Single Motherhood: It Ain’t Easy (And How to Make It Easier)

Photograph: Christopher Thomond

I was watching an episode of HGTV’s “House Hunters” last night where the wife and mother was saying that she could hardly wait until her husband’s commute was shorter because she could use more help with their three kids. My first thought was,”Quit your bitchin’. At least you’re not a single mom.”

I don’t mean to sound unsympathetic to her plight, but I’ve done motherhood both ways (married and single) and there’s no competition: it’s a helluva lot harder to do it solo.

Approximately thirteen million women in the United States are raising children alone. Some deliberately chose to be single mothers, others had it thrust upon them by divorce or widowhood. But no matter how they attained that status, the fact remains that it’s a lonely and incredibly difficult undertaking.

Although single mothers are bound to have moments of self-pity (just like mothers who do have partners), for the most part they’re not looking for people to feel sorry for them. One of the things I told my children after their father and I got divorced was, “We are not a broken family, no matter what others say. We’re still a family and we have no reason to feel ashamed or inferior.”

Of course, sometimes I was trying to convince myself as much as my children. Because one thing all single mothers have in common is the lack of support and empathy for their plight in this society (unless they were widowed). Mothers in general don’t get a lot of sympathy, but single mothers get even less. I’ve heard comments that range from, “What right does she have to complain? No one made her have children” to “Why should we have to make allowances for single mothers? Their children aren’t our responsibility.”

The bottom line is, when women find themselves raising their children alone, they soon have to face the fact that they really are alone. Even the mothers who have a strong support system are alone at the end of the day. Except for when their children are with their fathers, single mothers are never off-duty. And when there is no father in the picture (or a very uninvolved one), they soon learn that the buck always stops with them.

There are not a lot of support groups for single mothers, mainly because they wouldn’t have time for them anyway. But one thing they do have is a book that’s been around for 15 years: The Complete Single Mother: Reassuring Answers to Your Most Challenging Concerns by Andrea Engber and Leah Klungness, Ph.D. This 480-page book is now in its third edition and I can see why. It’s the most comprehensive book I’ve found on the subject and it’s full of no-nonsense advice and tips for how to survive single parenthood.

The thing that most impressed me about The Complete Single Mother is its recurring pep talk about not seeing yourself as a victim, but as a winner. It doesn’t gloss over how hard single motherhood can be, but it does present the difficulties as challenges that have solutions. It’s selling now on Amazon, new, for $10.88, but you can probably also borrow it from your library. I guarantee, though, that you’ll want to own it.

Andrea Engber is the founder and director of the National Association of Single Mothers. (See the organization’s official website at Single Mothers Online.) NOSM was founded in 1991 and besides having the website, it also publishes a bi-monthly magazine, Single Mother Magazine.

Further Reading (personal stories of single motherhood): Accidentally on Purpose by Mary F. Pols and Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott.

One Reply to “Single Motherhood: It Ain’t Easy (And How to Make It Easier)”

Comments are closed.