There are about 10 million single moms in the U.S. Single motherhood is so common that experts believe half of all children will live with a single mom before the age of 18.
Among American households, single parents have more than tripled since 1960. The underpinning of those numbers is complicated. Many more women have chosen to be single moms compared to one or two generations ago, for example. Women of different demographics also have different experiences as single moms.
“Unmarried parents are not that different from married parents in their behavior,” says a paper by Princeton’s Sara McLanahan and Harvard’s Christopher Jencks. “The key difference is that one group often has children while they are searching for a suitable partner, whereas the other group more often has children only after they marry.”
Regardless, if you’re a single mom you don’t necessarily see yourself as a victim. Many women find that it’s an often difficult redefinition of a family, but one that they can make.
Jessica Ashley admits that “single parent” was not a term she wanted to claim. But once she did, she also saw what she needed to do the make the situation as positive as possible for her and her son, she writes. “I felt the earth solidify underneath us.”
“I wouldn’t wish divorce or separation or years in family court or having to explain why mommy and daddy aren’t together anymore to any mother,” Ashley says. “I didn’t wish this path for my child. It has not been simple or swift or without tears. Yet, I am happier and healthier and have a bigger life than I ever could have dreamed in those begging moments of early motherhood.”
If you’re a single mom, your experience has no doubt been different from the next person, but there are some common elements that make it doable, even enjoyable.
To cope with the specter of loneliness and depression you need to stay busy. That means working is good, but not so much that you become stressed from that, blogger Aisha Olson writes in Working Mother.
Single moms have also found that getting support is critical. Maybe you have it already in a good group of friends. If not, seek professional help to get through it. “Referring to a psychiatrist does not mean you are insane,” Olson says.
Put the pent up energy you have into your kids. Being with your children has mutual benefits. You can each make one another feel better. You appreciate the little things in life.
Last but not least, Olson says “get back on the field.”
“Just because one fruit was rotten, it does not mean the rest will be the same. If you think that it is too soon, do it anyway.
Finding a partner is certainly not the only way to combat depression and loneliness. However, as your life coach and marriage counselor might have already advised you, having someone by your side can reduce your stress to an unimaginable degree.”
Single mom Anna Davies takes it one step further, saying that being a single mom “hasn’t been nearly as hard as people think.”
She admits she's lucky. Her daughter, Lucy, is a good baby. She sleeps well and isn’t colicky. She’s easy to read, making it easier for Davies to fix whatever is vexing her. Davies has flexibility in her career that allows her to write and consult while the baby is napping.
But all that said, Davies flies in the face of conventional wisdom about single motherhood , saying “parenting doesn’t feel hard because I don’t want it to feel hard. Sometimes, especially when moms are talking about the struggle to take a shower, I wonder if it's because society expects that good parents shouldn't enjoy themselves,” she writes.
That’s just her, she adds. What’s good for Lucy is good for her. By thinking of them as a symbiotic unit, Davies keeps both happy.
“Of course,” she adds, “not hard isn’t the same as easy. Lucy goes wherever I go. I don’t have anyone to hand her off to at the end of the day. I don’t have anyone to weigh in on ideas and I don’t have anyone to brag about how cute she is.”
Even though Lucy was only a four-month-old at this writing, Davies already knows parenting can be challenging, but being a single mom doesn’t necessarily make it overwhelming.
“At least, that's what I definitely plan to tell any soon-to-be-single parent I meet. Well, that, and the fact that when it's just you, you deserve more than just a shower as your weekly keep-yourself-sane treat.”
September 15, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN