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Single Mamahood: What is it REALLY like?

Mamahood comes in different forms.  Some mamas have a partner who may be a papa or another mama.  Some mamas are separated or unpartnered for other reasons.  Some mamas are single mamas by choice.  We want to hear what single mamahood is really all about, and we recently received email:

I recently had a friend come to me asking about being a single mother. She just discovered that she is pregnant with someone whom she just broke up with. I would really like to give her as much information as I can so that she has some knowledge draw on as she decides whether or not to become a single parent. I can share with her my own story but I know there must be more information out there than that.  I have done a umamas search on single parents but most of what I find is about single parents groups, etc. Does anyone out there know of any resources, beyond the standard WIC, Planned Parenthood and the like where my friend can get information about being a single parent, not necessarily JUST about the process of choosing or deciding against abortion?  I'd really appreciate any kind of feedback that anyone has to give.  Thanks again for being such a wealth of knowledge and support!


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Well, it's an interesting road to take. I became pregnant in the context of an extremely bad, dysfunctional relationship that would never last. I decided to keep the pregnancy over the protests of the father. My daughter is now 15 months old and she hasn't seen him since last June, but he pays generous child support.

That said, sometimes it can be lonely and overwhelming, especially when your baby is sick (or you are sick). What I've discovered is that no one raises a child alone, even though it might seem that way from an outsider's perspective. People generally want to help and be a part of your life and your child's life. Not only is there you, but there is the daycare provider, the pediatrician, friends, groups (online and actual).

My daughter seems very healthy and happy at this point, and I really believe deep down in my heart that ending the relationship was the best thing for her (as well as for the rest of us). She has seen no fighting or the horrible, dysfunctional stuff that was our relationship. Her father has made his own choices about contact for his own reasons.

There are a couple things I'd change if I were queen of the world. I'd provide single parents with more sick time and maternity leave. I'd prefer that women who have older, in high school or college, could manage to keep their opinions to themselves about how they would never work and raise a child; they didn't do it for their kid and wouldn't now. I'd also try to figure out a way to provide single moms with housekeepers.

Just a few thoughts.

Wow I am so glad for this post. I have been a single mama for almost 2 years and it wasn’t really by choice (divorce) although I think my son and I are in a better place now on many fronts. There are so many issues regarding being a single mama – where do I start?

-Being the only adult is difficult on many levels- when they get sick for instance. Or God forbid if I get sick. I drove home one day with blurred vision and a migraine and didn’t have any back up for someone to pick up my son from daycare- so I did it.

-I sometimes feel that I am limited work wise. I have been asked to travel but will not because I have sole custody with very little back up and no family in town.

-Of course the finance thing is always a concern- working, juggling daycare costs etc…all the money stuff.

-Being a single homeowner- doesn’t sound like this would be a single mama concern but it is. With no partner I am the one that dealing with burst pipes in the basement on a holiday weekend while I had the flu, installing an air conditioner, dealing with taking the car in (and figuring out how to commute 30 miles roundtrip with no car to daycare and work), the list goes on…I am not really good at this stuff and wish I had help with it.

-I get lonely for adult conversation when I get home sometimes.

-Sometimes it is intense to be a single mama with one child- there isn’t anyone else (sibling or parent) to break the intensity of our 1:1 interaction. And while that makes for nice time together it can also be intense. Sometimes it is hard to take a break when I get overwhelmed or to diffuse an escalating or emotional situation with my son and I.

-I get overwhelmed.

-Sometimes I wish my son was seeing me in an adult relationship where he saw me in a marriage (or established adult loving relationship) so he could see that as a person I have multifaceted relationships and needs. And I am valued and loved by others. I worry that being in our single set-up it is very easy for him to see me just as his mama – just to see me in terms of his needs.

OK so those are the overwhelming aspects. The pros? Well I guess the flip side of a lot of the cons :)

-I am managing the household and discipline so I am not dealing with conflict in a bad marriage or with a partner I don’t agree with. My son isn’t in an environment where he is witnessing dysfunctional behaviors.

-In a way it is easier with just 2 of us. We can get up and go without as much logistical effort of a family of 4.

-Although I love working that is not my whole identity…I cannot imagine not being my sons mother. It is such a wonderful and satisfying part of my life. I feel lucky to be his mom.

Those are my initial thoughts. I would really love to connect with other single mamas (and papas too). Please send me an email if you are interested in connecting online or in person.


wow that was a really long post- sorry folks.

