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Single Motherhood: so many different circumstances

One mama friend has two children, both under the age of 2.  She was never married to their father and - it looks like - she never will be.

Another mama friend has two children, a bit older, again never married to their father, but really, really, REALLY tried.  It didn't work, and she has been single-mama-ing it since the beginning.

Some mamas make the choice, from the beginning, to single parent.  

In every one of these case, so much moreso than our partnered-parent counterparts, "it takes a village".  The recent Portland Tribune article  says "a growing percentage of Multnomah County's new moms are unwed", with about half of the women younger than 30 are having babies out of wedlock.  Considering moms of all ages, in Multnomah and Clackamas counties, about 1 in 4 babies are born to unwed mothers.

Single parenthood is a reality for a variety of reasons, but one thing is for sure: single parenthood is here to stay; it is growing.  And, I would venture to say: the single mamas & papas among us need our help, need support.  

Yet another friend, single mama, reaches out every now and then; she asks for help.  She recently recounted a night with her toddler that was just. too. much.  

Right now I should be sleeping. Last night, my toddler woke up at midnight. Four hours and some pretty intense tantrums (on my and her part) later we were both asleep for a couple of hours before facing the day. I spent the entire day feeling jet lagged and nauseated.

So, on the way to school I had no choice, but to run over an old bottle of colt45 the broken pieces of which were strewn across the width of the bike path. What was already one of those "Oh fuck I am totally behind and there are two trainees waiting outside the door of the office!" mornings turned into one of those Wiley Coyote cartoons where I half expected an anvil to fall from the sky.

Things just kept getting worse and more ridiculous, and in all honesty I could probably have handled it emotionally were it not for the fact that I've been burning the candle at both ends. 

And then she reflected on what gets her by: support from friends, whether it be help with her business, a chat on the phone/online, maybe someone coming over to have a glass of wine 

I ran into a friend, who gave me a hug and offered a ride.  Another friend, herself the mother of a toddler, let me blubber to her on the phone and gave me some much needed perspective.  A busines consultant, the woman who does my books and who started just two weeks before I gave birth, called to go over the year end books during which time she reminded me how well things were going for my business when she started, traced the arc of what I've gone through and based on that progress, reassured me that things would improve again. She mentioned that she'd seen me go through some nail biting setbacks and was impressed with my pluck and ability to make it through a tough time for all businesses (including her own). 

None of this is a cakewalk.  Single mamahood, for sure, is not.  As my friend puts it:

I feel like single motherhood is walking a tightrope with no net. 99% of the time it is totally fine. You can't slack off, but as long as you are keeping things in balance it is ok. Heck, even fun. But one little slip and there's blood all over the place and the recovery time from every mistake seems to take so long.

And then:

We all have moments in life where we attempt something at the bleeding edge of our ability and mental stamina. Your continued love and support in the moments where I have asked you for help, has sustained me and emboldened me. Thank you.

Single mamas & papas: what helps you through to the other side?  How do you make it through the day when you've been up for 6 hours in the night soothing a colic baby?  The single mamas I know have happy, balance families, but they absolutely don't do it alone.  Who do you call on?


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I was raised by a single mom who did a great job. Two of the last three presidents (clinton,Obama) were raised by single mothers and turned out pretty darn good.

I am one of the moms interviewed in the Tribune article. I am a bit disappointed in the flavor of the article, with it being "so hard and challenging" all the time and the reporter used the word "overcompensating" when referring to me, which I think might apply, but it makes it seem like I'm trying to make up for my girl not having a father. That's not the case. I more overcompensate for not being able to be with her more. I made the choice to have a child by myself when my circumstances were more secure. But just like everyone else in this economy, things changed for me when my daughter was 2, and now it's harder to make ends meet and to not be stressed out at the end of the day. But what the reporter did not mention is that things like this happen to "married" couples all the time. One is a SAHP and the other is the "sole breadwinner" and then loses their job. In other families, one parent is discouraged because s/he thought that there was going to be more of a partnership in parenting and it just never happened. And in another, they just split up and have to think about what they are going to do with the kids.

Many of the "unwed" mothers mentioned are not single moms. They are cohabitating couples, some who decided not to get married or never broached the subject. Others are not legally able to get married due to unfair constitutional amendments saying that marriage is for one man and one woman. I think these "unwed" mothers make up a lot of the percentage. And, not mentioned in the article are the ones who didn't exactly "choose" to become single moms, or want it to happen, but circumstances let to it and they are dealing with it, sometimes not well.

This: "Many of the "unwed" mothers mentioned are not single moms. They are cohabitating couples, some who decided not to get married..."

There is a big difference between "single" and "unwed" mothers. I am an unwed mother, but I would not call myself a "single mom," as that implies I do not have the help of my partner. I wish articles, like this one, would make more of a distinction between the two.

