Single mums don't need sympathy - they need smarter strategies
Be it pity, alienation or insult, single mothers like me are often the subject of negative rhetoric.
Comments like "I could never do what you do" or "it must be tough being you" are common from family, friends and strangers who try to grasp how a woman can balance a family, a career and a social life on her own.
On top of that, there are the politicians who have historically blamed single mums for hogging the government's welfare benefits and destroying the traditional family unit.
Insulting comments and demeaning politicians aside, single mothers are a rapidly growing demographic. Households run by a single mum are the second-most common household arrangement in the US at 23 per cent, according to the Census Bureau. And from 1960 to 2016, minor children raised in a two-parent home decreased from 88 per cent to 69 per cent.
Single mums are here to stay. So it makes more sense to help these women improve their lives and leave the castigation of single mums behind.
I spoke with three single mums - two successful entrepreneurs and a counsellor - on what they believed were strategies that solo mothers could use to better balance home, careers and life.
"Stop comparing yourself to others," Emma Johnson suggested plainly during a phone interview. Johnson, a marketing consultant, author and owner of the successful blog WealthySingleMommy.com, says single motherhood is unique to each woman's experience.
Additionally, Johnson suggested single mums must know how to objectively prioritise.
"You must prioritise your mental health. It can feel like so much pressure to give your kids everything, but if you're worried about paying rent, your focus should be on improving your bottom line so you can position to give your kids the most."
Many single mums, including myself, have dealt with feelings of failure over raising a family alone, and it's twice as hard when we feel the father is not more involved. But Angela Benton, a single mother and chief executive of NewME Accelerator, a business development company for women and minorities, recommends single mothers reduce the friction with their ex and focus on themselves.
"Battling with an ex has become the norm," Benton said. "But we can choose to force someone to be the parent we want them to be, or we can choose to focus on being the best parent we can be."
When it comes to professional life, Johnson recommends taking more risks. "I hear many single mums say they should play it safe," she told me. "They want to stay with a low-paying job because it's stable or they can't invest in stocks because they'll lose money. You can't grow if you don't take risks."
In her new book, The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Find Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children, Johnson provides a blueprint for single mums to tackle the risks that are unique to them. She gives extensive details on improving finances, building a desirable lifestyle, creating a support system and developing a healthy dating life.
Benton also believes single mums need to step out in faith to achieve more goals, such as going back to school.
"I think the best way for single mums to invest in themselves is through personal education," she explained. "This could mean traditional school, a training course or just taking a class."
It can feel overwhelming for single mums to learn new skills and tend to a household. But baby steps make a huge difference. For example, I taught myself computer programming by dedicating 30 minutes or so a day just for that. I now edit the HTML coding in SharePoint pages as part of my full-time job, and I get paid well do it.
I also spoke with Nikia Edwards, a counsellor and single mother of three, who said putting her pride away was a necessary strategy.
"As an African-American woman, I was raised to always be strong," she told me. "When I became a single mum, I was facing foreclosure and was short on food. I (had a doctorate and) a middle-class income and still struggled to pay bills. It was embarrassing and depressing. I had to put that strong woman on the back burner and seek help."
Reaching out for assistance was hard for Edwards at first, but now she wouldn't have it any other way.
"Talking with my closest friends and church family helped me get over my depression and tap into hidden resources," she explained. "For example, had I not reached out to people, I would have never gotten my mortgage loan readjusted. Dropping my pride literally kept me in my home."
And for single mums trying their luck at love again, don't hide your dating life from your kids, Johnson says.
"Kids will pick up on vibes between you and a date, so embrace your dating life," she told me. "They will get involved in romantic relationships themselves as adults. So show them positive, healthy romantic and social influences that they'll hopefully emulate one day."
Edwards's single-mum dating advice offers some caution, too. "My kids don't control who or how I date. I refuse to hide that I'm a normal, healthy adult woman who embraces social relationships," she proclaimed.
"However, I usually know within a couple of months if a man is worth pursuing a serious relationship with. Then and only then do I entertain the idea of him meeting my children."
And about those naysayers who love to remind single mums how bad their life must be? "I think single motherhood is less taboo than it was in the past," Benton says. She adds that spotlighting successful single mothers in the media has helped shatter antiquated views on single parenting.
As the population of solo mums grows, Johnson believes everyone will know at least one single mum. "As single mums earn and achieve more, everyone will be surrounded by thriving single mums," she said. "Slowly, cultural and social change will happen."
- The Washington Post