More than 10 years ago I became a single mom of two babies. At the time, I was dependent on my husband’s corporate salary and benefits because I’d chosen to down-ramp my six-figure freelance writing business into one that prioritized the kids. It emulated what I blindly assumed was the best family model: one parent home with the children by way of sacrifice, including mothers who thrived on the hustle of self-employment (that would be me).
After all, solopreneurship is too risky to raise a family on, right? What about health insurance!?
When I divorced, well-meaning friends and relatives redoubled those fear-laden pressures and asked what kind of job I was looking for.
I had no intention of getting a job. I was an entrepreneur, and I no longer had any excuse not to go big.
Fast-forward a few years, and I was completely financially independent of my kids’ dad. This was thanks to a revived writing business which I pivoted into Wealthy Single Mommy, a personal blog that has grown into a digital marketing platform now reaching millions of people each year by way of books, a podcast, frequent media appearances and a team of contract employees.
Not only is my solopreneur journey one of financial prosperity, it is a source of deep joy and purpose. My work is focused on helping other single mothers become financially independent, parent with confidence and joy, and co-parent with equality. The beautiful letters I receive from women daily confirm that staying this course of solopreneurship was the only path for me, single motherhood, or otherwise.
In fact, looking back on my decade journey of being a single mom, I see that solopreneurship has been so essential to success in every vertical of my life:
> Financially, working for myself while cultivating multiple income streams via multiple clients has given me far more financial security than possible from a single corporate employer. Plus, there are no corporate positions I know of that pay what I currently take home from my business. Trust me: Affording health insurance is not a challenge. When your kids are solely your financial responsibility, this matters.
> As a parent, self-employment helps me manage my family and work lives, and model for my son and daughter what is possible in a career.
Self-employment is rightfully the goal of many moms. One of the key reasons parents are attracted to solopreneurship, of course, is the control it gives us over our time—humans’ most precious commodity. As a single mom with many responsibilities, and very little time, this control is priceless.
As I type in the midst of a COVID-19 at-home order, I am sitting on the porch with a laptop on my lap, working and earning while intermittently helping my kids with their writing and social studies homeschool work. During non-endtimes, being my own boss makes it infinitely easier to schedule pediatrician appointments around client meetings (or, the other way around), and give myself as much vacation time as I decide I can afford, as opposed to haggling with a boss.
The benefits of this control make life easier in the day-to-day. My bigger hope is they will carry forward as my children make their own decisions about career, business and contributing to the world. Because I do love my work, and have the power to control my time and tasks, I hope my children can absorb by osmosis that such a professional life is not only possible, but to be expected.
> As a business person, single-mom solopreneurship gives me the flexibility to make decisions for my organization without having to fight through the complexities of a romantic relationship. Often I hear from women who feel their businesses are held back by the dynamics of their marriages. For example, a husband doesn’t agree with the strategy for growing her business, and so he does not agree to invest family money into the venture. Or she avoids pursuing her goals because doing so would require the hard work of negotiation or arguments with her partner. All healthy relationships require compromise, but as an unpartnered entrepreneur, I haven’t had to make those kinds of compromises.
On the other side of this equation, single-mom entrepreneurship holds me to a higher standard than if I were married, and my business is better for it. Without another income to depend on, I am forced to face the consequences of professional failures and setbacks that my partnered colleagues are not.
> As a woman, the joys and independence of professional life were an asset in dating, including in getting to know my boyfriend of four years. Interesting, successful men passionate about their lives like to talk to interesting, successful, passionate women. They also like to date us, and be in relationships with us. This is what my handsome boyfriend Mitch said:
“Strong, smart, self-reliant women are very sexy. Plus, your business instincts are impressive and make me even more proud to know you.”
Being financially secure—despite what your bitter aunt may have told you—is a big benefit to women dating in 2020. I’ve found that men appreciate women who can pay their own way, and give no indication of seeking out men for financial security. “Being real grown-ups for each other gets all of that dependency stuff out of the way and frees us up for something a lot more meaningful,” Mitch says. After all, don’t we all really just want to be loved, deeply, for who we are?
Before I carry on further about all the wonders of single-mom solopreneurship, I need to recognize that the struggle of launching, growing and scaling a business is hard work. And if you don’t have a loving partner, but do have children, it can seem like the risks are too daunting to face.
However, I implore you to look at the realities of the economy, this economy. Ask yourself:
Even if I still have a salaried job, how secure is it?
Am I joyful about my professional life? Or am I longing to launch my own venture?
What messages about career and work and earning do I model for my children? Is it one of optimism and power, or victimhood and regret?
Get over working-mom guilt.
The gender pay gap is not the result of a cabal of rich white men arbitrarily deciding that women are to be paid 80 cents on the male dollar. Today, young women outnumber men on college campuses, and enter the workforce in equal numbers and with equitable pay.
But by the time women are eligible for middle- and senior-management positions, we are a small minority. Why?
Women drop out and scale back on our careers to care for children. Very often, this decision is influenced by lack of affordable childcare, or a dearth of family-friendly workplace policies. However, mom guilt is at play, and it is at the root of gender inequality. Just as I did, large portions of U.S. moms make decisions to de-prioritize career based on false assumptions about what is good for their kids.
