Table of Contents
From The Editor
For many of us, winter has been a bear. Snowed in, iced out, polar vortexed too many times to count. Spring, though, is just around the corner. No matter where you live, here’s hoping you found your own little corner of sunshine this winter. If not, we have some to share in this issue. If you have an article idea you would like to share or write, please send me an email at email@example.com.
What the Statistics Won’t Tell You about Single Mothers
By Leah Campbell
Editor’s note – In January, Campbell’s post on babble.com about single mothers by choice struck a chord with many SMC members. Following is her article, posted with permission, from babble.com.
Yet again, single mothers are in the news. The most recent Shriver Report has a list of statistics that make the plight of single motherhood seem quite daunting—numbers that say they are more likely to live with regret and at the height of poverty, struggling so much more than those with partners by their sides.
These statistics aren’t unique—they come to light every time somebody decides to do another study on the struggles single mothers face. The research would tell you that the challenges endured by single mothers are extreme and that their ability to succeed in that role is limited.
But the research doesn’t always tell you the full story.
I am a Single Mother by Choice, part of a growing demographic of women who choose single motherhood as their path to parenting. Most of us are in our 30s, well educated, successful—far outside the statistics. And for many of us, there is no regret in how we have become mothers. Our children are our lives, the best things that have ever happened to us.
There is something to be said for that choice—for the mothers who strive towards single motherhood, rather than recoiling from it. Too often, the statistics seem to more accurately represent Single Mothers by Chance—those who became unexpectedly pregnant or those who entered parenthood with partners by their side, only to be left alone without much of a say at some point down the line. The numbers speak more to poverty and a lack of options than they do to single motherhood as a whole.
Too often, the statistics seem to more accurately represent Single Mothers by Chance
It’s a flaw in the research that fails to differentiate between the two groups and possibilities. But there are plenty of voices telling a different story than the ones the numbers are portraying.
Take Tarsha Downing (blog: www.tarshastreasurechest.blogspot.com), for instance, a 32-year-old law office manager living in Maine. She chose to adopt her daughter, Imani, from Uganda as a single woman, purely because she knew she was ready to be a parent. She says she doesn’t even think about the fact that she is a single mom anymore. “It’s our only way,” she explained. “I would do it all over again for my girl.” She says the stats on single motherhood aren’t representative of her, and that “we are not doomed to become something because the ones before us did.”
Then there is Rebecca (last name withheld for privacy). She is a 42-year old senior vice president in banking who is a Single Mother by Choice to daughter Ella, 21 months old. While she had believed she found the love of her life years before, it never quite worked out, and in her late 30s she decided that she would rather pursue motherhood on her own than never at all. Ella was born 15 weeks premature, from complications due to preeclampsia. Because of that, she has developmental delays and requires more care than Rebecca had initially planned for, including a private nanny who is capable of dealing with Ella’s medical issues. For Rebecca, addressing those concerns is the biggest challenge of motherhood, but she is quick to point out that the same would be true even if she had a partner. She told me she sometimes catches herself saying, “When I was single…” in reference to her previous life, because, in her mind, she isn’t single anymore. She’s part of a family of two.
Lindsay Curtis, a 33-year-old communications specialist and mommy to daughter Evelyn, 11 months old, said that for as long as she could remember she wanted to be a mother. The long-term relationships just weren’t working out, and she decided to take the plunge on her own. She worries about being the only financial provider, but lives comfortably enough and is quick to recognize the benefits of single motherhood. “I discovered strength, patience and love I didn’t know I was capable of or had,” she told me. And, she enjoys the fact that she gets to call all the shots. No fighting or compromising on parenting styles, names or anything else. She gets to parent exactly as she wants to. In her mind, that’s a benefit to the choice she has made.
When a Question Is Just a Question
Editor’s note: We love member submissions! Following is a fun and educational one from Debra Cope.
Both my daughters know the facts of life and their own stories. Cassie, now 14, has been able to explain her anonymous donor/mom-and-kid heritage to her friends since she was tiny. Zuzu, who came home from China four years ago when she was nearly 4, knows the vocabulary of adoption. But somehow I wasn’t ready for this dialogue with 8 year old Zuzu:
Zuzu: Mom, what is sperm?
Debra: (distracted) Hmm?
Zuzu: Sperm! Sperm!
Debra: (Jolted into focus) Ah. OK, what’s your question?
Zuzu: What is sperm?
Debra: (slack jawed for a moment, does not answer)
Zuzu: You know, S-B- …
Debra; Oh, you mean how do you spell it?
Zuzu: (“Duh” tone) YES!
Debra: Oh! S-P-E-R-M. (Furrows brow. Whaaat? When did she learn this word?)
Zuzu: Ok!! Now, W-H-A-L-E. (She knows how to spell that one. Proudly shows me a neatly labeled picture.). Look Mommy, a sperm whale!
