single mother by choice

single mother by choice

I’ve always been curious about different family styles. So, I asked 10 single mothers by choice to share their experiences. They talked about making the decision, the highs and lows of solo parenting, discussing donor conception with kids, and the joys of going it alone…

On Making the Decision

“I knew I wanted to have kids, preferably through pregnancy, and that time was a factor. As I got closer to 35 and found myself still single, I decided that I didn’t want to lose my chance at being a mom. I could find a husband at any age, but that wasn’t true for getting pregnant.” — Sharon, 42, who has five-year-old twin daughters

“After a miscarriage and then a sudden divorce, I longed for the weight of my baby in my arms. I dated for a few years post-divorce and had a relationship that ended because he was on the fence about having kids. ​​My boomer parents were confused at first, but then were just like, ‘Give us a grandchild!’” — Tara, 35, who has a five-month-old son

“I approached it like a research project and read every article I could about being a single mom. I googled things like ‘I regret having kids.’ I talked to friends who had kids and friends who didn’t. I mapped out what my days would look like with kids versus without, and that still didn’t come close to reality, but it was a start.” — Millicent, 42, who has a two-and-a-half-year-old son

“By the time I was 30, I knew I had no desire for a spouse but lots of desire for a child. And I lived in a time and place where I could make that happen. Because I didn’t care about having a partner, I didn’t go through the mourning period that some other single moms by choice seem to go through. I wasn’t giving up one dream in favor of another — I was pursuing my exact dream.” — Melissa, 62, who has a 26-year-old daughter

On Choosing a Sperm Donor

“I tried to pick donors who looked similar to my family, mainly because it felt weird to try to choose what my child might look like. I had to go through several donors before I got pregnant, so I was definitely pickier on the first few.” — Jessica, 40, who has a seven-month-old daughter

“Choosing the donor felt like a very big decision at the time, but that’s something I rarely think of now.” — Sharon, 42, who has five-year-old twin daughters

On Not Having a Partner

“The best and hardest parts are actually the same: I get to make all the decisions. I choose their schools, pediatricians, traditions, and what religion they’ll be raised with. But sometimes you want to run things by someone who is just as invested as you are.” — Sharon, 42, who has five-year-old twin daughters

“A few weeks ago, there was a tornado warning. As I ran into the bathroom with my little guy and my dog, I felt the weight of being solely responsible. That feels heavy some days.” — Tara, 35, who has a five-month-old son

“When I hear mothers complaining about how their partners don’t help out, that feels like one place where it’s easier for me. I don’t have the added stress of disagreeing on how to do things or the unmet expectations of how someone else is going to contribute.” — Jessica, 40, who has a seven-month-old daughter

“I try to be the best mom I can be, but it’s difficult that there isn’t an in-house witness to that. On Mother’s Day, seeing all of the posts from spouses about how their partner is the ‘best mom’ is hard.” — Meredith, 40, who has a four-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son

On Male Role Models

“Raising boys, I tried to keep male role models around (uncles, neighbors, friends, teachers, older neighborhood kids) and encouraged those relationships. I wondered how they would learn to shave and tie a tie, but it turned out my kids figured that stuff out — with YouTube! And, later, Reddit.” — Robin, “sixty something,” who has a 26-year-old son and 23-year-old son

“Since I’ve pretty much always been single, I wondered, How can I help my daughter navigate that part of her life? How can I model a good relationship for her when I’m not in one and don’t plan to be in one? But she looked at my parents, at her friends’ parents, and at my brother and his wife. We talked about the relationships we saw in TV shows, movies and books. We talked about sex and sexual relationships. And we talked about who she was dating or spending time with. At 26, she’s already had some long-term relationships, so I’m no longer worried.” — Melissa, 62, who has a 26-year-old daughter

“I was concerned that my daughter would grow up to either be intimidated by men or inappropriately seek out their attention. Neither of those things happened. I made sure she spent time with great men, like my father, my brother and brother in law. I asked the school to assign her to male teachers. She has very little tolerance for men who do not respect her, largely because she has no sense that she ‘needs’ a man in her life.” — Allison, 55, who has a 22-year-old daughter

On Figuring Out Finances

“My insurance did not cover fertility treatments that weren’t between a man and a woman. All of the fertility visits, drugs, and procedures cost about $50,000. I was lucky that I had a well-paying job and had saved up. ” — Sharon, 42, who has five-year-old twin daughters

“Finances were the primary reason I stopped with one child. I would always tell my son we had enough money for all we needed and some of what we wanted, and that was plenty. Flexibility at work is the most important thing. I’ve had some great bosses and some horrible ones, and I was only ever anything close to being a great mom when I’ve had a great boss.” — Marsha, 60, who has an 18-year-old son

“My job was a huge reason I was able to become a single mom of choice. I work at a hospital, and after two years, you are eligible for half off fertility benefits and IVF medications. Still, IVF was expensive and I ended up putting some on a credit card. I upped my life insurance while I was pregnant and created a will shortly after he was born. The financial burden is something I think about a lot. ” — Tara, 35, who has a five-month-old son

On Getting Help

“Many of us single mothers by choice, I’ve realized, have personalities where we like or are used to doing everything ourselves, so we have a hard time asking for help. But, as a single mom, you need to learn to ask for help. It’s easier with family, but I am always mentally trying to figure out how to do the impossible before finally realizing I can just ask someone to pick up the girls from an after-school activity.” — Sharon, 42, who has five-year-old twin daughters

“My friends have lifted us up time and again. My close friend came to prenatal classes with me; she now hosts Sunday night dinners. My childhood best friend stayed with me the week before my due date and during my unplanned C-section. During Covid, my infant daughter and I were supported by a network that just kept showing up with groceries, flowers, bread, burritos, and that all-important baby Tylenol.” — Austen, 44, who has a two-year-old daughter

