This post has been percolating for the last week (actually the last 18 years) since I read these articles:
Last week as I was trying to get ready for work, get the kids ready for school and make the lunches, I caught the tail end of a segment on the Today Show about the richest hedge fund earners this year. John Paulson, Ray Dalio, Jim Simons and David Tepper all topped out the list each earning over $2 billion. I believe in capitalism so my beef is not with these men who earned these unimaginable amounts of money. More power to them. I hope they spread the wealth around a little by hiring a bunch of people as well as giving it away to charitable organizations.
Sorry, I got off track a little. I’m not angry that these men made all this money but it occurred to me as I was watching the segment, and later thinking about it, that I will never come close to earning that kind of money, I’m in the wrong profession and I am a mother. I probably work more hours than most of these men but effort doesn’t usually count. In addition to being in the wrong profession I am also a single mom and that means I will never make that kind of money without having a rich uncle somewhere or being divorced from someone like Donald Trump. Is he currently single?
Which brings us to the next article about 1 in 5 moms who have kids with multiple dads. The article is interesting and worth reading but what has stuck with me most was this:
An important message that doesn’t appear to be getting through is just how hard it is to raise a child as a single parent.
“While these women tended to be poorer than others to begin with, their whole lifetimes continue to be disadvantaged,” the study’s author, Cassandra Dorius said.
I’ll tell you how hard it is and maybe some of you will listen. Maybe some of you will rethink your assumptions about single mothers (see the comments on the article about single men tax cheaters) and maybe some of you will work on your marriage and stay together rather than look to dating sites for cheaters.
As some of you know I have been married and divorced, twice. I have one child from each marriage. I am college educated, intelligent and somewhat street smart. I don’t do drugs and I don’t gamble. And yet I have struggled for the past 18 years even though I have always been employed in one form or another. I have never gone on welfare, though I could have certainly qualified for the service.
I can work and I do now, but that wasn’t always the case. I was not working at the time of both my divorces, but that was because both husbands thought it wise that I stay home with the children since daycare was so expensive for infants. Both marriages ended when my kids were each 8 months old. Thankfully I have had a lot of financial help from my family, but always reluctantly and always with judgment.
And judgment is just what any mother needs isn’t it?
The implication is that I am lazy or careless with money because I never seemed to have enough, when in reality what I didn’t have enough of was time. Being a single mother means you will never have enough time in the day to do what married couples do seemingly effortlessly because there is only one of you. In addition to working a full time job I have to help the kids with homework, I have to feed them, I have to wash their clothes, I have to meet with their teachers and take them to the doctor when they get sick which means I have to miss work when they get sick. It is that last one that is the real career killer and why it is I have forged a career where I can work from home. I still don’t have enough time but at least no one can threaten to fire me because my child has strep throat for the fourth time this year. Yes, I actually got fired for that.
And then I went out and found another job and another job all the while letting the things like laundry, cooking and cleaning go as well as only half paying attention to homework because I spent so much time looking for a job that wasn’t based solely on commission.
I have taken more shitty jobs than I care to recount and most of them ended poorly because the groups I worked for were shady at best. As a single mom who has been floating from one job to another for the last two decades I don’t get the interviews for companies that are trustworthy or stable. I get called back to the fly by night companies, mostly sales positions.
- I have sold used cars and even continued after a ‘customer’ taking a test drive stated he could drive me anywhere and kill me and no one would ever know.
- I have sold credit card processing to business owners who could not understand the terms of what they were signing.
- I have sold Melalueca and other multi level marketing products which always cost me more than I made.
- I have worked at retail shops making minimum wage.
- I have worked for several questionable online companies of which I am too ashamed to list here.
- I have cleaned houses.
- I have even cleaned and painted properties for my real estate agent ex husband.
- I never thought I would ever take any of these jobs but I have lived through two recessions and now there isn’t any job that is beneath me.
- I have considered turning tricks and I have considered suicide on more than one occasion.