SMC note to self: sometimes a question is just a question. Listen, then answer!
— Debra Cope lives in Alexandria, Virginia, and has two smart and amazing daughters.
Ask Ms. Essie
Editor’s Note: If you’re a long-time reader of the SMC newsletter, you might remember the “Ask Ms. Essie” column. It’s back by popular demand! In this issue, let’s talk about local SMC meetings
Do you attend local SMC meetings?
I used to attend the meetings regularly and looked forward to them both for me and as a play date for my son. But with a 9 year old, it’s a tough time. He’s too young to stay home alone, but older than most other kids who still attend so it’s not very fun for him anymore. Plus we are typically busy with other weekend activities like soccer, so the scheduling gets tougher. I do try a little harder to attend when I see moms with older(ish) kids will be there, because I like to maintain the connection and for him to continue to interact with other SMC families.
Our group is pretty active and we also have a fair amount of adults only activities, like regular dinners out, and I try to get to those when possible too, to give some perspective on what SMC’hood is like 10 years down the road. Our CP also tries to come up with a list of weekend activities in the summer, usually a hike one day and a visit to a local museum or attraction the other day. That way, people can coordinate their schedules a bit more easily, and it’s fun to have a small group to do these things together.
Sadly I’ve been to only one meeting in my entire five years of trying and being a mom. Not because I don’t want to go, but because there aren’t any to attend. The local group has mostly older kids.
I became a CP thinking I would try to get more of a local group going, but didn’t get much interest when I posted a general inquiry about a meeting. I’ve thought about going to one somewhat nearby, but haven’t got up the energy to plan that kind of travel.
I would definitely go if there were local meetings. I want that connection with other SMCs and for my boys to have that connection with other SMC kids – and I need to make more personal, in-person connections.
I used to go more meetings when I was thinking/trying, but not so much now. Just a combination of busy-ness, bad timing (like during his naptime) or geared toward kids younger or a little bit older. I’m sure there’ll be events that hit the sweet spot for me, though.
It seems like other chapters have multi-age meetings? In DC, there are a few group events every year, but mostly we break off into thinker/tryers and moms of young kids.
When my kids were younger we attended most gatherings, but as they’ve gotten older we very often have schedule conflicts. When we can go, I also think about what’s in it for my kids. At this point my main motivation in attending is for my kids to know other families like ours, and most gatherings don’t have school age kids so I generally only go for something they are going to think is a fun event in and of itself, well that and our holiday gathering, which usually draws good attendance.The farther out you get, the less support you generally need with regards to being an SMC, so people start dropping off
Personally, I think this is always going to be an issue. The farther out you get, the less support you generally need with regards to being an SMC, so people start dropping off, and then even those who would be inclined to go so their children know other SMCs families end up dropping off because there are no similar age children.
We did a survey a year or two ago and we found what I think is probably pretty representative of what you’d find in a lot of communities. Thinkers, tryers, pregnant women, and those with infants and toddlers want more frequent, low key gatherings, like brunch or meeting at someone’s house and talking while the little ones play. People with older children are motivated mostly to expose their children to other similar families and to a lesser extent to go to adults’ dinners to be a support to those earlier in the process. To merge the two, you really have to overlap those interests. If you can pull that off, you probably have a better shot on having an active group with a wide age span.
I think that whether the local meetings take off or not really depend on several factors: the personalities of those involved, whether the attendees feel comfortable with or can relate to the other women and what stage they are in, how busy they are or how hard it is to attend. And here, even the weather is a big factor; it’s raining 9 months out of the year, and people get bored meeting in people’s homes and there aren’t really many public indoor places good for kids of different ages here, and then the 3 months of sunshine are when everyone has other outdoor plans of their own and don’t want to commit to anything else.
In Atlanta, we have a monthly get together at someone’s house, usually, and do a potluck. Sometimes in the summer we’ll do a picnic in the park or meet at the zoo instead. The hostess cooks the main course and everybody else brings drinks, sides, desserts, etc., it actually is a lot of fun. Most everyone who has kids brings them and the older kids usually have coloring books or video games to play and entertain themselves, while the younger ones crawl around on the floors and are fussed over by everyone. I miss them in a way, but I found that as my TTC journey got longer and longer, going to the meetings was making me more depressed than not, and I decided I didn’t want to be a damper on everyone else and stopped going. I’m really hoping I have something to celebrate soon (for many reasons, of course), but also so I can start going to the meetings again without my mood getting everyone down.
I love our meetings, but with two toddlers it is hard to go all the time. I went regularly for the year I was trying and just as it was starting to get hard to go and tell everyone that I still was not pregnant, I got pregnant. And I went to the meetings while pregnant too. And I would still like to go, but sometimes it is hard timing-wise and logistically with two. Although, I will say that it is the most helpful group in which to take two toddlers, because there are always people willing to help corral them, which is SO nice!
As hard as it was to go to the main meetings when I was TTC, I did get great advice from all the women who had gone through it
About the time I got pregnant, another group of just thinkers and tryers started meeting. They were welcome to attend the regular meetings too, but I think it was a good thing to start since it is a little calmer and easier to talk without all the kids. However, as hard as it was to go to the main meetings when I was TTC, I did get great advice from all the women who had gone through it, so I do like to see the ttc women at the meetings too.
And I feel like I have made some real friends from the group, which is invaluable to me as I don’t really get the chance to meet other moms with toddlers or any single moms of older kids either. I do think that as the kids get older and make their own friends, my need for the group support may decrease. At this age, we are a more obvious “alternative lifestyle” type of family, but by the time they are in school, the fact that they do not have a dad may not be that big of a deal.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a local group here for me to attend meetings. I would love to be able to though, especially during times when I am struggling through this process and losing hope.
I attended meetings regularly when I was in the adoption process, and when my daughter was younger. I have not attended anything for a few years though, although I am still on the local listserv. As my daughter has gotten older, we have a busier schedule with activities and social events for both of us. Also, the last couple of events I attended were dominated by women in the ttc process. Because I never ttc’d, the conversations and acronyms were meaningless to me. I can understand how that process can lead one to have a singular focus, I actually had a couple of women be rude and dismissive of me because I adopted, and couldn’t add to their ttc conversation. Another women on the local listserv suggested that women who adopt should have their own group, and not be part of SMC. I assured her that once she became a mom, she would be more focused on the M in SMC, and realize all kids need to be potty-trained, start preschool, balance homework and activities, etc., regardless of how they joined their families. When I joined the local chapter eight or nine years ago, the group had a larger representation of families formed through adoption than it does now.
I have made some good friends through my earlier days in the local chapter though, and we continue to spend time together. Also, my daughter knows lots of kids with single moms and/or who are adopted. So, we don’t really need the local chapter for that.
As an infertile, I lurked for years on our local forum. I always thought when I have some good news, when my story isn’t so sad anymore, when I have spare energy to be involved I can finally meet these women. I’ve been ttc-ing for five years. Four years into lurking, I stopped receiving the emails. I think I got taken out of the list for not being active all those years. Rational or not, as an infertile, I always felt like a living child was my passport into joining the get-togethers.
I attended two NYC meetings a year apart. It did not feel comfortable for me in my ttc, IF status.
The very first one was ok, I was a thinker, but it was disorganized and there was a finance speaker, I was thinking “oh, great I’ll learn how to budget for a baby.” Nope, two reps basically tried to sell us on using their fee-based finance management to oversee our money and investments. I was so turned off by that sales pitch it took a while to go back.
I went back and since I was not pregnant or had kids I was lumped with the thinkers and tryers. Well, most of them are really new, nothing wrong with that …great who became pregnant after a long road and not talking TTC 101 to others. I have had too much hardship. However we never got to mingle.
I do think when I have an infant/toddler, a NYC SMC-based group or email will be of great support. For now, I have turned to women I met on the forum (local or not), into real life real world friends who are daily support. If there is a NYC bunch that hasn’t had an easy go and wants to get-together, I’m friendly and happy to meet; I just can’t handle an SMC group meeting again.
A note from Jane:
It’s great hearing about everyone’s experience with local meetings. I wanted to take this opportunity to mention that a common problem at meetings is that the moms feel they have to answer all the questions of the thinkers and tryers who, understandably, have a lot of questions. I highly recommend that the group leader 1) doesn’t allow the meetings to be dominated by those questions and 2) makes sure that the moms have some “protected” time of their own, where they can talk without having to respond to questions from ttc’ers or thinkers.
Giving everyone their fair share of the time can be a challenge at any meeting, and it needs to be addressed at our meetings. Otherwise, the moms or the ttc’ers and thinkers tend to drift off and stop attending the local meetings, and it is a loss for everyone.
Anatomy of a Race
By Cheri Tabel
When I was 20 weeks pregnant, I had a level III ultrasound due to my age. I don’t remember being particularly worried about anything at the time, just so excited to find out whether I was having a boy or a girl. My parents were with me and the room was awkwardly silent as we all waited for the doctor to reveal my future.
“There’s the scrotum,” he said. I remember immediately thinking “what am I going to do with a scrotum?”
And then the words sunk in – scrotum, male parts, boy! I was shocked and amused. I just assumed as a single mother and one who is so very close to her mother, that I would have a girl. God, though, had other plans. God knew what he was doing, right?
On the drive home, my brain worked to move out girl images … the curly hair girl with a toothless grin, to make way for all things blue and unknown. How am I going to teach him how to pee?