“It’s incredibly helpful when someone assumes responsibility for one complete task. My dad walks my daughter to school every morning. My best friend babysits on the night of my book club. Knowing those things are entirely off my plate is a huge lift.” — Meredith, 40, who has a four-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son

“I asked for help all the time and paid for help when I could. I took short vacations away from the kids — and always came back a better mom.” — Robin, “sixty something,” who has a 26-year-old son and 23-year-old son

On Dating

“Between working and parenting, I’m using 100% of my bandwidth. I fantasize about having a torrid romance in my fifties when I’m near retirement and no longer have small kids at home. Who knows what will happen?” — Meredith, 40, who has a four-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son

“Once my son starts daycare, I’m thinking of starting dating during my lunch hour. Choosing to become a single mom doesn’t mean that I gave up on romantic relationships. I enjoy being single, but if someone could add to my life and my son’s life, I would be thrilled.” — Tara, 35, who has a five-month-old son

On Public Response

“I live in Oklahoma, a very conservative state, but I’ve been surprised with how many people say they know someone who is a single mom by choice or are just generally happy for me.” — Millicent, 42, who has a two-and-a-half-year-old son

“​My parents were very surprised. We had never talked about plans for my future, so this felt out of the blue. My father was very concerned about the financials, but I knew that that was his way of expressing worry for me. Once they saw that I had a handle on everything, they relaxed and were very excited about becoming grandparents.

“My paternal grandmother was shocked, but it was clear that her primary concern was, ‘How am I going to explain this to the people at synagogue?’ I told her to tell them she was going to become a great-grandmother (she did that, later, and her friends were happy for her), and after that she sort of threw me out of her apartment. We weren’t close, so her response made no difference to me. My maternal grandmother’s love and enthusiasm more than made up for my paternal grandmother’s reaction.

“I was working in commercial publishing, which is generally a liberal field, so I expected my being pregnant wouldn’t be a big deal, and it wasn’t. I was very open about how I’d conceived. My becoming a single mom by choice was completely uncontroversial in my social circle and work life.

“When my daughter was in elementary school, there was one mother who didn’t want our daughters to be friends because my daughter was conceived out of wedlock. She was the only person who ever reacted like that. I found it more amusing than anything else, and my daughter’s reaction was basically a shrug. We ignored the mother’s disapproval and went on with our lives.” — Melissa, 62, who has a 26-year-old daughter

“I got nothing but support when I shared my plans. Some of my mom’s friends actually seemed a little bit envious that this choice was an option for me, because in order to become mothers, they didn’t see any path besides marriage.” — Marsha, 60, who has an 18-year-old son

On Learning From Other Moms

“I read a few books — Choosing Single Motherhood and Going Solo, plus Liv’s Alone which is hilarious — and listened to the great podcast Not By Accident. The world we live in is very couple focused and you get a lot of questions. When I was pregnant, my neighbor yelled across the street, ‘WHO IS THE DADDY?!?’ It was like Jerry Springer, but real life. Thankfully, I was in a weekly support group on Zoom, so I had a vibrant online community of other women who understood exactly what I was going through.” — Tara, 35, who has a five-month-old son

“It was helpful to hear from members of Jane Mattes’s Single Mothers by Choice group who had been there before me. I knew I could succeed because I had those examples.” — Marsha, 60, who has an 18-year-old son

On Talking to Kids

“I started telling my daughter our story when she was much too young to understand — partly because I wanted practice and partly because I did not ever want there to be a time she ‘found out.’ She just always knew.” — Allison, 55, who has a 22-year-old daughter

“My biggest fear was that my children would resent me for not having a father. My daughter has asked questions, and my narrative is that I tried to find a man worthy of being a daddy, I couldn’t find one, and so I used a donor instead. We also talk a lot about different kinds of families and that it’s okay to want a daddy (or a sister, a cousin, etc.), but also that it’s important to remember all the people we have who love us (insert long list of people who love her).” — Meredith, 40, who has a four-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son

“What I’ve learned over the years is that the vast majority of donor-conceived people who are unhappy about it are people who didn’t know until their teens or adulthood. Learning the truth about their origins was wrenching because there was a secret in their family. At eight, my daughter explained to her friends that her mom went to ‘a bank, like a regular bank, but for sperm, not money,’ which was hilarious.” — Melissa, 62, who has a 26-year-old daughter

On Magic Moments

“When you’ve used a donor, there’s always an element of surprise: Did she get this trait from me? From her donor? Is it her own unique inborn nature? One of my favorite things has been watching my daughter’s sense of humor develop; she loves wordplay and puns as much as I do. One day, she ran up to me shouting, ‘Mummy, I peed in the potty!’ She took me by the hand into the bathroom to show off…a wooden snap pea that she had carefully laid in the potty. She was beside herself with glee.” — Austen, 44, who has a two-year-old daughter

“My son and I were making different faces: a silly face, a sad face, a happy face. He said ‘make a mama face.’ I asked him what a mama face looks like and he answered ‘Happy!’ I’m so proud that he sees me that way.” — Millicent, 42, who has a two-and-a-half-year-old son

“A year ago, I was injecting myself with IVF meds and feeling quite hopeless. Now when my son smiles, it feels like the best thing. It took years to have this little guy, and I can’t believe I’m someone’s mom!” — Tara, 35, who has a five-month-old son

Thank you so much to everyone who shared their story! And, CoJ community, please share your stories and thoughts below, if you’d like…

P.S. Being a single mom in Iceland, and our parenting motto.

(Photo by Studio Marmellata/Stocksy.)