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The Truth About Being a Single Mom

Whether you’re divorced and co-parenting with an ex, never married, or chose to be a single mom, one thing’s for sure: Once you’ve crossed over to single mom status, life will never be the same again.
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Updated May 8, 2017
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Image: Lea Csontos

As a five-year veteran of the single mom gig, I’ve been on a constant emotional rollercoaster — feeling like queen of the universe for potty-training my son in a month, panicking at 3 a.m., as I nurse his 104-degree fever, and even doing a happy dance after dropping him off at day care. I’m free, I think … even though I’m headed straight to work. Then there’s the sinking guilt of raising my son without his father and the exhaustion of having to do it all. Being a single mom is pretty much as tough as it’s cracked up to be, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love it.

You’ve got to work at having a social life
Office happy hours, a girlfriend’s jewelry party and an impromptu date all take a backseat to your child (and so do dental appointments and pedicures). As the only parent, you’re needed at home physically and emotionally. But be warned: It’s important not to become a recluse, or to feel sorry for yourself. Just get used to planning ahead to get out (and you _absolutely _should get out)! Having “girls’ night out” scheduled in your iCal, or letting your friend fix you up on a blind date will give you something exciting and “adult” to look forward to, and keep you thinking positively.

You’ll work your butt off — but still feel like you’re treading water job-wise
With school drop-off and peak traffic, I’m admittedly a little late to work some days, and I dart out at five on the dot. Obviously, I have no other choice, since there’s no other parent to take turns with. But why feel guilty? I’ve learned to scarf a salad and work through lunch, and even accepted that I’ll have to get work done after my little guy goes to bed, too. Just don’t wear yourself too thin: You need to call it a night every now and then, crawl into bed and watch reality TV — with or without ice cream.

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Dating is a juggling act, but it’s doable (so do it!)
It took me a good four years to start dating again, and I don’t take it lightly when it comes to a guy meeting my son. That’s still pretty much off-limits. This means I’m currently living in two worlds. One night, I’m getting wined and dined, like any other single lady. The next, I’m back at home with the love of my life, simultaneously searching for a Lego man’s microscopic hand, cooking dinner and singing the ABC’s — and okay, shooting my date a text. I actually like compartmentalizing my lives as a mom and as a dating woman. It’s nice to occasionally get away, have a drink and recharge my batteries. I always feel refreshed after a night on the town and super-excited to resume my mommy duties.

Talking about the absent parent hurts every time
Raising a baby and toddler alone is a lot different than parenting an inquisitive five-year-old whose friends have moms and dads who either live together, or are both involved. When my son asks about his father, I answer truthfully, quickly and then change the subject (advice I gained from a child psychologist). I never say anything negative and know this conversation will evolve as my son grows older and more curious. So plan ahead of time how you’ll answer. And rest assured that it’s normal for you to feel sad, anxious, guilty or even enraged after having this tricky conversation. Just try to keep your cool around your kid.

You definitely need help
It’s a single mom’s instinct to feel like she needs to do it all, but that’s not realistic or rational. Despite what your seemingly perfect mom friends say or do, no one is super mom. Ask for help and accept help — especially if you’re a solo single mom, like me, with no other parent to pitch in. I know that “being on” 24/7 leads to burnout, so I say yes when family members and friends offer to babysit (and repay them with a coffee gift card or by returning the favor for their kids). In the beginning, it will be hard to loosen the reins of control, but eventually, it will feel comforting to know that help is a phone call away.

You’ll become a penny pincher
I don’t care how much money you make, you’re going to automatically reel in the spending and rethink your purchases. In addition to basic financial obligations that come with bringing up a tiny human, you’ll tack on life insurance, healthcare and a college savings plan (gulp). Child support usually helps with basic costs, plus medical and work-related childcare, but extra expenses always come up: Little League registration, your child’s birthday party, tickets to a play. And even though you’ll feel empowered that you’re supporting two people on your own, you’ll be paranoid about what would happen if you lost your job. Truth is, I feel like an awesome mom knowing my kid has a college fund, and that it’s partially because I’m rocking a bag from two (or three?) seasons ago. Got to love a semi-vintage bag!

Christine Coppa is the author of *Rattled! (Broadway Books, 2009), a memoir about starting her journey as a single mom. She’s a market editor-at-large, and has been a contributor to several parenting publications. Her son is five years old.*

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