Guidance for Single Women Choosing to Become Moms
Mikki Morrissette, author of Choosing Single Motherhood, offers advice and information to single women contemplating motherhood.
CommitmentNow.com: Choosing Single Motherhood: The Thinking Woman's Guide is an incredible resource for single women contemplating motherhood without a life partner and for those who have already taken the plunge. What was your inspiration for writing this book?
Mikki Morrissette: After I proactively became a Choice Mom in 1999, with the birth of my daughter, I realized that there was a shortage of insight for the thousands of professional single women who make this decision each year. As a journalist, I wanted to gather the wisdom of child development experts, other Choice Moms, mental health counselors, and grown children of the pioneering single mothers by choice – not only for my own development as a single mom, but for everyone that would come after me. I self-published the book in 2005, when my son was one, and thanks to great word-of-mouth popularity, it interested no less than six traditional publishing houses who bid for the rights. Houghton-Mifflin -- aware of the growing market of women in this community -- bought the rights and re-released the book with new design and some revised/updated content on May 20, 2008.
CommitmentNow.com: Throughout Choosing Single Motherhood, you refer to “Choice Moms.” What is a Choice Mom?
Mikki: I created the term “Choice Mom” and define it as a single woman who proactively decides to become the best mother she can, through adoption or conception. Sometimes she finds a partner after she marches toward her goal of building a family; sometimes she doesn't.
For more than 25 years, we’ve also been known as single mothers by choice, but I wanted to create a shorter term that also put the emphasis where it needed to be. We are not choosing to be single so much as choosing to be mothers.
CommitmentNow.com: Who is the typical Choice Mom?
Mikki: Of course, we come from varied backgrounds and experiences, and each of us has our own individual story of how we got on the Choice Mom journey. But a first-ever survey of more than 500 Choice Moms, which will be released in Spring 2009, indicates that a majority of respondents have post-graduate degrees. Many of us earn a significant income and own our own homes. Many of us are in the medical, mental health, legal and teaching fields. Not surprisingly, many of us have fairly strong nurturing skills, which drives us to become a mother even if our career paths have limited our time to find the right relationship. Some of us have been divorced in our 30s, and don’t want to rush into another relationship in order to have children. Some of us are in relationships with people who don’t want to have kids, and decide to move ahead on our own. Most of us are goal-driven, independent women with common sense and an ability to build support networks to enable us to raise our kids to be as excited about life’s possibilities as we are.
CommitmentNow.com: What factors need to be considered before a single woman chooses motherhood?
Mikki: All parents, married or not, need ways to alleviate stress. Nurturing a human being until they become mature enough to be on their own requires a very unselfish, responsible, level-headed approach -- and it's stressful to be that person every day. Choice Moms sometimes have fewer outlets for reducing the stress. They don't have a partner to unwind with after a bad day, or to give them "mom's night off" every week. My big message of the book is that anyone considering Choice Motherhood must be able to connect to new people in her community, to find male role models, to give herself predictable and emergency breaks from parenting, to take advantage of the help of her inner circle, to create meaningful rituals with others outside of the home. Deciding to become a parent is only the first in a long series of choices she will need to make.
No one should allow their child(ren) to be the only companionship in their life. It’s not good for the mother, and it’s not good for the child.
And, of course, more women today are getting the message that they have a limited window for conceiving. After age 35, you should be visiting a fertility doctor, if you have decided you want to take that route to motherhood rather than adopt. It’s always painfully difficult to hear from women on the Choice Mom discussion board who have learned that it will be much more expensive to conceive, if not nearly impossible, than they expected. Having a regular period is not a guarantee of fertility.
CommitmentNow.com: How important is family and/or community support in the decision to become a single mom?
Mikki: A strong support network is crucial. We might think our single friends and family will be there when we need help – in emergency situations, to socialize with, to let us take a nap – but they aren’t always there the way we might have expected or hoped. Some disapprove of our choice, or aren’t interested in being around kids. So we must have the ability to rebuild and connect to new community. This happens naturally in mommy groups, and preschool playdates, and school/church connections. But we have to be as proactive about finding our village, including male role models, as we have been about reaching other goals in our lives. That’s one reason I’m pleased with how strongly the Choice Mom community is coming together online and in occasional events around the U.S.
CommitmentNow.com: What are some of the difficulties of being a single mom?
Mikki: Logistically, of course, it is difficult to always be the one pair of hands for your child. Sometimes we have bad days, and we aren’t able to take a mental break the way someone with a partner in the house might be able to.
Sometimes financially we have setbacks. Without children these are easier to absorb and adapt to. But with children, who we want to do everything for in a stable way, it can be tough to live on one paycheck, especially with expensive childcare costs.
Emotionally, many women have a lot of grief before becoming mothers about having to do this alone – it wasn’t the plan for at least half, who would prefer to do this with a partner. After becoming mothers, we can still struggle emotionally with the idea that we’re supposed to handle everything perfectly on our own – and we really need to get over that and ask for help, from carrying baby and stroller down steps to getting some meals cooked during Newborn Boot Camp time to setting up co-op babysitting options with other families.
CommitmentNow.com: As a Choice Mom yourself, what advice would you offer single women contemplating motherhood?
Mikki: We tend to be overachievers, worriers, planners, do-it-yourselfers. I think women need to especially be able to take a step back, breathe, and remember that there are solutions, that we have a lot more strength than we sometimes give ourselves credit for, and that there are wonderful friends and networks around us. No one is a perfect parent. We all have strengths and weaknesses. What we need to do is recognize how and when we need help, and ask for it. The goal is NOT to do everything by yourself, but to create the strongest community possible for you and your child.
CommitmentNow.com: Parenting with a partner allows a woman to take breaks – even short ones – away from her child which can often save her sanity. How can a single mom get a break now and then?
Mikki: The way I’ve been able to do it is this (which, obviously, won’t work for everyone, but these are examples): I have a large enough house that I rent out two rooms to playful college students who babysit for free in exchange for utilities (when I needed more time, one lived here for free)… I make time once a week to go out socially without my kids… I have communal playdates with four other families, including two wonderful dads, nearly every weekend… I hang out with some good guys in their 20s who are teaching my kids about music, computer technology, and fixing things, which gives my kids role models other than 40-something parents, and is creative fun for me… I know several other moms who work from home, as I do, or are stay-at-home moms, and we have an informal babysitting co-op that we usually take advantage of at least once or twice a week.
CommitmentNow.com: How does a woman balance her desire for a husband with her desire for a child when both goals seem elusive?
Mikki: This is one of the most painful aspects of Choice Motherhood for about half of the women I know – which includes nearly 1,000 women on the Choice Mom discussion board (yahoo). I’ve interviewed women for the podcast and for my book, and mental health counselors who work with women about these deep longings. And I’ve seen the large numbers of women attend the conversation circles at Choice Mom events about dealing with the grief. Many women tell me that they realized after a painful break-up, or after being with the wrong man for too long, that the reason they were in the relationship was to build a family with someone. Many of the women who then find the ChoiceMoms.org website and its tools are those who are moving toward a break from the traditional fantasy and realizing that perhaps they need to take this step for themselves first, and keep looking for the right partner later, because the window for starting motherhood is so short.
But this is by no means the step that all single women feel able to take. We need to be mindful and conscious of what we really want most of all, and reach for that. Many women ask whether they would regret never being a mother. I do know some women who have decided that raising a family alone would feel hollow, and decide to keep looking for the partner. This is equally as valid a choice. We must be able – through conversation with others, including therapists and fellow single women – to identify and express out loud what we really do want.
CommitmentNow.com: How do women come to terms with the fact that the “baby makes three” fantasy that most of us grow up with may not come true?
Mikki: I do know many women who have become ‘out of the box’ thinkers in this regard, who do not ultimately care too much about whether they are in a full-time, permanent relationship with another adult. Interestingly, I’m hearing from more of these women who are in their 20s – not something I fully understand yet, but it is a trend I’m seeing.
However, at least half of the women I know through Choice Moms have a lot of strong emotions about the lack of a partner in their life. It is extremely important that women deal with those emotions, and move on positively, yes or no, to motherhood, when the time is right. If they decide to become a mother it should be with as little regret as possible, for the child’s sake. Not all women get over the grief about not having a partner, but those are also the women who need to – generally after the first few years of their child’s life – keep looking for the right person. And, interestingly, many women report that they stopped caring about finding a partner after their child was born. Or that someone who admires their strengths as a mother and as a single woman falls into their lap even though they weren’t looking.
Choice Motherhood is a proud step for many women to take, and we tend to hold our heads high, and with gratitude, for being able to take this step toward becoming dedicated mothers filled with love and joy (and stress) about our kids.
CommitmentNow.com: How do you respond to people who question the motives of a Choice Mom to raise a child without a father?
Mikki: It is commonly assumed that Choice Moms do not think men are important, or that we don’t think fathers are important. However, for the vast majority of us, this is not at all true. We do recognize the different strengths that men and fathers can play in a child’s life. Most of us actively incorporate good male role models into our children’s lives. There IS an impact on a child of growing up without a second parent to love and care for them. There is no lack of women who long to have a solid father for their children. The simple truth is, however, that raising a family is a deep desire for many women who cannot find a partner equally committed to this goal. And many of today’s women consider it more responsible to have a child alone than to marry simply for the sake of having children, or to bring the wrong father into a child’s life.
We also frequently hear that we are “too picky” when it comes to choosing a partner before we have children on our own. Of course, you should see how fiercely protective we are of our children after they are in our lives, which certainly does make us even “pickier” after we become moms. But I don’t see that as a bad thing, as long as we are finding other dads, male teachers/coaches, and relatives who our children deserve to know and have relationships with.
CommitmentNow.com: Do most Choice Moms conceive their babies or do they adopt?
Mikki: Of the hundreds of Choice Mom stories I know, the majority conceived a child using an anonymous, open-identity or known donor. Roughly one-third of them chose adoption.