In 2012, a full 35 percent of adults agreed that children were harmed when mothers worked outside the home, according to Pew Research. While those opinions are changing for the better, still 59 percent of Americans say ideally children benefit when one parent stays home. When I was a married mom, I bought into this idea, too.
Turns out, I was wrong. Research by Harvard’s Kathleen McGinn found, after studying 30,000 families in 20 countries, that both girls with working mothers fared better than those with stay-at-home moms in terms of academic and professional achievement. And the sons of working moms achieved just as much outside the home, but were more caring for younger and elderly members of the household than their at-home peers.
In other words: When moms work outside the home for pay, gender equality is achieved at home and in the public sphere.
Plus, the more women work for pay, the more we inform the next generation about what the new norms are, thus reducing the working-mom guilt for our daughters. As we succeed professionally, moms show our sons what it means to be a truly equal romantic partner.
In other words: Your career is a form of activism. Manage that for optimum impact.
Hire plenty of childcare without apology.
I often hear from moms who are overwhelmed trying to start and grow businesses while sticking to their other commitment as at-home moms. These broads are exhausted, scattered and feel like they do neither of their main jobs well.
I give you permission to hire as much childcare, of the highest quality you can afford, and never look back. During working hours, focus intently on your business. Enjoy the evening commute (mine was a 10-minute walk) to the childcare center or school to decompress and transition into mommy mode, focusing on family, guilt- and distraction-free.
While the bewildering cost of childcare can understandably cause you to consider a part-time schedule, or schlep across town to another center to save a few dollars, consider this as time and money invested in the short-term, for a much bigger long-term vision.
It is impossible to start and grow a business without risk of investing time and opportunities that you may never recoup. If you wanted a guaranteed return on your time, you would have a corporate job.
Share parenting equally.
The most obvious childcare provider is one that is also 100 percent free: your kid’s other parent.
Unfortunately, single moms more often than not are responsible for their children the majority of the time, with weekend visits for dad. Not only does this model edge dads out of their kids’ lives, it is sexist, slotting women into dated caregiving roles.
But thankfully there are now at least 60-peer-reviewed studies that conclude that equally shared parenting in divorced and separated families is best for children.
Barring extreme exceptions, I urge you to set aside anger and fear, and work on an equal co-parenting arrangement with your kids’ dad. Doing so models love and forgiveness, obliterates sexist gender stereotypes, and unburdens you from the sole, unfair responsibility for caring for your kids.
Set big goals, and take necessary risks to reach them.
Single moms can play small. I understand why. The stakes are high as moms are disproportionately responsible for the logistical, emotional and financial care of their children. And women overall are less comfortable with risk than men, studies show.
Just as with the stock market, high risk tends to net high returns over time. So, too, does measured risk in entrepreneurship statistically net profits. Just because you are an unmarried mother does not mean you cannot or do not deserve to reap those benefits. In fact, with fewer financial resources than others (single moms are more likely to have lower earning and less wealth than other populations), I argue that you have a bigger responsibility to take more risk in order to buoy yourself and your family against cyclical downturns and unforeseen setbacks.
Shore up your support system.
The power of peer pressure—good and bad—is well documented. Adults who are overweight are more likely to have friends who are overweight. Same with debt, smoking and divorce.
Likewise, if you are surrounded by ambitious, big-thinking entrepreneurs, you increase your chances of benefiting from these peers by way of introductions, ideas and inspiration.
Your closest confidants today may be wonderful life-long friends and family members who love you dearly, but that does not make them the right support system for your business. Choose carefully with whom you share your goals and seek advice and support.
Be careful about making excuses.
As a single mom, I hope you join me on my mission to destigmatize families that do not look like the “normal” two-parent, married heterosexual couple in a first marriage. That is why I ask you to be very careful to use your single-mom status as a crutch when you face inevitable challenges. Instead, focus on all the gifts that your single motherhood gives you when it comes to business:
• You don’t have to spend time and toxic energy on an unhappy relationship.
• You don’t need to ask permission to invest time or money in your business (or anything else for that matter).
• Statistically, you do less housework than when you were married. A fascinating body of research finds that married breadwinning women “overcorrect” for their professional prowess by doing more than their share of house and childcare at home, and single moms do the least amount of housework out of all demographics of women studied. You have none of these worries now!
In dark moments when facing disappointment, quell the urge to say to yourself or others: “Well, that was a bust because I am a single mom.”
Pay it forward.
No matter the stage of your business, always maintain that sense of gratitude and purpose to make the world better. Commit to policies that support working families, meaningful diversity, and the values that inspired you to start your business in the first place.
And never lose sight of the fact, on your winding single-mom solopreneurship journey, that the value is not only reaped by a high income, or a lucrative exit. It also comes from modeling for your children and for other women watching. It comes in the form of inspiration by you and for you, and in changing the narrative about yourself, and what you believed you could achieve as a single mom in business.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2020 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Photo by @kirsty/Twenty20.com
Emma Johnson is a business journalist, gender-equality activist, and founder of the world's largest community of single moms, WealthySingleMommy.com. Emma and her best-selling book, The Kickass Single Mom, and her organization, Moms for Shared Parenting, have been featured in hundreds of national and international media outlets.