Oh and just to add, my friends have been a God send. I had the flu last week, and I had friends all over Portland who were willing to come and get my kid, bring her to school, have her come over for play dates, and even keep her overnight. Single moms aren't allowed to get sick, so it was almost an indulgence! Also my best support is my Single Mother's By Choice group, a group of like minded women who chose to be single mothers and to do it all alone. We meet monthly and talk about all the ups and downs of being moms and having to fit all of the roles into one person. We bring hand-me-downs and have baby showers. We sometimes do things without the kids (rarely, but it does happen...). My partnered friends have been great too, but no one understands better than someone in a similar situation. I highly recommend support groups.

I think part of the reason that the article mentions unwed parents is that statistically unwed or cohabiting parents have been shown to separate at a higher rate than married pairs. As a single parent who was never together with my child's father in a meaningful relationship, I find single parenting difficult, but of course also amazing.

I've managed to create a stable life for my child but I have walked that tightrope and certainly the vicissitudes of life can be a little more life altering when there is only one income (or if unemployed only one who can hopefully secure an income), only one option for health care and only one person to do household chores and tend to the child.

I was very comfortably middle class before having my child, but now I struggle with either losing all of my income and health insurance or continuing to pay $10,400 a year for the four days of full day quality child care I can afford. And do you think my job prospects or opportunities for advancement are helped by only being able to work 4 days/week from 9-5 when other folks have at least one household member who can pull a 10-12 hour day on a regular basis?

I think the point is that single parents are not bad people or bad parents, but that the trend socially is moving toward more single parents whether through accident or choice and more relationships that might eventually break up whether wed or unwed. This places the parents and the children in very fragile periods either for short or long bouts and it appears we don't have any safety nets in place to keep pace with this dramatic shift in the way children are born.

None of this is said with judgement....just questions. How can we prevent kids and parents from falling through the cracks or falling off the tightrope?

I read a great book about E. Mavis Hetherington's longitudinal studies tracking a total of 1,400 families. She found that most kids survived the breakup of their parents fine but that the 25% a complex chain of events triggered often by lack of financial, environmental and emotional stability post breakup strongly predicted which kids had trouble as adults. 25% is a lot of kids and a lot of families.

How can we help each other?

I appreciate all the comments. While I know I'm not at all alone, I don't feel I fit any of the categories either. There seem to be good support for coupled and single moms, but there aren't many for those that were previously coupled and are trying to figure out the difficulties of co-parenting with an ex that can sometimes be quite challenging. In many ways, I think its beneficial to have 'him' around for my kids and for the 'break' it provides which full-time single parents don't have. However, it also offers many challenges and lots of stress trying to make decisions together when you're not together and not having any 'control' over how he parents or what happens when your children aren't with you. I'd love to have a group of moms to support each other from this part of the spectrum as well.

RSAS: Look through Yahoo groups. That is where our group is listed, and I bet there are groups for people in your situation...I hope! I would suggest this over Meet Up, which I think tends to be more of a social group. I know there is a really thriving single parents' group in Portland on Meet Up, but I think those are highly attended and can be a bit overwhelming! Good luck. I hope you find some good support.

@Debby, just back from reading the article. Once again, Peter Korn confirms my painfully low opinion of him and his writing. This probably the third article I've read by him that cherry picks his subjects to support his viewpoint (and actual facts).

Frankly, I'm surprised he even featured you or Stacy Katz, given that the other women bordered (this would be his forte) on 1960's cliches. We had a bitter divorced mom (I was mystified by her tirade about "spelling out who does what in raising children", um, actually in her case, her divorce decree would) and a non-white (of course) teen single mom, popping out babies and living on welfare.

Also unsettling were the myriad of far right comments, focusing on the teen mom (obviously that's a poor choice, always was!) and suggesting she be left to fend for herself--despite these being the same people who oppose abortion and access to contraception. One of them even attacked a single parent who had adopted her child (from what sounded like foster care).

I had thought we were past this sort of narrow mindedness---but it is the Tribune, the same magazine that once ran a column about the fabulous "new" trend of wearing jeans wsith dressy tops to parties and dinner. Um yeah, fabulous and new 45 years ago maybe!

All it proves to me is that once again, The Tribune loves to roil up its fundy readership and Peter Korn is an idiot.

just sayin', i don't really like how it's just assumed/presumed that everyone who reads this site, is super liberal or SHOULD be super liberal. and if we're not, and have conservative opinions, we are horrible people and aren't decent people. i'm referring to some of the comments here in this post, but in general, some of the posts and comments from many of the posts reflect this view. just sayin'.

@anonymous425 - since Portland is a progressive city and Oregon is a consistently blue state, it's going to follow that most posters here probably lean left. If anything, with the exception of the great marijuana debate, I generally find myself to the right of many posters.

This isn't to say there isn't some validity to some conservative viewpoints (for example, I see the argument for fiscal conservatism--though few, if any Republicans actually follow it), however,the comments on the article were simply mean spirited, narrow minded, judgemental and self-contradictory.

