Celebrate Life Moments
3 women share the realities of being a single mom
Modern Money Matters is Refinery29 and Chase's exploration of what the modern American family really looks like—from starting a family to moving—and what it actually costs to make it all happen. In 40 percent of American households, women are the primary breadwinners; of those, 63 percent are single moms. Find out more here about how women are taking control of their financial power.
Single motherhood is a crash course in fierce independence, dedication, problem-solving, and compromise. It's also a reality for more and more women today. In 2017, more than 8 million US families were headed by single moms, compared to less than 3 million in 1970.
But what does the day-to-day really look like for these women? In short: It's different for everyone—and there's no right way to go about it. From budgeting to asking for help, every single mom finds a different method that works best for her and her kids.
To get a closer look at what single motherhood is really like, we spoke with three single moms about their unique and empowering experiences while raising kids on their own.
There's no cookie-cutter budget for being a single mom
"My shopping has adjusted: I've always shopped at thrift stores, but I now rarely buy items for full price. I shop at discount food stores, create (and stick to) shopping lists, and skip the 'unnecessary' items. I've also learned to be frank with friends when I'm invited out. If I can't afford it, I say so." —Cassandra S., Seattle-based mom of one
"I can justify almost any expense if the kids are involved—going out to eat, going to the movies—but I haven't been great at spending on just myself when money has been tight. Even though I know self-care is so important, every dollar I'm taking away from us as a family or from them carries an emotional weight that I've had to work through." —Rachel P., D.C.-based mom of two
"I treat my time as an expense. Yes, I could save more money if I clipped coupons and shopped multiple stores, finding the best price per diaper, but my time is worth more than a couple dollars in savings per week. As such, Amazon Prime and my local grocery store drive-through are my time/budget saviors. I shop online and pick up purchases or have them delivered—it helps me avoid the end-of-aisle grabs." —Kate M., Maine-based mom of two
Tough decisions are inevitable
"I might have made some decisions differently [if I'd had a partner with a second source of income or child support]. I would have kept the kids in day care longer rather than moving them to public preschool at age 3 to save money. I also probably wouldn't have sent them to the least-expensive summer camp I could find, which is provided by the city and has been really hit or miss in quality...but it was all I could afford." —Rachel P.
"My ex and I were both very social—I was active in my local chamber, volunteering for causes and attending events regularly. Post-separation, I still want to do those things, but without a partner, I don't have the flexibility to do it all. I've had to adjust my commitments to align with my son's schedule." —Cassandra S.
Being social doesn't have to go out the window
"If we can't do something one night, we still want to be invited the next time, because it's the thing that gets us through six months of not being able to. If you're friends with a single mom, you are a chosen one—we're fierce friends because we don't have the time to waste on anyone who isn't amazing. And we need you to help us keep doing what we're doing." —Kate M.
Asking for help (or not "doing it all") isn't a sign of weakness
"Our social family is what gets us through. It's who we turn to for an ear, for advice, for an escape. We're so conditioned to take everything on ourselves, but when people offer help, take them up on it. You'll be surprised who steps up and how much people are willing to help." —Kate M.
"Having a network of other mothers, in particular other single mothers—they just get it in a way that other people don't. With other single moms, it's like, 'You need me to watch your kids tonight? Yes, of course.' We're master jugglers. Throw one more kid on the pile." —Rachel P.
"I absolutely appreciate when people say things like, 'It's so amazing how you get the kids out and do all of these things on the weekends.' But to me that's not remarkable. What else am I supposed to do? This is the reality. The flip side to that? I get tired of doing all of the things. Even giving myself that kind of space to say, 'I am not going to do this thing. I am not going to fold these clothes today, 'cause I don't want to.' That's not an easy thing for me to do." —Rachel P.
Being a single mom is an incredibly empowering experience
"No matter what else I accomplish in my life, the most important thing I will have done will be raising two boys that see every single day what women do on their own. My kids don't know what a single mom is. They don't know the difference between me and their friend's mom who has a husband who is there every day. And what [my sons] will offer their future partners, regardless of gender, is going to be more than shoveling the driveway or taking out the trash. That is empowering." —Kate M.
"I surprise myself with what I'm capable of. Fixing things, moving large furniture, or taking on big projects are opportunities to tackle something new and learn. It's incredibly empowering to gain confidence in my capabilities." —Cassandra S.
"The choices I have to make as a single mom are bold and scary and empowering. [Before becoming a single mom,] I probably never would have gotten my degrees [or] applied for a job that was over 100 miles away from where we were living. I wouldn't have applied for a promotion last year. I wouldn't have stretched for more. But my family needs more, so I stretch more." —Kate M.
These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Illustration: Assa Ariyoshi | Lucy Meilus is a writer at Refinery29.