There’s an image of a single mom who is frazzled, completely forgets one child’s big school recital, misses the other kid’s birthday due to a meeting with a demanding boss, hasn’t dated since last century, eats a cup of Ramen noodles for most meals and so on that is a popular trope. The picture we see too often in movies (at least the ones where the mom somehow survives) that serves as comedic effect. Even worse, this historical stereotype goes far deeper into racist, classist, misogynistic versions.
As single moms, we have to battle those stereotypes daily, and we may feel like we have to wear a second layer of armor as soon as we head into a job interview or performance review, or share our parenting situation for the first time with coworkers.
It’s not our job to change other people’s minds about single motherhood. We do, however, have opportunity after opportunity to reframe how the experience of raising children, perhaps completely on our own or possibly while co-parenting with one or more people, makes us stronger, smarter, and more streamlined in our professions.
As a divorce coach for moms, a community leader of single moms and a single parent for a dozen years, I see our superpowers at work daily. Here are a few forces for good you very likely bring to your career.
No matter how much that flustered single mom cliche is true for you (no judgment here, friend), take a well-deserved pause. Let the thousand papers spilling out of your work bag just float to a pile in the ground. Do not respond to the incessant dinging and ringing of your phone. Stop meal planning for one sec. Look at all the things you are handling. Even the stuff that slips through or you ignore are things that you carry and choose to complete or kick out. You make all the things happen. Own the skill of remembering, managing, following up, and moving around all of the professional and personal business you take charge of on a daily basis.
How many times have you found yourself alone with kids in a crisis – flat tire, flooded basement, dead cat, emergency room at 4 am – and you had to do the quickest thinking of your life to lead everyone forward as calmly and quickly as possible? You, the MacGuyver of home repairs, health care and stress soothing, will bring all of that to your job when the client deck disappears into the internet ether, you have to step up to the podium when the keynote falls sick or...well, anything pandemic related. Trust that you have far more experience quickly surveying the room, strategizing, and leaping into action than many others on your team.
If you’ve been through a divorce, you’re familiar with providing a full financial affidavit and then facing the realities of a money forecast for your future. You may also be adept at chasing child support in court, dividing assets and keeping detailed spreadsheets of child expenses. If you’ve been a solo parent, you may be incredibly resourceful, independent and informed about how to make every dollar count and know where every cent goes. Regardless of your socioeconomic status or income, relying (fully or primarily) on yourself for the bottom line requires skills.
Most single moms I know are the primary contact for their children’s teachers, pediatricians, therapists and babysitters. They also negotiate ex-partner or other-parent relationships that range from amicable to contentious to no-contact. They may still be cultivating goodwill with in-laws and grandparents. They might be attempting to date in the middle of all of this. Oh yeah, and the kids! They are also raising human beings. Sound like you? Then put on your cape, single mom. You can surely take on clients, direct reports and sales prospects as a stellar relationship developer.
If we are tending to all of those relationships, we are also likely overseeing much of the carpooling, registration, snack scheduling and payment of the activities and appointments. If you’ve ever zipped off 17 work emails while in a 42-minute queue to sign your kid up for soccer, or somehow scored a sold-out toy for a Hanukkah gift, or had flu shots already arranged for the next two years, then we recognize you a fully super-uniformed chief executive of operations.
If you have shown up even once to a Zoom meeting with a semi-clean shirt, with somewhat organized notes, recently rebooted WiFi and a coffee-fueled smile on your face, while children stream remote learning, the dog chases the Roomba, the cat claws away at the couch, the neighbor bangs on her ceiling because you’re all too loud and your ex is texting to request another copy of the visitation cycle, then please step up and claim you Chaos Calmer professional and personal designation.
Most of us have been through some stuff. And with support, self-reflection and thousands of miles of small steps, made it here as wiser, braver, better women. If we acknowledge all of the trials, traumas and tiny trips, and open ourselves to opportunities to cultivate and change, then we certainly can bring our accountability, growth mindset, tenaciousness and endurance to our day jobs. Resiliency during a COVID-era layoffs, restructuring and new office routines has an even higher value than Before Times.
Single moms have so many skills
Your single mom skills are probably being worked and tested like never before, but they are also needed more than ever. As you head into the interview hot seat, raise your hand for a promotion or rewrite your resume, flex what you know and practice daily and stand strong in who you really are as a single mother.
Jessica Ashley is a writer, content strategist, and coach whose life’s work (paid, unpaid, and in endless school board meetings) is focused on empowering women through tough transitions with creativity, grace and maybe some cussing.
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