More and more moms are finding themselves handling all of the responsibility of raising a family. According to the US Census Bureau, out of about 12 million single-parent families in 2017 with children under age 18, more than 80 percent were headed by single mothers.1 Today one in four children under age 18 — a total of about 17.2 million — are being raised without a father.2
For most single moms, that means working outside the home while parenting full-time. That’s quite a load, to say the least.
From watching my single mother as I was growing up and witnessing the lives of many women in that situation now, four things stand out as essentials if you’re going to succeed, not just survive, being a single mom.
4 Ways to Succeed at Being a Single Mom
1. Strive To Have a Positive Attitude
Attitude is everything. It affects both mental and physical health, and it largely determines whether you succeed or fail. People who think they can usually can. People who don’t believe they can usually can’t — whatever the issue at hand, whatever the demand. You must have a positive attitude if you want to succeed. You can’t be a victim in your mentality, continually ask “why me?” and insist that others aren’t taking care of you. Things are not easy as a single mom, no doubt about it — but you can make it with a positive attitude.
Single moms can become weighed down with emotions that are like strikes against them when it comes to choosing their attitude.
Four Strikes Against a Positive Attitude
Strike 1: Anger
One strike can be anger. Anger toward their ex-husband, or anger because they’re alone, the world isn’t fair, and they have to struggle at a job and then go home and be both a mom and dad to their children. Anger because people don’t understand the unrelenting demands that pull at them day in and day out, all week and all weekend.
When anger is unresolved, it causes damage inside and out. You don’t have the time or money to let those damages derail you and make you unable to function at your job or with your kids. Just keep your mind on all the good things you can think of and what you’re grateful for.
Strike 2: Resentment
The second strike is resentment. Unresolved anger can become resentment toward others. Very often, it’s misdirected and becomes aimed at parents, friends, or churches who may not have had a role in events or any power to sway them. Resentment hurts both the person who feels it and those around her.
If resentment isn’t dealt with, it can turn inward and fester into bitterness like a boil – a painful, localized, pus-filled swelling of the skin. Once the boil forms a channel, the wound can be lanced, drained, and cleaned. Then the swelling will go down, and the boil can heal. If not drained, a boil will continue to generate pus, increasing the swelling, the pressure, and the pain. And the infection will spread, forming new boils.
Sometimes we feel as if we deserve to carry around bitter feelings. Letting go can feel like saying, “It doesn’t matter so much.” But we feel just the opposite. It does matter so much, and it hurts so much. But not dealing with anger and resentment is like covering a boil, hoping it will simply go away. It won’t. It will only fester, grow, spread, and erupt in other places. And the pain will increase.
You don’t deserve to carry around your anger and bitterness. You deserve to be free. Letting go doesn’t mean it didn’t matter. It just means it isn’t worth the cost of hanging on to the infection. Striving to have a positive attitude is like sunshine and fresh air. It’s cleansing. It lightens our load. It strengthens and renews health. That’s what you really deserve.
Strike 3: Not Getting Help
If you’re locked up with bad feelings and damaged emotions and feel you can’t move on, look for help. Almost always, unresolved issues will paralyze you emotionally. You need a source outside yourself to help you deal with those roadblocks, sort them out, and move beyond them. Smart people get help. Be smart. Confide in a close friend you can trust. Go to a pastor or find a counselor. But get help.
Seeking the guidance of others isn’t a show of weakness. It isn’t just the latest approach in pop psychology. Such a wise approach to life has been known throughout the centuries. The biblical book of Proverbs (11:14, NASB) says, “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory.”
Strike 4: Failing to Adjust Your Perspective
With a positive attitude, you can take whatever situation you’re in and make the most of it. It will be your greatest weapon in fighting despair. You can do it; you just have to believe you can.
Often it’s not the circumstances so much as your view of them that needs the adjustment. