If the phone rang at 6 a.m., it was never good news. Single and working full time when my sons were seven, five and two — I knew that a phone call that early might be from my daily in-home childcare provider who was canceling for the day. That meant my work day as a university adjunct lecturer, freelance writer, author and public speaker had just imploded.
Luckily I had two sisters — one an attorney, another an insurance executive — who had childcare in place at their own homes that I could take advantage of. I also begged friends to watch the boys before and after school — and I always returned the favor. Sometimes, I took my youngest with me to campus, where I begged the secretary to watch my son while I was in class. (There was no on-site childcare.)
And so, for the better part of 10 years, I panicked about being able to get my work done.
Managing and mastering your career as a single working mother has those moments, but you also have the satisfaction of maintaining ambition and a meaningful work life while raising children alone. You serve as a role model of persistence and strength not just for your kids, but for other mothers as well. Here are some tips on how to do your best as a single working mom:
1. Find your tribe.
Single parenting does not mean you have to feel alone in the community of single working mothers. For support from a like-minded tribe, try Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere, ESME, founded two years ago by Marika Lindholm. She explained the inspiration for her business in the New York Daily News: “My own divorce drove home the additional emotional toll of single motherhood. Just when single moms need the most support, friends tend to take sides or drift away. My own post-divorce loneliness inspired me to build a community in which solo doesn't mean alone.”
Having this community means you can rely on each other to, for example, swap childcare duties with other mothers you work with or who live nearby. Be reliable so that you can expect others to be reliable as well.
2. Calculate the childcare costs and plan accordingly.
Unless you are lucky enough to have a family member who can watch your child for free, have a free on-site childcare facility at your place of work or can co-op duties with friends, you will have to pay for childcare. This is likely your biggest expense and budget worry, so take care to get it right.
Personal finance expert, author and broadcaster Farnoosh Tarobi, writes in Mint Life, “The latest government figures show that for a middle-income family, parents can expect to spend close to a quarter of a million dollars to raise one child through high school. This includes food, housing, health care, and basic necessities. The average cost of childcare has been climbing over the years. Day care, for example, now costs an average $200 a week, according to Care.com. A personal nanny can be $15 to $18 an hour in some areas.”
3. Know what’s available and possible at work.
Lauren Smith Brody, former executive editor of Glamour and a mother of two, is the author of "The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom's Guide to Style, Success, Sanity, and Big Success After Baby." She offers resources, workshops and trainings for new moms to go over what happens for you at work once you become a mother. “Back to work? Back to normal? Not quite, but you will be fine, promise,” Brody proclaims on her site.
4. Try to work for a parent-friendly company.
There are many places around the country where working mothers are respected and valued. The National Association for Female Executives is one of the largest associations for women professionals and business owners in the country. Each year, they work with Working Mother and come up with a list of the best places for executive women to work. This year, the list includes Procter & Gamble, Marriott, Deloitte, Accenture and many more.
If you work for a smaller operation without big resources, have an honest conversation with your boss about flexible hours, occasionally working from home and potential childcare solutions. Volunteer to research ideas and to make it happen. It’s a winning proposition for you.
Michele Weldon is an author, journalist and editorial director of Take The Lead. She is a senior leader with The OpEd Project, emerita faculty at Northwestern University, mom of three sons and her most recent book is Escape Points: A Memoir. Portions of this post originally ran in Take The Lead.