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Working Single Parent -- Another story

Eating Together, Talking Together Part II |


| Missing Milestones

April 12, 2006

Working Single Parent -- Another story

Cathy Arnst

I got a shout-out the other day from fellow blogger Lauren in her insightful post on her single mother friend. Because of her, I checked out the Washington Post’s On Balance blog, and its own forum on single parenting. I was stunned by one of the comments there:

I'm a single parent. I believe there are two subsets of single parents - those who may have the bulk of the child-rearing responsibilities but do have the part-time help from another parent, and those for whom there is no other parent involved. I'm one of the 2nd subset. There were no "every-other-weekend" windows of time for myself. There was no financial help. There was the guilt of not having a father for my son. There was the guilt of knowing I wasn't giving 100% to either my career OR my son, and shortchanging both. I think anyone who makes the decision to be a single parent purposefully is being naive and selfish.

Naïve and selfish!!! Good grief, that feels harsh.

You see, I am a single mother by choice. I’m not crazy about that description, to tell you the truth, because none of the many single mothers I know thought having a child on their own was the preferable course. They just hadn't met a man to have a child with, and decided to go it alone rather than forgo the joys of a family altogether.

That’s my story—sort of. I did find the perfect partner, my husband, Peter Sleeper. But he died of a brain tumor at the age of 42. We both desperately wanted kids, and were waiting until he recovered before starting a family. I was 37 when Peter died, and it took me a few years to regain my equilibrium. I had moved to New York to work for BusinessWeek by then, and was more than willing to meet someone new and start again. But dating in New York is not exactly “Sex and the City” for most of the women here, and the years were slipping away. I finally decided that I did not have to forgo all my dreams—I might not be able to have a child with the man I love, but I could have a child on my own. I could still have a family.

So in Nov. 1999 I came home from China with my life’s greatest joy, my daughter Jesse. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.

When I started the adoption process I was surprised by how many people (people who didn’t know me well, admittedly) said they couldn’t understand why I wanted to give up the great life I had, and all my freedom, for a child. And these were usually people with children! As most of you must know, of course, Kristofferson was right: freedom is another word for nothing left to lose, and my life felt full of nothing. Not so anymore. The other comment I hear constantly is “how hard it must be to be a single mother.” This I don’t get. Watching someone you love go through a long and painful illness is hard. Raising a delightful child—that ain’t hard.

There are downsides to doing it on your own, of course. The debate that has raged here and elsewhere about working vs. non-working mothers means nothing to me, because I don’t have a choice. I am the sole support of my family. I don’t have any extended family to fall back on, either. so all childcare must be paid for—and it’s expensive. I often wonder what I did with all the money I now spend on childcare before I had Jesse. Traveling for my job, or staying late at work, is a major expense for me, whereas the married parents on staff can usually expect their spouse to fill in.

And it can get lonely. I don’t have anyone to turn to at the end of the day to discuss the cute things she did, or the infuriating things. Vacations and holidays are a struggle, because just the two of us feels a little too small of a family unit. Luckily I have a lot of close friends who always seem happy to have us join them. My friends have become Jesse's family, and a more loving one I can't imagine.

All and all, it’s a great gig. Jesse and I have a wonderful, close relationship; I can’t believe my good fortune. My husband and I realized we might have to adopt as a result of his illness, so I often think that this is the child we might have had together—the child I was meant to have. She can be a handful, but it’s the kind of handful that brings more pleasure than pain. I don’t have to negotiate with anyone else over how I choose to raise her (one small advantage, I suppose, to doing it on your own), and unlike divorced parents, I don’t have to deal with a lot of anger or sadness around the absent parent.

So, am I selfish? Maybe. My daughter seems incredibly happy right now, but when she’s 15 I’m sure she’ll go through periods of hating me (I’ve already gotten the ‘I wish I never left China’ zinger during an argument, thought she’d be at least 10 before I heard that). I often feel incredibly guilty that I haven’t provided her with a father. But if the alternative is that we would never have found each other, that I would still be alone and she would still be in China, well then, give me selfish any day.

I’d love to hear from other single parents about the joys and challenges of their lives. Any tips on how to make it easier would also be appreciated. And if you are single and thinking about this path, read Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott, a chronicle of her first year as a single mother. Hilarious and inspiring all at once.

