Here’s What It’s Really Like Being a Single Mom in 2019
There’s a lot that gets misunderstood about the reality of being a single mom. Here’s what single motherhood is like in 2019.
Fact: there are approximately 13.7 million single parents in the US today, collectively responsible for raising 22.4 million children. Of these single parents, 80.4% are mothers. And in Canada, 81.3% of children aged 0 to 14 in single‑parent families live with their mother.
As many single parents who happen to be women know all too well, the “single mom” cliché is not exactly a desirable accessory to carry around all day—in addition to a child (or three).
Sadly, it can actually act as a deterrent to would-be employers, would-be friends, and would-be dates alike. I interviewed 3 single moms, all of whom preferred the term “single parent” or “solo mom” to the stigma of being referred to as a “single mom.”
Here, they share their experiences, their challenges, and their wisdom with the rest of us.
Single motherhood: how does it happen?
Simple: if you’re human, life sometimes happens.
She separated from her son’s father when her son was 2. He visits his son once a week. Meanwhile, she is still involved with her daughter’s father, but he lives in NYC while she lives in Montreal. He visits once a month for 2-3 days, while she takes on the brunt of the financial burden and all responsibility for her kids.
“I could go after them for child support,” she says, “but no one’s gonna pull them back and make them be good dads.”
Kassaye, age 33, has a 1-year-old son, and has been a solo mom for almost 2 years—since she got pregnant.
Although her relationship with the father was short, and she found out she was pregnant only after it ended, she had long since decided that if she got pregnant after 28, she’d keep it.
She has zero contact with the father, who, she says, is choosing not to be there.
“I felt a lot of shame about my situation,” she adds, “and it’s funny because my friends and family are open and non-judgmental. But now I try to focus on what is working… I’m grateful everyday that I get an allowance from the government. If I didn’t, I would be running after his father. I would totally be that woman.”
Mary, age 44, has a 4-year-old daughter, and has been a single parent for almost 5 years, since partway through her pregnancy.
Although she didn’t want a romantic relationship with the father, she still wanted him to be involved with his daughter.
“At different times he wavered, saying that he’d be supportive,” she says. “He changed his mind a lot throughout my pregnancy, and was not that helpful. He’s been there for the major events, but… I would say he gives at most 8 hours a month… I didn’t want to be a single parent, but I chose to have my daughter knowing that was the reality.”
What are the biggest challenges?
You know—besides time, sleep, life.
When asked about challenges, Kassaye doesn’t skip a beat. “Time off,” she asserts.
While her parents provide some emotional support, they do not live close enough to help with childcare, and she hesitates to ask her friends as she feels they’re too busy.
She also cites the forms at the gynecologist’s office which ask for her “husband’s name” as among the more challenging and isolating moments she’s undergone.
“When you’re single and pregnant, it’s thrown in your face.”
Kassaye says, “There are so many reminders that trigger shame or sadness.”
In Loralie’s case, she began experiencing serious anxiety for the first time after the birth of her daughter.
“The biggest stress is being there for everybody and then trying to be there for yourself,” she reflects. “I’m still dealing with anxiety, but I’ve come out of that first-year fog. It’s very isolating. A lot of single moms I know say they feel they have no time for themselves, yet lack the financial resources for that one night out.”
Mary thinks long and hard when I ask her about her biggest challenge.
“Not giving into cynicism,” she says finally. “Because I think I was very cynical before—I thought that was part of who I was… Also, not giving into despair. Not allowing any kind of mental illness that I might have to take over.”
What does support look like?
All three of the moms I spoke with are lucky enough to receive some level of government assistance, but also have to go to work to make ends meet.
So having some measure of community support is vital, right?
“Without my friends around, I don’t know what I would have done.”
Loralie says: “I have people who can babysit my kids. There are communal dinners, grocery exchanges, and mom’s groups. I actually do go downstairs for a cup of sugar.”
“I’m not really looking for community support, because for the past couple of years I’ve had to just be alone with my situation,” says Kassaye.
“I talk to select people. I don’t like having a lot of mum friends. Especially when they complain. It’s like—you have a partner, you have money, you have a mat leave. It makes me feel annoyed and jealous.”
Mary discusses how she has a lot of support from family and friends.
“My parents and friends are really generous with clothes and toys. Because of that I also tend to give back, to other people, rather than selling stuff online.”
You work hard for the money, right?
“I’ve been in survival mode at times, but I’ve always had food and rent paid,” says Loralie, who works in consulting but is currently job hunting.
She continues, “When doing a job interview, already being a woman of color, I feel like if I mention I’m a single mom, there’s so much judgement. Sometimes I say I have children, but I won’t say I’m a single mom.”
Kassaye works part-time assisting a student with disabilities and is looking for another job.
“My situation… it’s kind of like, a nightmare.”
She laughs: “Not everything, but I’m living a super scary moment in my life, and just choosing not to focus on it. Right now, I have some time. But when I start working full-time, it’ll be crazy.”
Mary works in dance and choreography, and talks about the inherent flexibility of the contract work she does.
“There’s a flexible schedule, but if I don’t show up, I don’t get paid… I’m not rolling in cash, but I have time to be with my child. If you’re a single parent, you need to have a really strong relationship with your child—so it works and you don’t go crazy.”
What about dating?
Although I hadn’t initially planned to ask about dating, it invariably came up— because parents are still people with needs.
“Romantic relationships have not been a strong point in my life,” says Kassaye.
“I’m not used to companionship ‘cause I’m always single. I’m used to doing what I want, except I have a team now… If I’m in a relationship, I want it to be top. I’m not settling anymore.”
“It’s very hard for me to do something as an individual.”
Mary explains: “I still co-sleep with my daughter. It’s very challenging to maintain a romantic relationship with a partner and be a parent at the same time… I do think it would be nice to share my life with another person. Probably anyone that I would date at this point would be another single parent.”
The best part?
Being a single mom must also have an upside, otherwise no one would do it, right?
Amusingly, Loralie’s “I’m the boss,” groups nicely with Kassaye and Mary’s identical responses: “I call the shots.”
The 3 moms all went on to describe the freedom they have to decide what their kids eat, wear, and how they spend their time.
“The best part is having the freedom to choose, and the hardest part is having to do everything.”
Advice to new or would-be single moms?
In an imagined conversation between themselves and a new or would-be single mom, here’s the advice these 3 wise women offered:
“Prioritize yourself. It’s hard to do, but if you want your child to be well, you have to be well. Self-care is maintenance. Take 5 minutes a day to clear your head, whether meditating, or just sipping coffee—it helps to avoid getting frantic. Also, don’t compare yourself to others,” offers Kassaye.
Don’t be afraid to ask.
“Be it your neighbours, friends, family—they’ll build a circle of support around you, and it’s gonna save you,” says Loralie.
“Don’t be afraid to ask people for help,” echoes Mary.
“Because you will lose some friends, and it’s not personal. It’s just because, inevitably, you’re not the same person you were… At some point, if you get a chance, take a look at what you’ve shut down in order to be [a] parent and decide—is there anything I need to reopen? Be aware of how you’re still a person.”