Single Parent? Mommy Track? No Spring Chicken?

There’s nothing simple about being a single parent. Man or woman, widowed or divorced – you’ve got your hands full. And if you are a woman, single motherhood will likely put a strain on whatever career you’ve already established, unless money isn’t an issue or you have a fantastic support network.

What if you mommy track for a number of years, staying home to raise your children full-time? What if you take lower level or part-time positions? What if you add to that the burden of being an older mother? When it’s time to get back into the game, how will you approach it?

Can you parlay your smile and transferable skills into a job?

Can you still compete?

It’s tough enough doing the married mother juggle when it comes to work-for-pay and parenting, but for many of us, divorce becomes a career-killer, at least for a period of time. As for how long that period may be – it will depend on circumstances both within our control and many that are beyond us. So then what?

What do you do? Do you throw in the towel? Are you doomed to a downward spiral?

Women, Jobs, the Economy

So how do women – especially women over 50 – move from mommy track to career track?

In a problematic economy, this is no small feat. Some statistics estimate that 90% of new jobs have been going to men, and it is a reasonable assumption that the stereotype persists that men are the breadwinners.

Are men the sole breadwinners? We know that’s not the case. Are we dealing with a zero-sum game, worsened in our still troubled economy? Possibly so. Or perhaps, women are still doing the majority of the childcare juggling, making them less able to go for these same opportunities.

Citing a column by Barbara Hannah Grufferman that deals with women looking for paying work:

A recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that of the 1.3 million jobs created in the last 12 months, some 90 percent have gone to men. Women have gained just 149,000 jobs… Looking at the data since the end of the recession in July 2009, men have gained 600,000 jobs while women have lost 300,000 jobs.

Other factors?

My personal belief is that lack of self-esteem remains a significant factor that undermines women.

We doubt our abilities, and time spent career-sidetracked makes us question them even more. As we age, we also feel less attractive, and who would dispute that in this culture a woman’s beauty (or at the very least, appeal) is a considerable (necessary) asset?

Those “female maintenance” activities? They’re critical to our marketability, as well as our health and well-being.

Getting Back to (Paying) Work

So how do we dig our way out, or fight our way back? Is entrepreneurship the only answer, and do we even have time for that sort of round-the-clock work effort if we’re still actively parenting? And what if we’re solo parenting?

Try these suggestions.

  • Friends with whom to discuss and brainstorm
  • A simple calling card to introduce yourself and a willingness to use it liberally
  • Social media (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) to grow your connections
  • Asking for help when you need it
  • And taking risk — including the risk of rejection

The downside may not be so bad.

And the upside? Potentially huge.

My Story

If you’ve been reading me for awhile then you know my story. I’m a single (essentially solo) mother, and have been for a decade. I’m also an older mother, which presents other challenges – particularly for women who seek paying work.

Initially, being older when I had children allowed me flexibility; I brought years of experience and specialized skills to the table, and was able to negotiate a position with little to no travel, in an office only minutes from home. Eventually, I transitioned to a corporate job from an office in my home.

I was “full-time mom” and full-time manager, with a husband who traveled. I thought I was having it all and doing it all, but I didn’t anticipate how exhausted I would be, nor that I would become invisible to my organization.

When layoff and divorce hit simultaneously, an uncooperative ex and no money to keep up the fight left me slipping farther and farther behind the eight ball – and never able to dig out.

There have been good periods with wonderful clients and interesting projects. There have also been painful months – and years – when I was working for next to nothing and piling up the debts. There has been contracting and freelancing, non-stop self-marketing, and no benefits. Don’t forget that independent workers do not receive unemployment; nor do we show up in unemployment statistics. And, when you’re over 45 (much less over 50) – paying for medical, life, or disability insurance becomes prohibitively expensive.

Your Story? Your Skills? Your Pay Prospects?

Pretty Mature Blonde Woman SmillingWhat about you? Are you married with kids, and performing the important job of parenting?

  • Are you also working another job for pay?
  • Is your employer flexible with family-friendly arrangements?
  • If you’ve mommy tracked, what if the other breadwinner gets laid off?
  • What happens if you become a single or solo parent?
  • Are you currently trying to compete again in the workforce?

To say that this is concerning is an understatement. So how do we put a face on the problem? How do we “size” it? How do we get our political leaders, or business leaders, our media mavens to address these issues? What about all of us who have long since fallen through the cracks – contractors, independents, freelancers – no longer in the statistics?

What if all these wasted skills – yours, mine, ours – could be put to good use in this country? What might that do for the American economy?


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  1. says

    I am living this. I do receive unemployment benefits temporarily. But soon to run out. I am solo parenting and have in all my fourteen years of solo parenting been grateful to at least have had dependable employment. Until the layoffs. Three in five years. And now, the jobs as you say are going to the men. Add to the fact that I work in a predominantly male driven profession.

    I have never been above water as a solo parent. Always barely making ends meet and now, I feel as though I will soon be going under.

    Here’s hoping things get better soon for all those hard working parents. No matter the situation at hand.

  2. says

    I am severely disappointed in how behind women are to men when it comes to job security and re-entering the market. One of the things Betty Frieden did not address–because of her limited knowledge of what the future would hold–is that fulfillment may come from work; but women would always be behind, pay scale wise, men. In this male-dominated world, I wish we women would band together and really shout that we will NOT take it anymore!

    I did read that link you shared. I think Mrs. Grufferman said it so well.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      One of the problems, Amber, is that we are still having difficulty thinking outside the traditional employment box. We talk a good game about flexible schedules and working from home, but we have yet to catch on when it comes to the many changes that need to take place to prepare us for alternative ways to work productively. We have tools like Skype for meetings, yet we don’t train managers (or manager-wannabees) in how to manage remote workers. Those with jobs are so afraid for their jobs they take on more and more tasks (and hours) for the same pay, which leaves them even less time for family.

      It isn’t that I haven’t been in the traditional workplace in the past 10 years – I have – but as a contractor. I’ve seen the fear, the dysfunction, the perpetuation of old-school methods that aren’t exploiting evolving competitive and social needs.

      Do we honestly think all these stressors don’t impact divorce rates, mental and physical health problems, and children sensing the fear and instability in both single and traditionally intact families?

      We are a country with such spirit, and so much talent, and yet the problems playing out 40 years ago are still playing out. We just have more gadgets and mechanisms for talking about it, and at times, talking around it.

  3. says

    Interesting that I read an article recently stating that in the current recession, men were being laid off at a higher rate than women, particularly those over 40. I wonder how old jobs closing and new jobs opening come out in the overall? Stats are complex, see , and I couldn’t find the supporting stats in your link (doubtless there in the maze someplace, in some form, but what form?).

    Bottom line: In any case and regardless of gender, it is a crime that people able and willing (and eager) to work and earn their way, cannot have a decent job opportunity. Something wrong with this country in that regard.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Paul, I couldn’t open the pdf you reference. And yes, it’s difficult wading through government statistics, I agree. But you will find both press releases and “spotlights” on the BLS site which make for very interesting reading.

      As for the stats referenced in the Huff Post piece (and then by me, here), see the ABC News link, which also references BLS:

      It’s worth noting that the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts out a tremendous amount of data. I’m looking for those exact numbers referenced by ABC News as well, but meanwhile, there are many other reports of interest, including: – A summary of data on women and spending, employment, education, etc. It includes pay data showing that women still make well below what men earn for the same work. – A report that is one of many showing comparative figures – in this case, for the “non-institutional civilian labor force.” I would call your attention to the comparisons between men and women (April 2010 vs. April 2011 for example).

      I am including a condensed version of this table here, and remember, this is one “slice” of the labor force, not a total picture. The annotations are mine – and please note – I am not a statistician – this is raw data pulled from BLS.

      BLS Data Apr 2010-Apr 2011 Employment Men & Women, Civilian

      Peruse the BLS site. It’s a maze, yes – but extremely interesting.