I commend you two and all you single mom's out there. I have a helpful husband and I still think this job is really hard. My mom was a single mom for a time when I was little and it was hard on her, but we are bonded pair partly because of it. Keep on keepin' on!

Nicole @ Movingthrough.com leads childbirth classes specifically for single mamas and is an awesome doula. So if there are any single mamas out there looking for that resource she is really great! She also lead prenatal yoga classes.

My personal take is that kids need love and consistency...so single, coupled, whatever parenting choice you make works as long as there is love and commitment to the child.

Best of luck to your friend!

Thank you so much for posting on this topic! I kept meaning to send an email in asking for more about single motherhood. That is one thing that bugs me about single parenthood...most magazines, web sites, and advertising towards mothers or parents just take for granted that you're living in a two-parent situation.

I am a single mother (divorce), though my son (3.5) splits his time between his dad's house and mine. I would echo what the other ladies here have said. It can be overwheming. Like, a lot. There's no one to tag out with when you're tired, or sick, or just NEED ten minutes alone. There is only one person to deal with it all...cooking, cleaning, laundry, bathtime, bedtime, shopping, etc.

Since becoming a single parent it is harder to be a good employee because when he needs to be picked up at daycare because he's sick, I have to be the one, there's no one else. I take time off when he is sick, I take time off when I am sick, or when his school has a holiday. Luckily my employer is understanding. My boss, a single mom, has said that routine is the key, and relying on close friends and family to help out. These are both true. I guess if you're making the choice to be a single mom, look at your support network...it can make all the difference.

Unfortunately I can't offer any resources for single moms because I don't know of any, other than other single moms. :)

Good luck!

Your friend is considered a single mother by choice if she is planning on raising the baby on her own. Even with minor involvement from the father. If that is the case, I can give her plenty of info on local groups, one of which I have advertised here several times. There are also other single parent supports out there. Lots of yahoo groups, some focused here in Portland. I have been single since before conception. I know many other women who are pretty much in it themselves. Please contact me at mousecat86 at aol dot com if you want more information about the Portland area groups. Best of luck to your friend!

Oh, the other thing that is kinda hard is that most play groups are during business hours, which makes it hard to participate and meet other single moms.

I find it very hard to realy on and ask other single moms for support because they are so taxed themselves.

Oh, the other thing that is kinda hard is that most play groups are during business hours, which makes it hard to participate and meet other single moms.

I find it very hard to realy on and ask other single moms for support because they are so taxed themselves.

By the way, I just want to add my two cents about single mom support. It is really hard to find. I agree that the magazines and tv shows on mothering are all couple-centric (and hetero-centric too by the way) and the books I go through in the book store are mostly focused to couples. Very few single mom books. Maybe I should write one! There is of course a great Todd Parr book called The Family Book which shows all sorts of families, and there is another great line of books on xyandme.com about different means of conceptions and family types. I read mine to my daughter all the time even though she is only 2 1/2 and can't really understand. I think it is so important to hang out with all sorts of families so that yours just seems like another type. I have 2 groups of single moms by choice that I get together with, once a month each, because I don't ever want my daughter to think that it's unusual to not have a dad. If she ever says anything, I can remind her of all of her friends from our 2 groups. Diversity is an important key to keep in mind in raising our children. I also think it is perfectly fine to ask questions about other family types without worrying about embarrasing anyone. I love to tell our story to people who ask. If anything feels to personal, I opt out. Anyway, just a few of the things I have thought about in the past 3 years since expecting and having my baby. I do sometimes feel sad about our circumstances, but it's more for me and not for her, as I feel I grieve the dream of the "perfect" nuclear family. Maybe some day that will happen, but if not, I think we have it pretty darn good as it is!

Providence health systems has great resources. There is a new moms group that is run by a fabulous childbirth educator Mary (can't think of her last name) and I bet she would have single parent resources for your friend. The phone # to learn about the resources is : 503 574-6595.

my peditrician was a great support to me when i too ended a dysfunctional relationship when my daughter was 9 mos. there is/are a lot of things people don't talk about when becoming a single parent. i'm talking about the social aspect of it. when i go to playgroups, there are some mothers who choose not to speak with my daughter and i. i've really been hurt when we haven't been invited to a birthday party etc. and also, being a single parent usually means a working parent, which also can put you in a position where people believe you're an inferior parent (you wouldn't believe some of the comments i've received). but that's just people's weirdness right? first and foremost, help yourself out legally. get financial support and get a legal custody agreement. i didn't, and when my ex got cozy with a girlfriend, he decided he wanted to be in my daughter's life. i wish i would've taken care of things VERY early in the pregnancy. your friend's "gut" is telling her to have this baby. she already has a mother's intuition. start to trust that voice and act on it. i'm so glad someone posted something about single moms! it's great to read the comments and feel a sense of community even if it is in cyberspace.

