Whenever I hear someone say, “How does she do it?” a single mom comes to mind. Parenting is challenging enough with a partner, but raising a child alone has to be darn right tough. And when your child is ill, how do you do it? Really! I was an absolute basket case from rocking my son all night long, and I had a husband there to help. My hat goes off to you. It's amazing what mothers are capable of doing. It's that four-letter word called l-o-v-e that keeps us going.
Yesterday the Today show asked me to talk about the single motherhood. To prepare for the show I reviewed the results of a fascinating survey by Babytalk magazine and interviewed a number of single moms. According to the US Census Bureau, 36 percent of all births are to single moms and there are so many definitions as to what a “single mother” is these days: from the “traditional single mother” with an unplanned pregnancy (like Loralie Gilmore); to divorced moms (Denise Richards and Reese Witherspoon); older moms who adopt alone or use a sperm bank (Meg Ryan, Diane Keaton, Sheryl Crow); unmarried with children but parenting together as a couple (Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell; Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt); and same-sex parents (Rosie O'Donnell and Kelli Carpenter).
Regardless of your situation, the bottom line is all about the kids. Right? Here are a few recommendations I gave on the Today show along with some fabulous advice shared by a few iVillage moms:
1. Get a support system. Someone. Anyone. But get a support system. Raising children is tough, but doing so as a single mom has to be an emotional roller coaster. You need to take care of yourself so you can take care of your child. Best advice came from Kimberly, an iVillage mom, on how that support helped get her through tough times:
“All of my family have supported me in some way. Word of encouragement & support, babysitting when I needed it, a ride when I didn't have a car. I wouldn't be able to do this without a great support system they provide.”
2. Find positive male role models. The truth is dads do matter in our kids' lives. New research clearly shows that fathers do impact our kids' emotional, moral and even language development when they are strong, caring and nurturing men. (There's always a footnote to that research, isn't there?) As our kids get older, men play a key role in the level of our daughter's femininity and son's masculinity. Though the Babytalk survey found the vast majority of moms do have dads involved in their children's lives, this isn't always the case. And unfortunately the biological dad is not always caring and nurturing. If that is so, I'd urge you to look for a “substitute male figure.” Though no one can take a real dad's place, some men can come pretty darn close. The trick is to make sure the male is a consistent figure in your child's life. Good old Uncle Harry can't fill the role if he only shows up to deliver those birthday presents once a year. Is there a grandfather, uncle, cousin, or coach you can count on? What about Big Brothers? This isn't easy, but do know that positive male models are important.
3. Don't treat your child as your partner. Studies show that children of single parents are likely to share the household responsibilities. Single moms also discuss things with their kids (like financial problems and big family decisions) that are usually only discussed between parenting partners. Here's some great advice of single iVillage mom, Mary Beth:
“I would say that the most difficult thing about being a single parent is shouldering all of the household responsibilities alone. It gets frustrating when you can't get everything done that you were shooting for, but you learn to cut yourself a little slack here and there.”
(Reread her point: “Cut yourself a little slack!” Right on, Mary Beth!)
Remember: A less-stressed mom is far more important to a kid than a well-mopped floor. We should put that on the back of a cereal box to help us keep the perspective.
4. Be confident as a woman. A famous study was conducted at the University of California at Davis. Researchers wanted to find out why some children had such high self-esteem, and so they looked at scores of variables. They discovered it had nothing to do with a mother's income, geographic location, education, religious background, and even if you worked outside the house or stayed home. What did matter was the mother's level of confidence in herself. Your confidence trickles down to your child. You do make a difference, Mom. In fact who you are is far more important than all the things you do. Be confident that you are doing the best you can at this moment for your child. Married. Unmarried. Same-sex partner. Divorced. The family configuration makes no difference. How you feel about yourself and your relationship with your child does.
5. Stop those Mommy Wars! The single most promising finding in the Babytalk survey was that there appears to be a ceasefire in these obscene Mommy Wars. Married moms and unmarried moms are beginning to show solidarity and halting those darn judgmental calls on who they think is doing the so-called better job of parenting. Yippee! I think women sometimes can be our own worst enemies. This is all about raising kids and we better start supporting one another.
6. Do the best you can do. That's all you can do. Our goal is to raise healthy, happy kids. Every home is different. Every situation is unique. We moms do the best we can do for our children. No one said this more brilliantly than a post from Moni. It's worth reading and rereading as she pays tribute to her mother who raised her as a single mother:
“I never thought of us as being from a broken home or different from others because my parents never lead us to believe that. They never talked about how a 'traditional' family was not like our own. All this made me come to the conclusion that you as the parent set down what is 'normal' for your children. If you make your situation a happy one then your child will be happy. You are the teacher. I love my mother and always look back on my childhood with joy, it was a wonderful time in my life and helped make me into the person I am now. A person I very much like. Thanks Mom. And the same goes for every other mother who is going it alone, you are wonderful.”
Dr. Michele Borba is the author of Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me: The Top 25 Friendship Problems and How to Solve Them.