  4. says

    Now that I’m finally seriously thinking about my employment situation, hoping to bridge the gap between my full-time work and spending time with my family, I am nervous about what it would do to us financially if I went into freelance and didn’t bring home enough, or if there’s a dry spell, or if my work is just not good enough to sustain us.

    I’ve taken on more work with the same pay; I’ve colleagues right now who are at our company not because of love or loyalty but because of their fear of losing their job in this economy. And management knows…so they do as little as possible for us and expect ten times more. It’s ridiculous.

    As for the gender issue – we are a textbook case. I think I’ve mentioned before that there is a distinct boys’ club at my company making the decisions and the women put in the hours to work and make things happen.

    And that’s why I’m hoping to leave but the thought of commuting to and fro another FT job and spending only a measly two hours a day with my girls depresses me. I can’t do it anymore. But apart from landing a job with a stellar company that’s very family oriented/friendly or going into freelancing (and taking on the risks that it brings) – what choice do I have?

    • BigLittleWolf says

      And that’s exactly what distresses me – what distresses so many of us, Justine. As you say: Apart from landing a job with a stellar company that’s very family oriented or going into freelancing (and taking on the risks that it brings) – what choice do I have?

      So where are those choices for working families? For women, especially?

      I would love to hear from women who believe that they are working for family friendly businesses – small or large – and fairly compensated for what they managing and producing.

  5. says

    Well, the charts and graphs put me well out of my league here, but I will weigh in. If our primary breadwinner gets laid off (and that would be my husband), we are sunk. I bring in a nice chunk as a freelancer, but as you say, that doesn’t include insurance of any kind, not to mention the taxes we have to put aside to cover my paychecks. And if I were a single parent relying solely on my freelancing money? No way could we make it. It’s a zero-sum game.

  6. says

    This may sound beside the point, but here’s what this post brought to mind. There’s someone I know that should be fired for incompetency, lying, and other transgressions. A couple of people don’t want to because she has a house payment and almost lost it a couple of years ago. My thought: she’s married, her husband has a job, her kids are almost grown, and she doesn’t deserve her job. I’m almost positive a single mom with day care bills would do a better job because she has more to lose.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      And judgmental though it may sound (of me), I can’t help but think your assessment of the situation is probably accurate, April. So many employers are still operating under the “if something better comes along, she’ll leave” principle.

      Something better? Um, from where? And if a job allows a parent to be a parent and still pay the bills – isn’t that pretty damn good these days?

  7. says

    I work, I just don’t get paid. Since 2005, I have been responsible for the book-keeping at my husband’s office. For me, the choice was simple. Nobody messes with my family’s money. Because we are not a corporation (Inc or LLC), it does not make sense for me to cut myself a paycheck and then deal with the associated withholding of taxes.

    Last year, I was sworn in as a public official, an appointed position that pays a small amount each month (under $1,000). This month, I took on a new bookkeeping gig, for a local independent bookstore.

    I’ve been trying to get a full-time position at a local university, unfortunately, I lack the PhD to teach, yet my Master’s degree makes me way over-educated for most of the administrative positions that merely require a high school diploma. (Ah, life in a small town…)

    I could probably find something more lucrative in a nearby city, if I was willing to commute 35-40 miles each way. That does not appeal to me. My husband made that commute for eleven years before he moved his office to our village. It is a brutal commute.

    So that’s my story and my prospects, at least for now…

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Thank you for sharing your story, Andrea. I’m shaking my head. I live in a big city, and I’ve found the situation to be similar.

  8. says

    I must be extremely fortunate, or rather particular, in my job selections. I have managed to always be at companies that, whether big or small, have been very family friendly and accommodating. My latest gig will be work from home most days once I ramp up. I did, however, have to leave a position in 2007 because my manager (not the company) had a “butts-in-seats” attitude where “all work must be delivered onsite”. I had to leave. It wasn’t manageable. It’s not necessarily the company either – I think it could be the profession. Someone who is an investment banker might likely have less flexibility than someone in the technology business.

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