03:21 PM


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Selfish? Is that even possible as a single parent? I am also a single parent, a single father as a matter of fact. My son is 2 years old and he has put purpose in every step I make. I want to do my very best for him and yes I worry about if I am doing that sometimes. I make a pretty good living but have to commute an hour away to make this living and that worries me sometimes. I have my parents pretty near by in case he gets sick and needs to be picked up and I can’t get to him too quickly. I have virtually no social life but I believe it’s primarily by choice. I am sure if I wanted to I can put myself out there more to prospect but just not on the radar currently. I am always looking for better ways to parent my son and guide him properly and I can tell you this, with out God in my life I am sure I would have a much harder time but my faith keeps me humble, hopeful, and always looking for wisdom in guiding and nurturing my son in the way he deserves. I am open minded and looking for suggestions for you more experienced single parents.

Posted by: Romeo at May 22, 2006 11:54 PM

I've just recently become a single parent. I had been married for 5 years and 3 weeks ago, we called it quitthe end of this month. It's doing it alone, but one of our fights was that I just didn't have enough help. ex & I are getting on pretty well - hopefully this won't change. We both decided fighting is not worth it, it's not like either of us want the relationship to continue, and anyway with my son around, I don't want animosity between me and Ex. We have a better relationship now than we've had in the past year.

It would have been more selfish for me to stay in an unhappy relationship. I have bad days - when he doesn't get a bath at night, or those have been few & very far apart. In the past 3 weeks, I've had supper 3 times. I guess that is selfish, when a mother decides she'd rather catch up on sleep than eat supper. I guess it's also selfish for me to not want to financially support a husband on a shoestring budget. It's very selfish for me to decide that it would be esier to have 2 people on a small budget than 3.

Posted by: Lebone at July 13, 2006 08:17 AM

There is absolutly nothing selfish about being a single mom. It is probably the hardest yet most rewarding job in the world. I realize there are a lot of people that stay together "for the kids", that in my opinion is selfish. I have created a website for all single parents that need help.

Posted by: Jen at November 17, 2006 12:10 PM

Being a single mother, 2 times now, I agree with Jen. If the relationship has failed, the "love" is gone, then the happiness has gone as well. If mommy and daddy are not happy, the children will suffer in way or another. The children will survive and thrive. But only, listen up, only, if both parents take an ACTIVE role in the upbringing and well being (both physical and emotional)of the children.

I am a career minded, intelligent woman, that has survived (2) two failed marriages. I have a child out of each marriage. My Ex's both say I was married to the job and to the children; and not to them. Well, I am part of a family business and after 20 years of making less than most of the people in the company, I am now Vice President. I have had to work very hard, go to school, and prove myself in a predominately male industry. All this while raising a family and trying to keep a marriage(s) together, with not much help from the spouse(s).

I don't believe anybody gets married, has children, and intentionally gets a divorce. It happens. I have more freedom (to spend with my kids), more education, and more money (not quite as much as I would like, but who cares) than I had when I was with them. A little more support and patience would have gone a long way. My kids are very loved, and I make sure they know it, everyday. Selfish, I dont think so. It would have been selfish to stay married to someone that did not want to be there.

Posted by: Julie M at November 28, 2006 11:39 AM

I think it is best to be a single parent and raising a child by yourself than having a person who is not going to help you with anything while you are with them. single parent is not a selfish act it is something that happens.

Posted by: jayla at November 30, 2006 07:36 PM

How much money are all you making? I am dirt poor even though I work my ass off between two jobs. I am divorced with 2 young boys (ages 3 & 4) and every minute of the day my ex is trying to ruin my life more. He cheats and leaves and I am labelled as the "bitch from hell." No I'm not bitter, I'm mad and hurt... still hurting, not because he left and screwed it all up but because as I live my life for my kids and struggle for them, he gets away with seeing them when he feels like, paying child support when he feels like all the while saying I'm an unfit parent. I can't change my career or advance myself because I don't have the time or money. When I work I'm told I'm wrong because my kids have to do go daycare but if I don't work I will be called lazy and I won't survive. I did not choose to live my life like this, struggling to the ends of the Earth. I did not choose this life of hell for my boys but of course they will suffer and I will be labelled as the unfit bitch. What am I to do? He now has me going to court, losing yet another day of my vacation days that I will of course never get to use (vacation, what the hell is a vacation??) so that he can claim I am unfit and take them away from me. I can't live without my kids and he knows this. There were so many months when he didn't even care to see them or send child support but now he wants to be a responsible parent. GIVE ME A BREAK!!! I have been there for my boys since the beginning and I will be there until I die. Good mothers like me get no breaks while bottom feeders always make it. Would I ever change having my boys.... HELL NO but I would never wish this horrible life I live on anyone. Someone with money can choose to be a single parent... That's your luxury! Be happy you can choose.

