the city and did 4 hrs a day on a bus and she knows all the fun stuff we do is because I work hard. She also appreciates that I play with her because she knows no one else (that she sees) plays dolls with their kids. — Lynda

I play into her idols (Gal Gadot' s wonder woman, Xena, and Gabrielle) and tell her that Amazon's earn everything and as a Latina Amazon she respects and honors her elders. I also shoot it pretty straight with her on how the world works. — Vanessa

As my 9-year-old gets older, the affection and appreciation wanes. Honestly, at his age now, and with his temperament, I've found that being more strict helps. He earns privileges. He has chores. When I do something like pack his lunch, that is an extra and a favor, not a given. He THANKS me for that now, because it is his default daily responsibility. When he gets a new toy and doesn't use his OWN money, he THANKS me for it. I walk the line between explaining that our life doesn't just magically happen, and making him feel guilty or bad for all I do. — Angela

I want my sons to know how to treat women and be gentlemen so I teach them to open doors and use manners. We talk about taking care of people that aren't as strong as you and I have my sons make something for me or I take them to the store to let them buy something for me for my birthday or Mother's Day. It's really awkward for me, but that actually really like it and they learn that those days are important for their future wives and daughters. My little guy brought flowers to his teacher the other day cuz “girls like flowers” 😊 — Mary Kate 

Once my nanny told my littles I had to go to work to pay for their house. I (was fuming, but) told them, I don't *have to* go to work, I *get to* go to work, and it gives me purpose, and makes me happy, and helps people who need it, and allows us to have a safe house and a wonderful school. I am *lucky* to go to work. Now when I get home, they ask me how many people I helped today. I think that, a lot of times, they are helping me be appreciative, and not the other way around.

The other component is, I teach them to respect their dad. He teaches them to respect me. Not everyone has this reciprocity in their co-parenting relationship. But if you can show your children you respect their parent, you're also saying, “I respect you,” and this leads to the children showing you respect, as well. I feel like respect & appreciation go hand in hand, or at least, where there is disrespect, there's no chance of appreciation. — Erika

I believe in building others up through words, so I talk up my friends and colleagues in front of my kids. This often becomes reciprocal: empowering speech ricochets around and returns. I try to take positions of leadership that my kids can see, and we talk about self-love and risk taking in the absence of external validation. It gets lonely being my own cheerleader. I often wish I had an external cheerleader, and at the same time, I want my kids to know to that there is freedom in self-validation. — Rachel 

Every morning, I would tell my daughter, OH MY, look at youYou are so beautiful and smart. Look at your eyes and your nose. You‘re so kind and giving. You are my favorite girl in the whole wide world. Now, I'm like her IDOL. She bigs me up EVERY CHANCE SHE GETS. She thinks I'm the most beautiful smartest woman in the world. Lol. Same thing for my sons. But, I think they may think their aunty (my sis) is the cutest of the two! — Vanessa


Share in the comments:  Without a spouse, who in your life helps your kids appreciate you?

About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, noted blogger, and bestselling author. 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.  Find out Emma's top Single Mom Resources here.


  1. Heather Martin on October 12, 2016 at 9:23 pm

    This is not going to be a popular answer, and i hesitate to add it because compared to some situations, mine may seem pie-in-the-sky. But here goes.
    My ex-husband says good things about me to my kids. His new girlfriend says nice things about me to my kids. My oldest told me the other night that the girlfriend said that she “really respects” me and thinks that i am a great mom. And i say nice things about both of them to my kids. And we all genuinely mean it. Crazy, but true. And we worked through some bad shit to get where we are now, but it is so worth it to get along and be on good terms.

    • Emma on October 13, 2016 at 10:49 am

      That is so beautiful, thanks for sharing!!

    • Bonnie on September 26, 2017 at 7:59 pm

      This is really something we should all learn and slapped me in the face a bit. It takes 2 sides to co-parent in a divorced situation. It breaks my heart when my kids tell me I don’t like their father. Even if I don’t actually like him right now, I want them to know I respect him and love that he is in their life and that he loves them. Your comment makes me realize that although he may not return the favor, I need to compliment my kids father in front of them.

      • Nick on November 21, 2017 at 6:55 am

        Bonnie, Don’t lie to your kids by saying you like their dad, when you are clear you don’t like the man. Your kids are smart, and if you lie to them they will lose respect for you.

        Follow the rules you agreed to in your parenting plan. Parallel parenting may be more realistic for you than co-parenting.

        Obviously don’t badmouth him, but sometimes silence is both truthful and kind.

  2. Nevin on November 27, 2015 at 7:08 pm

    Ugh! This hit home for me, hard. In my current situation I have what can only be described as a minuscule support system. My family is two hours away and my awkwardness and minimal social skills keeps me from having close friends. I honestly can’t think of anyone who is, on a regular basis, telling my kid how amazing I am. I mean, he’s only two but still….this mama needs her ego stroked too!

    • Emma on November 28, 2015 at 7:46 pm

      Yes she does! Here you go .. you are amazing and strong. You are doing a great job and your child will grow up great!! Keep up the good work.

  3. Paige on November 13, 2015 at 8:19 pm

    I moved closer to my parents several months ago so my eleven year old son could spend more time with his grandparents. My mom shared with me that she often tells my son how hard I work for our family and how funny, intelligent, kind I am and how fortunate he is to have a mom who plays hard tag with him at the park and always gets in the pool with him. My first instinct was to kind of roll my eyes but she got very serious and told me “he needs someone to point this out to him or he will never realize what he has”. Lately he has started thanking me for playing with him at the park and for working hard and telling me he is lucky to have me for a mom. These things coming from his mouth carry me for weeks. I am so thankful for my mom’s wisdom and insight. It makes me realize how important it is to genuinely build up my friends in front of their kids and hopefully give them the same kind of gift my mom has given me.

    • Emma on November 13, 2015 at 8:31 pm

      Paige – thank you for sharing this, so beautiful and wise! I’m grateful for your mom — for you, your son and single moms everywhere :) And way to pay it forward ….

  4. Jackie Pilossoph on November 13, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    Emma, what a great article!! So true! Here’s the thing, though. If you are a single mom, your kids aren’t hearing anything from your loving husband, but what if you were still married and the guy was a jerk, who didn’t treat you well or ever pay you a compliment? Wouldn’t that be worse? Yes, because kids learn from the behavior they see. So, single moms who were married to guys who didn’t appreciate them and weren’t great role models in this regard should be celebrating that at least their kids aren’t seeing the opposite!

    • Emma on November 13, 2015 at 2:54 pm

      Exactly! Which is what divorce is all about, right … accepting that your Plan B may not be ideal, but superior to the alternative :)

    • London M on October 13, 2016 at 2:11 am

      A very positive attitude. I was alarmed when I saw my 6 year old copy my ex husbands insults, swearing and belittling of me. I’m grateful that my son is learning from his nannies, coaches and teachers how to respect his mother.

      • Emma on October 13, 2016 at 10:48 am

        That is really great to hear – it all takes a village. A big freaking village!

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