The unknown’ness has been the blessing and the curse of having a boy.
Putting My Skills to the Test
It wasn’t until my son was seven, though, that I doubted myself as a parent to a boy. And it wasn’t anything related to bodily functions that pushed me to this point. Nope. Self-doubt didn’t rear its ugly head until he was in first grade and participating in his first Pinewood Derby race.
For those that don’t know, the Pinewood Derby race is an annual event for Cub Scouts. The intention is that the scout, with help from parents, builds a car from a kit that includes a block of wood, wheels and metal axles. The race can be super competitive with scouts (ahem, read, parents) trying to build the fastest, most decorative, coolest car.
In his first year of scouting, they were strict limits regarding what the scout could do with the car. The point was for them to learn the basics and have fun at the event. My son put his car together with his uncle’s help. I didn’t really think much of it.
Until we went to check-in his car (check-in happens the night before the race, so they can check the car, make sure it meets regulations, like weight, height, etc.). My heart sunk when I saw the cars – looking almost professionally done.
My son’s car? Looked like a seven year old painted it, because he did. The others? Looked right out of a catalogue. I felt sick.
The next morning I didn’t want to go back. I’m not sure why I was judging myself against a block of wood on wheels, but I did. My son’s favorite part of the race was eating donuts and hanging out with his buddies. His car didn’t finish in the top ten, but he didn’t seem to mind. And I was just relived when it was all over.
The next year went better, but not without drama. The situation forced me to seek out help from those with fancy saws and equipment. My son decided he wanted a car that looked like a wave – so we cut it into the shape, painted it blue, his favorite color and put some Squirtle (underwater Pokemon charcter) stickers on it. The drama? The night before check-in, I started to hammer in the wheels and the last two would not go in ― the axles were bending as I hammered them in and the wood on the car started to split.
I felt sick. And worried. If I can’t get them on, he can’t race. I was near tears. My son hugged me and said, “it’s ok, mom, if I can’t race. There’s always next year.”
I posted something about it on Facebook and one of my co-workers texted me and said, “Bring the car to work tomorrow.” And there we were – on the floor in the office – getting the wheels in with just hours to spare. I don’t remember where the car finished, I just remember feeling victorious for making it at all.
This year? Well, I turned it all back over to my brother-in-law during the holidays. After my son decided he wanted a Legends of Zelda car, they cut it, sanded it, painted it and put the wheels on it together. All I had to do was find some Zelda stickers to finish it.
This year, when we checked in his car, I could just smile at the other parents, mainly fathers, sweating over the last minute details … getting the wheels on right and taking weight off the car to meet regulation.
This year, dare I say, was fun. His car didn’t crack the top 10, but we have two more years to do it.
The Blessing and the Curse
The curse, of course, is all in my mind. Thinking that I can’t do things for my son that a dad could easily do. The blessing is in learning from and loving this little man, every day, and realizing I can do whatever I set my mind to … whether that means figuring it out on my own or finding the people that can help. Whether it is building a race car or attending Bear camp or yes, even potty training. God knew what he was doing. I got this.
What’s the Buzz?
If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to SMC, we are a non-profit 501.3c organization. You can send a check (SMC, PO Box 1642, NY NY 10028) or donate by clicking on the “Donate” button anywhere on the SMC website. We appreciate all donations, large or small and we will send you a letter of acknowledgement promptly after we receive your donation.
Want to be a Contact Person for SMC in your area?
The primary purpose of the CP is to welcome new members of SMC and to let them know what is happening on the local level. The CP may also assist in setting up organizational meetings for new members and organize local chapter meetings. The roles and responsibilities of a local chapter are distributed amongst those who are interested in having an active chapter. If you’re interested, contact the SMC office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
San Diego, California: Stephanie Harkin, email@example.com
Evanston, Illinois: Rebecca Gruenspan, firstname.lastname@example.org
North Carolina Triangle: Tanya Wolfram, email@example.com
Montclair, NJ: Catherine Farrell, firstname.lastname@example.org
Oakland, CA: Tomeka Ridley, email@example.com
Germany: Julia Surmeli, firstname.lastname@example.org
Remember to notify us when you become a mother! If you have someone new in the house please send the information to email@example.com.
Christy Burke is pleased to announce the birth of her daughter, Savannah Kathleen Burke. She was born on November 15, 2013 at 4:41pm. She was 7 pounds, 8 ounces and was 21 inches long. Mom and baby are doing fantastically well!
My beautiful daughter, Arella Kirabo, was born on July 25th, 2013, a day after her due date. Contractions started at 4am and she was born at 11:41am! She is the light of my world. Catherine Musangi
I would like to announce the arrival of Charles “Braxton” Deer! Braxton was born May 31, 2013 in Augusta, Georgia, though we live in Columbia, SC. Braxton is now 7.5 months old, and growing like a weed.