Additionally, The Tribune does tend to present an agenda of "traditional, Christian" (read idolized 1950's)values---Pamplin himself is very much so. My post merely pointed this out. And that it's offensive to strong, independent women (and men) who have made choices and do their best to make it work, every day (like all parents).

Likewise, there are many, many conservative blogs (some of which are downright demented, frankly). I'd never be offended (or certainly I wouldn't post it) that a right leaning blog didn't mirror my views. It's kinda what these things are meant for.

@anon 425. If you feel your pov is misrepresented then provide a cogent rebuttal in your response.

Zumpie, I agree about the article. I didn't like the "experts" chosen, and their opinion about these "fragile" children of single moms. I think there was a lot of room for a positive spin on this topic, and it didn't happen that way. Peter Korn seemed pretty liberal about his opinions and thoughts when we met (we only had 30 minutes during my lunch break)so it's hard to judge from that time) so I was confused by his lack of commitment to one or the other side of the issue. I was also disappointed in his choice of moms to interview, and I thought that knowing that choosing single motherhood as an option for women who did not see themselves with partner in the near futher would be enlightening for the Portland public, rather than being seen as something that needed to be compenstated for.

Debby, ITA... Honestly, to me the article read like something that would've been current about 30 years ago. I was very much under the impression that single parenthood among adults with the ability to provide was simply a lifestyle choice.

Along the lines of other poorly researched crap Korn has written to which I allude (and have made VERY snarky comments on the Trib's site about): he yakked about the basketball lock out and its potential effect on local business. His "experts" were three quite well off people who discussed how they no longer bought season courtside seats or pre-game dinners at El Gaucho.

While that might be true---it simply isn't the reality for most people. Our entertainment budgets are fairly finite, so if we don't got to a Blazers' game, we'll have nice dinner at a restaurant nearer to our homes, or before a Timbers' game instead or go see another movie, etc. In short he made a very flimsy argument, ignoring the basic laws of economics.

The other article he had that REALLY cracked me up was about teen smoking. He profiled what was clearly a street (or borderline street) kid. One look at the teen's photo and it was quite obvious cigarettes were the very, very, VERY least of his substance abuse problems.

The boy apparently started smoking at age 8 (most 8 year olds I've met view life on the edge as drinking an entire can of soda) and clearly came from a painfully dysfunctional home life. Now I'm not saying teen smoking isn't a problem and I certainly felt for the teen profiled----BUT, not exactly your typical middle class high schooler smoking to seem cool.

I remember pointing out that Korn could probably find a family of cannibals if he really looked hard enough. But their mere existence didn't translate to them being typical or it being a wide spread problem.

I'm a single mom and I actually have lent support and help to some married friends. Nobody writing these articles ever concedes the possibility that we might be anything but a leech on our buddies.

Hey ladies:

I am a single mom and a capable one at that. I am also heavily left leaning in my politics. I didn't feel the article was slamming single moms or making us look like "leeches on our buddies." I am friends with a lot of single moms and dads and most are not teenagers. Most are middle class, college-educated people.

Some chose to be single through insemination many are single parents through divorce and even have supportive co-parents. Despite all of this they face many many many challenges as single parents - as do their married partners- however our lack of a backup financially (in particular) can be scary when it comes to things like paying for quality childcare, affording housing in safe neighborhoods and paying for healthcare.

I cited a study above that didn't just interview 3 single moms in the Trib. E. Mavis Hetherington's longitudinal studies tracked a total of 1,400 families. She found that most kids survived the breakup of their parents fine but that the 25% a complex chain of events triggered often by lack of financial, environmental and emotional stability post breakup strongly predicted which kids had trouble as adults. 25% is a lot of kids and a lot of families in crisis.

If this is not your situation then perhaps you can offer some perspective to those of us who are capable, middle class educated and who struggle like hell with the lack of support for single parents. Please realize that if you are breezing through single parenthood you might be an anomaly and that is great for you but single parenthood is here to stay and our political, social and cultural frameworks need to change - and fast - to accommodate and support all kinds of families.

As a 17 year veteran single-as-single-can-be parent, duh, fianancial resources and family support makes all the difference in the world. If you have grandparents that help with childcare or housing, it gives you a little breathing room. I think it is important for single parent families to have an extended and diverse community of support. When min e was a toddler before we came to PDX, I had 3 friends I could call and say "This is a child at risk" and they would come grab her. I had a friend who was always struggling to get to childcare on time, so I would pick up her kids if they were still there when I picked mine up. It wasn't a planned group, it's just what we did. Here I noticed less mixing between single parents and partnered parents. It was much harder to find community for me.

I think it can be done well, but in most circumstances is less than having two functional parents dedicated to the well-being of that child. And I think that is hard to admit when we're working our asses off to keep the trains running on time.

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