Not that I want to die or have sex with strangers for money but after trying everything else and still coming up short I’ve wondered if the kids wouldn’t be better off with someone who could support them. Friends and family aren’t the only ones who judge you as a single mom, pretty soon you start to do it too.
And that’s just the financial side of being a single mom.
It gets worse. You see there is no one there when a child spikes a fever in the middle of the night, to take turns cleaning up vomit or soothe the sick child. There is no one there to tell you everything is going to be okay when you don’t know how you are going to make it through one more day. There is never anyone there to back you up when trying to set boundaries for your kids, and no one ever says “Listen to your mother” and “Don’t talk to to your mother that way”. When you tell the kids if they do that one more time you will pull the car over, they know you won’t because as a single mother you just want to get from point A to point B without stopping, probably because you are almost out of gas.
As a single mother you are Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. You are the one who explains all the hard lessons of life and you are the one who more often than not has to tell them they can’t go to camp, play in an after school sport or take swimming lessons because it is just not in the budget. You are the one who has to explain to them that they won’t be able to do most of the things other kids do like go to Disney Land.
While I am not suggesting women stay in marriages that are abusive or where addiction is involved I am here to tell you that no matter how bad you think it is being married with children it is a million times harder being single with children. Forget dating, forget going out with your girlfriends, forget shopping and forget looking your age.
You see, once you are a single mom it’s hard to catch up. Being poor is really expensive and since you probably won’t have a financial net it will cost you dearly. Late payments and overdraft fees add up and you get both because even though everyone tells you not to count on child support you do anyway because it is money coming to you and all that stuff about it being a law. The bank doesn’t care that your child support payment didn’t come and they don’t care if a client didn’t pay. They are in charge of your money so you learn to suck it up in the hopes that they won’t take all of it. As a single mom you have to make hard choices. Processed food is less expensive than healthy food and it keeps longer. You can feed your kids a box of Kraft Mac and Cheese for about $2 or you can spend a lot more and give them something healthy. Healthy eating is a luxury.
Of course you can’t share all of this with your kids because they have enough to worry about and don’t need to know about the things that keep you from sleeping most nights. It’s hard enough for any kid to grow up these days, they don’t need the added stress.
There are certainly single moms out there who are doing well. Sandra Bullock, Meg Ryan, Cheryl Crowe and other celebrities can easily afford to hire nannies and other domestic help and they make it look easy but most of us aren’t celebrities. Still, you hear of women who wrote books, started successful businesses and climbed the corporate ladder all while raising their kids on their own. I don’t know how they did it, and I have asked God (or whoever is up there running things) numerous times to please share the secret with me because so far I haven’t figured it out. He hasn’t answered me yet but I’m still hopeful.
Of course it isn’t all doom and gloom. If you work hard enough and your kids stay healthy you can expect to achieve in 18 years what normal people do in six months.
I don’t know what I would do with those billions of dollars that the hedge fund guys earn. I can’t even imagine having that much money. Knowing what I know I would do something to help other single women who were struggling like I have. I’ve often fantasized about winning the lottery when it gets really high. I don’t buy lottery tickets so my chances of winning aren’t very good but occasionally I drive by one of the billboards with the jackpot amount all lit up and it gets me thinking what I would do with something like $315 million. While I would certainly stock my pantry, fix my leaky basement, pay off my car and maybe even take the kids to Disney Land I don’t know that I would do anything extravagant.
I would love the feeling of depositing that kind of money in my bank and watching them come to me to do a little ass kissing. And then I would give it to an accountant somewhere else so they never got their hands on any of it. I fantasize about that a lot. I also dream of having envelopes of cash, say $10,000, at the ready so when I see a mom in the grocery store who is disheveled, telling her kids no to all the candy and toys and who clearly hasn’t slept in days (in other words a single mom because if not she would have left the kids at home) I can just hand it over to her and walk away. It wouldn’t solve all her problems, not even close, but for a few days she might just be able to breathe.