Chapter Leader of Single Mothers by Choice Group, Single Mother by Choice
Psychotherapist, Founder of Single Mothers by Choice
Executive Director of You Gotta Believe, Foster Parent
For many of us, the desire to love and raise a child is of highest importance and not dependent upon finding a partner. While becoming a single mother may seem like uncharted territory, the opposite is true: over 40% of babies born today in countries like the US are born to single parents.
In later lessons, we’ll delve into how solo mothers (and children of solo mothers) perceive the experience, but as you can see, the data suggests women who chose to become solo mothers largely consider their challenges as being on-par with mothers in two-parent homes.
However, the same study did reveal that single mothers by choice did tend to disagree on how difficult it was to raise their child depending upon whether they built their family through fertility treatment or adoption.
Being reliant upon a single income appears to put additional pressure on many single mothers, but multiple studies on the subject conclude 70–80% of single mothers are financially independent.
In short, for many, becoming a solo mother is both possible and rewarding.
The process to becoming a mother can take on many forms, but here we’ll focus on those that work through medical (e.g. fertility treatment) or legal (foster, adoption) institutions.
The timelines and resources necessary to bring a child home largely rest on a few factors:
If a woman wants to have a biologically-related child, costs and timeline will depend on her age and fertility.
If a woman wants to parent a child who already needs a home, her costs and timeline will rest upon her preferences to foster a child or legally adopt.
For women who want a child who’s biologically related to them, they can elect to do intrauterine insemination (known as IUI) or in vitro fertilization (known as IVF) with donated sperm.
Typically, IUI is cheaper than IVF, works a third as often, and rates of success for both diminish with age. We’ll focus more on success rates, costs, risks, and more in a later lesson.
A child born through fertility treatment can be taken home for a few thousand dollars (with IUI) or costs can climb into the six digits if multiple IVF cycles (each approximately $20,000) are required.
Conceiving can take as little as a few months or as long as a few years, and of course, thereafter, the mother will carry for ~9 months before delivering.
If a woman wants to adopt an infant, she’ll need to be introduced to and be selected by an expectant parent. This process often involves an intermediary (agency, lawyer) and costs are often $30,000 or more. The process can carry on a year or longer.
However, if a woman’s prepared to help raise an older child, she can often foster or adopt for hardly any cost and have that child in her home in a matter of months, if not sooner.
According to a study by researchers at Wellesley College, in the first few months, a solo mother will come to rely heavily upon her mother and friends for help. It’s worth noting that only around 10% of single mothers surveyed paid for nannies or at-home child care.
According to a survey of 29 single mothers and 50 similar mothers in two parent households, there was no statistical difference between the psychological states for either group once their children reached their first birthday. For the moment, it seems there’s little data to support that solo mothers are more distressed during this period.
Investigators did note that solo mothers tended to have less interaction with their infant than mothers in two parent households and, maybe relatedly, to perceive their infant as being less fussy or difficult.
The conventional wisdom is that single mothers carry a much larger burden than mothers in two parent homes. However, single mothers generally report feeling like they encounter the same number of difficulties. As you can see from the data below, and which we showed earlier, this is true for women who had their child through fertility treatment or adoption.
Many solo mothers will tell you they’re thrilled to make big and small parenting decisions without needing to confer with a partner, and these feelings of independence may counterbalance any perceived strains of being a single parent.
Similarly, children of solo mothers tend to have similar levels of emotional well-being as children raised in two parent homes. We cover this more in-depth in our lesson on offspring.
Many solo mothers say that building a support network is critical. Since most solo mothers work, this often means finding someone who can regularly look after the child during the weekday, take the child to doctor appointments when they fall ill, or take care of the child (and you) when you get sick.
Plenty of solo mothers will tell you they didn’t need to have boundless resources for a nanny, or family close by, to pull together a network that was both loving and reliable. This network can consist of friends, other single mothers (more on that in a second), a deep roster of babysitters and more.
While many first time mothers tend to be in their late 20s or mid 30s, many solo mothers will begin to build their families in their late 30’s and into their 40s.
A byproduct of this is that many solo mothers will be in search of a new peer group (and most find it). It can feel like existing friends file into two camps: those with older kids (and seem too busy ferrying them to activities) or those who’ve decided not to have kids (and may be unable to relate to your new priorities).
For that reason, many single mothers find it helpful to join local chapters of Single Mothers By Choice, to share stories, build friendships and make playdates with those at a similar stage. SMC chapters exist globally, and are often big, vibrant, diverse and the origin for close friendships that span decades.
Many women considering becoming a solo mother wrestle with the notion of letting go of a vision to get married or raise children with a partner. Once a woman becomes a single mother, the data is hard to interpret whether dating remains a priority, as you can see from Jadva’s and Murray’s studies below.
Costs vary globally, but in one country (the US), the cost of raising a “middle-class child” appears to be roughly $230,000 for the first 18 years of life (and more if the parent covers college).
Having a dependent child, and no second income, means many single mothers worry about losing their jobs and running out of money. According to one study in the Journal of Family Psychiatry, investigators noted single mothers by choice do tend to see more financial hardship, and this can have a negative correlation with the mother’s and child’s psychological well being.
For this reason, many single mothers see the benefit of working in stable professions (e.g. education, accounting) or for stable institutions (e.g. established companies, governmental entities). Organizations that tout “work / life balance” often also have generous benefits for maternity, sick leave and on-site childcare.
At the same time, many single moms prize roles that allow them to pick their hours (e.g. to pick up their child if pre-school ends at noon), work remotely (e.g. if your nanny calls in sick, you may need to be at home) and involve fewer last second deadlines or extraneous travel.
According to one study of over 200 single mothers by choice, 97% of women said it was “very or somewhat important” to have a male role model in their child’s life. The vast majority of respondents said this was already in place and not an ongoing worry.