I totally agree with Louise's comment regarding financial support and legal custody agreement.

In terms of the financial agreement I suggest going through the state. They then manage tracking and enforcing child support. That way you arent put in the position of keeping track of when payments are submitted and how much. They also then deal with overdue support. I think it is helpful if you are removed from the position of nagging and negotiating regarding the finances.

In terms of custody it is an interesting point on several fronts including medical care or international travel. (ability to get a passport without both parents written approval?)

Worth looking into.

This will probably sound odd, but I think parenthacks would be an even better resource for single parents than it is for dual-parent households. Babyproofing hacks, like tying the chair legs together under the table so your child doesn't climb them and topple, seem even more useful when there is just one set of eyes and arms, rather than two. It would be great if she can babyproof her place to the absolute max now, before she's got a newborn or toddler to wrangle. It's when you are alone and need to dash to the bathroom or take something out of the oven that all the bad crap happens.

when i was preg my husband got hooked on drugs so i went through it pretty alone... and it was fine tho not ideal. now we are divorced. it can be challenging being always on duty but i adore my son and wouldn't want it any other way. it is important to build a support network-- good friends, your family, and a babysitter so you can have a night or afternoon off.

also i know so many women now trying to be mothers, that i would suggest the adoption option-- being a single pregnant woman is very do-able (no one cares if you spend all your free time sleeping!) and it would be such a huge gift to someone that it might bring a ton of beautiful meaning to what might feel like tragedy now.

Anonymous, I am just wanting to clarify, you are suggesting that maybe the friend offer her baby for adoption? No judgement, just want to clarify. I am a woman who went through pregnancy as a single woman and I can tell you, it's not so easy and you don't get so much of a chance to sleep all day, since most single women are working full time, and the looks you get from some people who know you are not married....I had a patient who stopped talking to me when he realized I was pregnant and not married. And I got pregnant deliberately. I can tell you, single motherhood is hard, but if being a mother is something that you want and it is do-able, I would suggest that route unless you are not able to financially or emotionally raise your child alone. There is support out there if you seek it. There are also many single mothers out there who are adopting on their own. Just my 2 cents. I think adoption is a great thing, if it is right for both sides.

Where to start...?? I share most of the experiences already posted here. While I didn't become pregant intentionally, I have pretty much been a single mom from the start. I faced the emotional challenegs while pregnant and I am sure the hormones didn't help! As Louise mentioned, you won't believe some of the comments people will make. While being a single parent can sometimes be lonley, I sometimes feel the financial struggle is one of the hardest aspects. I gradutated college and make a decent living, but it is a constant struggle. I do receive support on a monthly basis (I would strongly suggest going through the state, and don't get an atty). Finances are always on my mind and I don't feel that I will ever be able to get ahead. Forget a new car..are you kidding? A house...where is the down pymt coming from? Speaking of a house, you learn to fix things pretty quick when you either a)don't have a man around to help or b) can't afford a handy man for the list of items that have accumlated.

All things considered, having my child was the best decision I have ever made. I followed my instinct, and it has proven to be the right one for me.

I just wanna hug everybody on this post. I've have been all those places, each stage has it's own challenges. Elizabeth and louise I got teary. And debby is always so resolute and organized, I'm jealous.

Only your friend knows what she can handle. Does she have a good support network? When I moved to Portland, it got much harder beause I wasn't aware how much I relied on friends to help out. I have never replicated that level of committment from my friends.

I would say the support network is key. I echo the weird looks and judgments that people make even in "progressive" circles. At school, I've heard judgements from married moms about "single parents" all the time. When I think about how hard it is to volunteer with my schedule, I tend to take the remarks really personally and my feelings get hurt.

And no, there are some kids whose parents won't have you over. It took me years to figure why all my kid's close friends also had single parents. There is something very scary about single parents to some folks. True Story.

She's 13 now and I wish it was someone else's turn. really. She is a wonderful, smart, funny girl but man is she opinionated and obstinate. Hmmm, wonder where that comes from??????

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