Being a single mom newbie is no joke. Take it from me: At 26, I joined the club when I was three months pregnant and my relationship ended. My son, Jack, now 4, arrived via C-section with my mom at my side in the delivery room. Before his birth, questions and concerns clouded my head: I live too far from my family! Will I be able to balance single motherhood and my career? How will I explain to this beautiful baby where his father is? Even more pressing: Will I be able to manage his day-to-day care all on my own? How will I catch up on sleep if there's no one around to watch the baby but me? I was exhausted just thinking about it!
Looking back, I found solutions — while trying to heal my heart and soul — and you will too. Here, experts and single moms who've been there share strategies to help you keep your sanity, your career and your life, all while raising a confident and awesome child.
Stage 1: Take Charge
Tame your emotions: There's no “quick fix” for the hormone-fueled fireworks that explode after childbirth. On top of normal feelings of being overwhelmed and anxious, single moms also tend to experience twinges of anger and abandonment. “Single pregnant women and new moms often carry unwarranted guilt due to the circumstances that led to giving birth without a supportive partner,” says Leah Klungness Ph.D., a psychologist and co-author of The Complete Single Mother. “Even women who choose to be single mothers [aka ‘choice moms’] have moments where they teeter between excitement and fear.”
Louise Sloan, a choice mom and author of Knock Yourself Up: A Tell-All Guide to Becoming a Single Mom, says, “I tried hard not to worry or second-guess myself during my pregnancy. What's done was done.” Instead, Sloan focused on the realistic aftermath of childbirth and bringing a baby home alone. “I was scared of postpartum depression and going through it without a live-in supportive partner,” she says. “I had phone appointments with a therapist once a week because I wanted to be ‘in the routine’ in case I needed therapy after my baby was born.” Then there's worry. Single moms may feel their child will somehow have less and suffer emotionally and materially. “These women, like all parents-to-be, correctly anticipate that raising a child will be a momentous undertaking,” Klungness says.
Interestingly, some research suggests the majority of children raised by single parents do not have any added difficulties. What seems to matter most is the quality of the relationship between the active parent and the child, how much support a child gets from that parent and how harmonious the environment is. “Hone in on the challenges you face today, and try not to stress about future miniscule worries like who will teach your son to throw a football,” advises Klungness. “By the time your child asks about the absent parent or circumstances of their modern family, you'll have researched the proper way to approach it.”
Find your village. Unsure she could raise her baby alone after her marriage abruptly ended, Jessica Cady of Del City, Oklahoma, hit the road with her newborn. “We moved across the country from New Hampshire to Oklahoma to be closer to my immediate family,” Cady says. “We raise my daughter together.” Build your support system wherever you are. Sloan recommends making a list of nearby friends and family. “Tell them about your fears and ask them if they are willing to be on your ‘single mom 911’ list,” she says. “Knowing I had someone to step in both physically [babysitting] and emotionally [overtired mommy] was a huge weight off of my shoulders.”
“For new single moms, personal responsibility is deeply ingrained and a matter of fundamental pride, so they feel honor-bound to handle those sleep-deprived first few weeks and months on their own and everything else that comes after,” says Klungness. “Handling this time on your own can be a needed confidence boost for a woman who doubted her own maternal skills.” This doesn't mean you should isolate and reject assistance because, sooner or later, everyone needs it. Klungness recommends asking for help and being specific: “No one reads minds, so instead of saying ‘I'm overwhelmed,’ try saying, ‘Could you possibly pick up a couple of things for me at the supermarket the next time you go? Here's some money.’” When your friend comes back with the milk, make tea as a thank you and chat.
Rachel Sarah, author of Single Mom Seeking and co-founder with Klungness of singlemommyhood.com, found her backup in a moms group. Her family was on the West Coast while she was raising her then-7-month-old daughter solo in New York. “Fortunately, one friendly mom in our group lived in a high-rise that was just a few blocks from me,” Sarah says. “She and her husband practically adopted my baby and me. I'll always be grateful for the many dinners they shared in their apartment.” Sarah eventually moved closer to family. To repay the favor and ensure her friends knew their help was appreciated, Sarah offered to babysit.