Posted by: Michele at February 12, 2007 03:41 PM

You know all these variety of single parent stories are very interesting. No matter how we bacame single parents, whether by choice or other means, majority of our goals is to be providers, comforters and just plain ole good as good can be parents. I say to all the single parents working their buttocks off "GO FOR IT" your doing great and to all the newbies to this game, you can do it too. Stop listening to what society says because society and thier people and their values are changing everyday. Always remember you kids and what life you want them to leave..Trust that you are not alone.

And if you are wondering.. I am a single mom by choice. Came out of an abusive relationship and I strugle with many choices that come up. yep choices. do i sacrifice now or do i sacrifice later, do i go to school and struggle while they are young or do I hold off and barely make it when they get older. How do I keep up with the demand of being a perfect parent that society portrays is out there. the truth be told or more like my own opinion is basically do what you can... give your kids love and communicate with them..never under estimate your children and their ability to understand.

Good Luck and god Bless

Posted by: 808 single mom at February 22, 2007 04:27 PM

I too am a single mother. It was not by choice, my husband left me. I am only 23 and I have a 2 and 3 year old. My ex left me when my youngest was only nine months old. I wouldn't change having my boys. They are my life. I do get stressed sometimes and feel like giving up. My kids are the only thing that keeps me going. My ex made enough money that I did not have to work. He didn't want me to go to college. So it was decided that he would provide and I would stay home with the kids. He left me dirt poor and looking for answers. It took me a long time to get on my feet. But I did. I'm still poor, but by Gods help I am surviving. I am now working, going to college, and trying to find a way to make my boys future better. I am still very bitter. It just doesn't seem fair that he could walk away, only pay child support when he feels like it and still be allowed to have visitation rights every other weekend. Sometimes I feel like I am an awful mother, but when I do, I think of my boys smiling faces and how they wrap their arms around me and tell me they love me. Then, I am reasured that I am doing okay.

Posted by: tonya carver at February 23, 2007 08:05 PM

I am a single mother as well. I have three children an seven year old girl an three year old son an a two year old son. It is the hardest job in the world but at the same time its the most rewarding. I left to give my children a better future. The father was into drugs and was becoming violent. What good was it for them to stay in that lifestyle. My daughter was starting to sjow out in school and at home. I had to make a choice. I had chose to leave. Not knowing all the hard roads that were ahead I left. Over two years later my daughter is a straight A student and is a very sweet girl. My boys are very well mannered. Thier father is in jail for a long time and I do not recieve any financial support from the state. It has been difficult but when my babies say Mommy I love you it makes it well worth it.

Posted by: shannon sweet at March 8, 2007 04:16 PM

I am a single mom with an 8 year old son. and with no help at all, i am complete on my own. It is very tough to deal with boys as there is no role model, like a father, an uncle, there for him to follow. I feel very stressed out and frustrated most of the time. and sometimes, I feel hopeless. there are happy moments, but they do not pay off the full day toil at work and the time after work pretending to be happy with my son.

Posted by: amy at March 23, 2007 03:59 PM

I am a single mother of a bright 5 yr old boy. I look at my decision to become a single mother not as selfish & naive but a responsible one. I strongly believe that there are consequences to your actions and you must face up to them. In my case, I had unprotected sex with a long term boyfriend and got pregnant as a result. He did not want to stick around and I was going to do the responsible thing and have that baby. In a lot of ways, it was my decision to become a single parent and I don't regret a minute of it. It has taught me to be a responsible adult and my son has taught me things that are more useful in life than my college education could. It taught me to be more patient, accepting, and not to be so judgemental of anyone in any situation. Sure, there have been very hard times in the last five years. There have been days where I have been disciplined because I had to take off work for my son being really sick and I've had to deal with isolation from friends who didn't understand that it was more important to buy diapers & formula rather than jump on a plane for Las Vegas getaway at the last minute. I've had to make do with going to food banks some months because the paychecks weren't making ends meet and I had to accept help to feed myself and my son. Most of my true friends and loved ones tell me those were the hard times but I see it different. I look at those as the good times too. They made me the mother I am today. I am working to get my Master's Degree and I am in a good career. I don't look at my decision to be single mother as selfish. What would have been selfish is me looking at my situation and thinking that there was no better life for me and drowning in my sorrows. My son tells me every day how proud he is of me and that is worth more to me than all the gold in the world. He is in good daycare and he is so happy when he comes home. He has improved on his academics at school and he loves to learn new things. I've been told by his teachers that he is very independent & bright. I am very proud of that. I work hard to teach him the same things my parents taught me growing up. I hope he looks back at my sacrifices now and learn from them.

