How you became a single mom does not matter. What you do with the experience does.
Becoming a single mom was the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced. Finding out I was pregnant and would be raising my kids without much physical, financial, or emotional support was overwhelming.
Still, I have to say: I’m extremely proud of the job I’ve done and the way my children are turning out. To be sure, there are challenges at every stage of child-rearing — but there are joys, too.
A few of my fellow single mom friends and I have committed to not only surviving each stage, but thriving. Here’s a little about our experiences during each phase, and what we’ve learned along the way.
Having a newborn is life-changing for any parent, but being a single mom with a newborn is nerve-wrecking and exhausting. The hardest part of this phase of single motherhood is learning to do ALL of it alone, and managing the emotions along the way.
I read all the books, went to all my doctor appointments, prepared the hospital bag, and created a birth plan by myself, for the most part. I wanted my baby’s father there for the entire birth but it didn’t work out that way.
During labor I felt excitement and disappointment, anticipation and frustration, along with joy and pain. My baby was beautiful. The birth should have been a moment to be celebrated but it was overshadowed by deflated hopes.
My relationship was ending with my baby’s father but a new life and journey with my newborn was just beginning. Despite the relationship issues, I knew I had to pull myself together to take care of my child.
Taking on all the responsibilities
After returning from the hospital the baby and I settled into my old room at my parent’s house. I decided to breastfeed and practice attachment parenting because I wanted her to feel safe and supported even though I didn’t feel that way at the time.
After the trauma of a long labor and unplanned C-section, I had to adjust to my new body. On top of that, the baby and I had to learn how to breastfeed properly, deal with postpartum depression, and push through the realization that we were on our own.
I eventually accepted my new body, the baby was latching nicely, and with prayer, support, and getting out of the house regularly I pulled out of postpartum depression feeling much better.
Gradually, I accepted my new life and set out to raise my child, building a happy life for us. Though I had supportive parents whom I lived with, I soon found out that I needed to move into my own place if I wanted to be able to cultivate the life I wanted for my daughter and me.
Juggling your child’s needs and your own goals
Former teen mom Manisha Holiday also knows the struggle of being a single mom. Manisha was just 15 when she had her first baby. The biggest challenges for her were providing for her child, juggling school, and growing up too soon. “I wanted to make my mom proud, so I did what I had to do,” says Manisha.
Despite starting a family at such an early age and being a single mom, Manisha finished school and went on to build a life for her three children. Both of her oldest daughters (a social service professional and a makeup artist) are successful women, and she’s raising her 14-year-old son to be an amazing young man. On top of that, Manisha runs her own public relations firm and is co-owner of a hemp farm in Georgia.
By the time my daughter entered this phase of childhood independence, I felt like a single mom pro. I had my second child almost 4 years after she was born and so many people asked me how I was able to do it all and make it seem so easy.
During the childhood years between babyhood and adolescence my kids were easier to manage. We had established a routine, I was getting to know their personalities, and I was able to focus on work and school.
Balancing it all
In some ways, this age is the sweet spot of single motherhood, and of parenting in general. But there were still difficulties. The most challenging part of this stage? The balancing act.
Being a single mom in college juggling parenthood and classes was the most challenging part of this stage. My son was not yet old enough for school, so I had to find reliable child care. A private sitter was the best option because I didn’t want him in day care. Fortunately I found a great older lady who loved him to pieces.
Recognizing there will always be judgement from others
In the meantime, my daughter was in elementary school where I navigated low-key drama from teachers who thought I was just another unconcerned and uninvolved single mom.
I couldn’t participate in PTA nor was I ever a room mom; it didn’t fit into my already-busy schedule. But I did attend parent-teacher conferences and stayed connected to teachers as much as possible through email.
The preteen and toddler years are a lot alike. It’s the phase of life when little humans are trying to find themselves and assert their independence.
At this age, the hardest thing for many single moms is feeling confident making life-altering decisions about your child’s health and well-being without help.
Taking full responsibility for successes — and mistakes
I asked a fellow single mom, TJ Ware, about her experience being a single mom of a preteen. TJ is the founder of The Single Mom Network and shared her challenges with raising her son.
When her son was in elementary school he began having behavioral issues. She was often called to the school from work in the middle of the day to take him home.
Believing he was lashing out because his dad was not around much, TJ decided to change his diet, put him on a stricter schedule, and enroll him in sports — which helped, at that time. A few years later the behavioral issues resurfaced.
Under pressure from his teachers, she had him tested for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Though he was diagnosed with a mild form, TJ decided not to put her son on medication at such an early age fearing it would have adverse effects on him.
Some research has shown that white teachers often attribute challenging behaviors demonstrated by black boys to ADHD, when that’s not always the case. TJ wasn’t sure if their assessment showed the full picture of what was happening with her son.
Learning to put aside self-doubt
TJ had to make the decision that was best for her son, alone. Throughout it all, she questioned her adequacy as a parent, as many single moms do. Questions like, Am I good enough? Am I doing enough as a parent? filled her head, day after day.
The decision of whether to medicate her son or not still looms in TJ’s mind. As her son enters high school, the option is very salient. It could help him focus and make the best of the next 4 years. Yet she’s wondering if it’s actually, truly needed.
Despite the challenges, TJ is proud of her son and sees so much of herself in him. He is a creative, brilliant, and thoughtful young man with an entrepreneurial spirit just like hers.
Raising teens is a challenge no matter if you’re married or single. When kids get a little knowledge — coupled with the changes happening in their bodies — it can be a recipe for disaster.
Letting go of control
Being a single mom raising teens was challenging from the “how can I protect them if I can’t see them” point of view. When my daughter started going out with friends, when she got her driver’s license, and when she had her first heartbreak, I felt powerless. I prayed a lot. Learning to trust that she would be ok without my help was difficult.
Fostering a perspective shaped by power instead of pain
On top of that I had to help my daughter navigate through issues with her father. My biggest fear was that she was going to only see life through the lens of pain. The big challenge became: How can I help her frame her perspective to see life in a positive light?
Fortunately, with much talking, understanding, prayer, and authenticity, she is thriving.
Now, she’s at an Ivy League university, the co-founder of a magazine, the vice president of a student club, and a student advisor. She’s had her ups and downs and I’ve been worried out of my mind when she’s come home at 3 a.m., but I’ve learned to put her in God’s hands and sleep peacefully.
Being a single mom is not a tragedy — despite what others will have you believe. For me, it’s been the catalyst to finding myself and helping others by sharing my story. My experience is a lesson for other single moms to see: It’s possible to come out on the other side of this experience a better version of yourself.
Samantha A. Gregory is an author, consultant, and speaker. She’s a single-mom lifestyle, money, and parenting expert featured in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Essence, HuffPost, ABC News, and Mint.com. Samantha founded the award-winning RichSingleMomma.com, the first online magazine featuring personal finance, parenting, and personal development content and courses for single moms. She aims to inspire women who are ready to thrive and not just survive in their single motherhood journey. Connect with her on Instagram @richsinglemomma.