Stage 2: Take Care of Baby
Make your game plan. It's important to be organized when it comes to taking care of your newborn alone — there's no one to make a midnight run for diapers while you hang back with a crying baby. The best advice: Stock up! Matt Logelin, a widower/single dad who chronicled his journey in the New York Times best-selling book Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss & Love, buys in bulk. “I'd get a month's supply of essentials so I wouldn't have to continually run to the store,” he says. Logelin kept all of the supplies he needed to get his daughter Maddy through the night in his room since she slept there in a bassinet. “I had diapers, wipes, bottles with powdered formula, water bottles and a bottle warmer within arms reach,” he says. Take some shortcuts: Fill multiple bottles with powdered formula and cap them. When it's feeding time, add filtered water and simply warm in a bottle warmer. You can also have supplies shipped direct to your home using websites like diapers.com.
Put baby first. Something to keep in mind: No one is keeping score at your house. If clean clothes live in the dryer for a few days or the blocks never make it into the toy chest — who cares! But at some point, you'll have to do the laundry and dishes while baby is wide awake and there's no sitter available. Invest in a quality baby carrier. Bouncy seats and swings are also a single mom's best friend since they allow you to work at your peak rather than wait until baby's asleep (optimal time for a relaxing bubble bath or to curl up with a good book!)
Stage 3: Take Care of Business
Be the best employee ever: The reality is that most single parents work 40 hours a week outside the home, and it's a balancing act worthy of center stage with Ringling Bros. From day one, you need to be honest with your employer about your situation, advises Jack Harsh, vice president of human resources at a specialty chemical supplier. “All good relationships are characterized by openness, trust, aligned goals and mutual needs that are satisfied by both parties,” he says. That said, single parents may feel all eyes on them as they try to succeed. And in your office, it just might be true. So try your best to arrive on time. (Pick clothes and prepare lunch the night before.) Don't leave early, and don't miss meetings. Have a backup sitter ready if your child is too sick to go to daycare, or if you take a personal day, note that while some companies offer an unlimited number of sick days for an employee, they may cap the number you can take to care for a child.
Home = office: Working from home can be a plus. You just have to be smart about it. In the beginning, a baby will (fingers crossed) simply sleep, eat and poop, leaving you time to get work done. You can accomplish a lot during baby's naptime. I kept my son's swing in my home office, where he'd nap for hours while I cranked out projects. I used the bouncy chair and classical music to entertain him while I answered work e-mails. I saved heavy research for the evenings when he was asleep for a good stretch. Does working from home sound good to you? Allison O'Kelly, founder/CEO of Mom Corps, a flexible staffing and recruitment firm that helps moms get back to work, advises approaching your supervisor with a well-thought-out plan. “Include how you propose to interact with or manage team members from outside the office and ask for a trial period, which will allow you to prove this to be a seamless work option,” O'Kelly says. Mareesa Hernandez of Cliffside Park, New Jersey, proposed working just one day a week from home. “My boss is a father of five boys all under the age of 7,” Hernandez says. “He was extremely sympathetic and understanding to my situation.” Remote access and a company smartphone made telecommuting as efficient as being in the office. “Don't expect to work from home if you can't access a server or your boss' day planner,” says Hernandez. “You must be able to operate in the same capacity. And never make it seem like your boss is doing you a favor.”
The childcare situation. You may think you'll save money on daycare by working from home, but once your baby is crawling, cruising and toddling, you really shouldn't attempt to care for him and work simultaneously. “Your employer is paying you to work, not play with your baby,” says O'Kelly. Tracy Riddlebaugh, a single mom to three from Columbus, Ohio, says her parents help so she can save on childcare and work part time. “I don't really have the option of working an 8 to 5 job five days a week because then I wouldn't have anyone to get my kids to and from school or to provide before- or after-school care,” she says. No gramps nearby? O'Kelly suggests nanny-sharing with a neighbor, babysitting co-ops or hiring a college student or teenage helper to watch the baby in your home while you're on the clock. I scheduled a babysitter or asked my mom to drop by when I had a conference call or phone interview. A crying baby in the background just isn't professional.
3 tips to keep in mind:
- Get involved in a social hobby while you're pregnant. You'll appreciate the outlet later.
- Share a membership to a wholesale club with a friend to purchase baby essentials.
- Become a Skype pro so you can interface with your co-workers face to face from home.