Someone posed a question to single moms the other day asking, “How do you do it?” My answer was, “What choice do you have?” It’s the truth. You just do it.
Most of you, if you’re familiar with my writing, know that I am married. However, about three years ago, things were different.
After a relationship fell apart, I found myself in El Paso, Texas, stranded at an airport with $70 and my then-3-year-old son. My flight had been delayed until the next day and my recently-ex-boyfriend had dropped us off at the airport and then turned his cell phone off after I left him a message letting him know I needed him to come back and pick Grayson and me up. Not to mention, we had our cat, Nalan, with us.
I was back at square one, and to make matters worse, I had a small child. Even though I knew that once I got home to Columbia I would have the support of my mother, things felt pretty bleak: I had quit my job to move to Texas (a move that only lasted three weeks), turned the power off at the apartment and told my landlord we were moving out.
I didn’t know what to do. Lucky for me, that feeling only lasted about five minutes.
I had been a single mom since my son was 1, and I thought finally we were going to be a “real” family. But that just didn’t happen. I didn’t feel so much devastation that the dream of a family had once again disappeared, more because of what the whole thing put Grayson through.
It’s three years later now, and fortunately Grayson doesn’t have any recollection of any of it.
To me it was just another side effect of being a single mom. You meet someone, eventually they meet your child, and hopefully things work out. In a perfect world, I guess you can date someone and not allow them to meet your child until you get married, but unfortunately that just isn’t likely.
Being a single mom at its worst is lonely, but at its best is far beyond rewarding. I say it’s lonely because once Grayson went to bed, there was no one to talk to, revel in the day’s wonders, reminisce about how little he had been and how big he was getting. At the end of the day there was just us, and then just me, having to figure out how to do it all by myself. Because that’s what being a single mom is.
But I also call it rewarding because I got to take credit for everything. His accomplishments, his triumphs, his experiences, watching him learn so much — I got to claim it all. He was a respectful child, thanks to me. He was phenomenal, thanks to me. We were all the other had. To this day, I would say that experience was responsible for this two-person world that Grayson and I are sometimes in.
At the end of the day, we as mothers do what we have to do to make it work. It’s probably why I’m so good with budgeting now. Back then I had to know how to stretch a dollar! We lived on $800 a month and rent was $480, cable was like $150 (I love my cable) and electric in that horribly insulated apartment was sometimes $250. I learned I could make miracles work.
Below are some tips that may help you the way they helped me.
Find Someone To Look Up To
For me there were two people. One was my mom. She was a single mom before she met my dad, and to this day she has never ceased to amazed me. There was nothing she wasn’t able to pull off, no matter how dire the circumstances. There has never been a time where she didn’t make a way. No matter what, I knew that I wanted and needed to be like her. There were many times where she worked more than one job to keep it all together. I’ve never been able to work two jobs since I’ve been a mom, because just working one being a single mom was exhausting enough.
The other person I looked up to was a friend of mine whom I met before I had Grayson. She was a single mom, and watching her do it with such ease and being so strong and someone her daughter could really look up to made me try that much harder to be that type of mother. She was single with a baby and was holding it all together much better than I was — and I, at the time, was childless with no one to take care of but myself.
I was able to see from both these women that it is possible. It is that much harder when you’re a single mom and you’re having to do it all, but the upside is that there is a huge satisfaction you feel when you pull it all off.
And you will pull it all off.
Find a Work Schedule That Suits Your Family
Once my ex walked out on us, we couldn’t afford to stay where we were living. My best friend allowed me to move in with her and all I had to pay was the cable bill. I was getting unemployment at the time, but she told me to save it so I could get back on my feet, and that is exactly what I did.
Six months later, I used the money I had saved up and we moved into our own apartment. Two months later I found a job and signed up for ABC childcare vouchers. These are childcare vouchers from the state that cover the majority of the cost of childcare for parents who are trying to enter the workforce.
I only worked about 32 hours a week, and I was able to live off my savings and my income to take care of us. We did more than just get by. We were pretty comfortable. The reason I didn’t work more than full time is that I didn’t feel I could handle any more hours than that and do what I needed to do as a mother.
So while I’ve seen moms work two and even three jobs, for us it was best that I worked just the one. I did what worked for our life at the time. I was fortunate to be able to make it work with money I had saved, thanks to a good friend. Which brings me to my next tip.
Being a single mom isn’t what it once was. It’s not a stigma; you’re not forced to wear this shameful badge. It is liberating in some ways. It definitely was for me, even with it being the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
Single motherhood is pretty common at this point, which makes for a wide network of women you can relate to. It is so important to build a strong community of people (not just single moms, although it does help) around you and your child. I went through a period of feeling prideful. One time, my mother offered to buy Grayson’s diapers; I flat-out said no, and she looked totally dumbfounded. It is OKAY to let people help you.
We as women already often feel that we have the world on our shoulders, but when you’re a single mom that feeling is maximized. There are so many moms groups at your fingertips waiting for you to reach out (meetup.com and cafemom.com are great places to start – also, check out the list of moms groups in and around Columbia listed on our website). You’ll find people willing to trade off babysitting with you, listen and encourage you when it feels too hard to keep going — and the most important thing is you’re going to make friends.
I often say, don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do it alone, because you can — but it is important to know that you don’t have to.
Congratulate Yourself and Don’t Beat Yourself Up
I got down on myself plenty of times for not having a father for my son, not being able to enroll him in sports, not having the gas to go to the park, etc. I’m grateful that I had friends around me to let me know it was beside the point and would come with time. We weren’t on the streets, we had a full fridge, he had everything he needed and wanted, and most important, I did my absolute best because at the end of the day that’s all you can do. There were plenty of times where I patted myself on the back because I knew how much I had overcome and what a good job I was doing.
After being stranded at the airport for I don’t know how long (at least 8 hours) and literally just sitting there crying, I got Grayson and myself on an airport shuttle to a nearby hotel and spent the $70 we had left on a room for the night.
I’m sure you are wondering why we sat there waiting so long. But honestly, I didn’t know what to do. I just kept telling myself, maybe he’s in the field or something. I just could not believe this man — an army officer — would abandon my child and me. By the time I realized he had done just that, I had stopped crying and was just ready to go home.
When we got back from Texas, five days later we were back in our old apartment like we had never left (with Nalan the cat in tow). It was so amazing, I took a picture.
So while as a single mom, you may get down (and you will get down), the important thing is not staying down. Enjoy the time where it’s just you two. This isn’t a bad thing! It’s an amazing journey for you and for your child. There’s a lot for you to learn and a lot you can teach your child about making the best with what you’ve been given.
What tips do you have for making it work as a single mom?