I am a proponent of adoption for Choice Moms, especially if they are not able to use their own eggs to conceive. In writing the “Choice Moms Guide to Adoption,” I learned that the primary reasons women initially reject adoption as an option is that 1) it seems at first to be too expensive (even though, as we know from “Choice Moms Guide to Fertility,” many women end up spending a lot of money attempting to conceive); 2) there is a great deal of governmental paperwork involved that makes it seem more complicated than conceiving; 3) open domestic adoption and international adoption might seem prohibitive for single women, compared to married couples (although there are always adoption options for those primarily motivated to become a parent above all else).
CommitmentNow.com: What are the risks associated with sperm donors?
Mikki: There are several types of donors a single person can choose from, which I cover in more detail on the www.ChoiceMoms.org website and in the “Choosing Single Motherhood” books. Each method to parenthood has advantages and disadvantages, and it is up to each individual to decide what she feels most comfortable with.
A known donor agrees in advance to provide sperm for at-home insemination and knows the mother (this offers least legal protection for both parties, but gives the child the opportunity to know the man if agreed upon in advance);
A directed donor agrees in advance to provide sperm for a clinic insemination and knows the mother (offers the most legal protection for both parties, as well as options for the child to ask questions later in life);
A co-parenting donor agrees in advance to share in financial and logistical responsibilities of raising the child (considered to have the best benefits for the child, particularly if the adults have mutually worked out an agreement of expectations, but is a lifetime commitment);
An open-identity donor donates in a sperm bank setting and agrees to be contacted after offspring reach a certain age (relieves legal and parenting role confusions and complications, but might leave the child with unanswered questions until coming of age);
An anonymous donor donates in a sperm bank setting and does not agree to have any contact with offspring or recipient (safe choice legally, but can lead to great frustration on the part of the child if they someday want to know more about their genetic background).
CommitmentNow.com: How should Choice Moms handle questions (both from their children and strangers) about the lack of a father in the family?
Mikki: Because of data about teenage single moms, and those unexpectedly suffering from divorce, the image is that most single mothers are impoverished, overwhelmed and emotionally tapped out. But the typical Choice Mom is in her 30s and 40s when she becomes a mother. Most of those I have surveyed report making at least $40,000 a year (much more in major urban areas) and have a post-graduate degree. We tend to have strong family values, or we wouldn't have made the decision to become a mother. We are extremely devoted parents who do have the best interests of our children at heart and want them to feel as inspired in life as we are.
I advise anyone who would like to listen that we do know many things about why some children raised without a father in the home, or in a single-parent household, suffer. For example, a 30-year divorce study by Mavis Hetherington about why 20 percent of kids in single-parent families end up suffering long-term issues revealed that self-involved, immature or depressed parents, wracked by emotional issues and financial worries, tend to neglect their kids. That's the basic explanation for those statistics. Many single parents, including the typical Choice Mom -- who tends to be older, more well-educated, and more well-paid than many unprepared single mothers -- are quite focused on the needs of their children.
There is no formula for raising the "perfect" child. In married households, parents can be stressed about work, about money, about each other. Some kids have learning challenges, feel neglected or picked on by peers, are swayed by what is "popular" or makes them feel attractive to the opposite sex. The challenge for any devoted caregiver is to help the child feel hopeful, secure, and happy about being who he or she is. Family structure, and the lack of a parent of one gender, are among many external factors that can have an influence, but does not restrict a child's potential. Interestingly, some studies are finding that the extra attentiveness of single parents can be especially beneficial to special needs children.
CommitmentNow.com,: How big a role does a woman's financial condition play in her decision to become a Choice Mom?
Mikki: Financial concerns are a major obstacle for many women who want to become mothers on their own. They want to have sufficient income and/or savings before going forward. This is especially true of the many women who are choosing to raise more than one child. On the other hand, many Choice Moms make well over $60,000 annually, and this doesn't concern them.
Many parents, married or not, struggle with finances, especially if they are still early in their careers. Others, like myself, opt out of highly paid corporate life in order to start businesses from home that give them more flexibility for parenting.
Some women want to have a certain amount in the bank before they start. Others want a certain salary. Others just want to see a reasonable cash flow and trust they will be able to make ends meet with used clothing and other options.
Regardless of our individual comfort levels, it is an initiative of Choice Moms LLC in 2009 to raise awareness of the importance – indeed, the requirement – of any single parent to have an estate plan, insurance, and guardianship papers in order even before they bring their child home. I know a Choice Mom who adopted, then suddenly died in a car accident leaving a six-month-old child without a guardian or estate plan in place. I also know a Choice Mom who unexpectedly died of pregnancy complications, but had all of her paperwork in order for the son she never met, who was delivered posthumously, and will more smoothly be taken care of by her sister, a trust fund, and a life insurance policy.
MIKKI MORRISSETTE is a Choice Mother of two and a longtime journalist. She has been both a writer and an editor at Time Inc. and has written and edited special projects for the New York Times. She lives with her family in Minneapolis.
To purchase Choosing Single Motherhood, click here.