Posted by: Tracey Aquino at March 27, 2007 01:26 PM

I don't know exaclty how i cam across this website, but I am so touched and inspired by some of what you all had to say. While I am not in you all shoes now... I will be. I am 6 months pregnant with a little boy and I will be a single parent. I'm 20 years old and I was engaged to this guy for a while. But the relationship was abusive so I had to leave, because my life was in jepordy. The thing is when I left him,I didn't know I was pregnant and didn't believe because I was told I couldn't have kids.

While my ex is aware I am pregnant we got into another fight while I was 3 months and I dedcided from there 2 lives are worth more than sacrificing for his one. I haven't seen nor heard from him since December. And yes the emotional part has been hard, but it's even harder because when I left, I left behind my job, my school,to have none of that now. And I am so inspired by stories like you all that it helps reassure my faith and hope. Day by day God keep smaking a way for me out of no way. from not having a place to stay to giving that stability and peace I needed. So thank you guys as well for strentgh and words of encouragement. And hope that each and every one of you keep on pressing to the greater and more meaningful things in life

Much Respect and God bless

Posted by: Jennifer at March 30, 2007 10:53 AM

I stayed with the father of my child during pregnancy, despite being abused, because I was told that to leave him would be selfish. I eventually left when my son was 8 months old, wish I'd left sooner and retained more self-respect and less emotional scars! My son is almost 8 years old now, and although it is lonely being a single parent, it is far better than feeling weak and trapped. Although the opportunities to go out and socialise with friends are not there, freedom lies in self-belief and courage. I work and study hard and try to seek out opportunities for us both to grow. I hear of others adventures and am envious, but know that life is a journey and this stage of my life is teaching me great lessons about love and perseverence! At the end of the day, it is worth it for the chance to show another life the beauty of the world.

Storms lift, Life's a gift.

We are free to be free.

Posted by: Lisa at April 1, 2007 01:40 PM

Twelve years ago I was overwhelmed, tired, frustrated and not quite sure I would make it. In fact, there were days I felt as if I hadn't made it.

I not only made it, I made it against all odds. And I wasn't alone. Today, my daughter is 13 yrs old. She is the most incredible kid ever to walk the face of the earth. She walked with me these many years and we faced much together.

Attitude affects perception. That's what I have learned over these many years.

Posted by: spencer betz at April 21, 2007 08:04 AM


So nice to read something from another Single Mother By Choice. I was a member of that organization for some time before I had my lovely daughter. I wouldn't change it for the world.

I remember when I was trying to conceive. A pregnant, married woman asked me if I was being selfish. I told her, "Yes, as selfish as you and your husband are being, bringing a child into this world." She was dumbfounded.

I think anyone who has children, alone or with a partner, is selfish to some extent. Having two parents isn't necessarily better. I'm a great mother, and I love not having to send my daughter the inevitable mixed messsages she would get with two parents and two parenting styles.

Was I wealthy before having her? No! Am I wealthy now? Not yet! Are we struggling? Absolutely. If my parents didn't help us out from time to time, I may have had to work full-time and put her in daycare full-time. Luckily I've been able to grow my home-based writing business, so I can stay with my daughter and still make a living (I'm working on it).

We're poor, money-wise. But my daughter is one of the happiest toddlers most people who've met her have ever seen. She brings joy to strangers, to her family, and I love her with all that I am (and more). Guess that makes us rich.

Honestly, I don't know how women can have children WITH a husband. Seems like too many personalities to deal with. But to each their own. I'm hoping to have a second in the next couple of years (before I get too old). I'm not opposed to getting married one day, if I find the right man. But I'm not waiting for "Prince Charming" before starting a family.

Posted by: Theda K. at May 2, 2007 12:51 AM

willful single motherhood is child abuse.

Posted by: David at May 8, 2007 12:41 AM

Hi im a single mom of 3.I work full time and I barely make ends meet.I have no time to relax no time for myself.Im lucky if i get to take a shower before heading off to work.

Its a day to day struggle just to keep my sanity!

WHY would anyone want to be a single parent by choice is beyond me?

Posted by: kari at May 10, 2007 08:59 PM

I think gaining understanding for this subject is really important. I personally think that one should gain as much information and knowledge as possible on this topic. The more we know the better we deal in different type of situations. Here is another related page that may be of interest to some, it’s all about being a single parent, here it is

Posted by: Michael M at May 11, 2007 08:17 AM

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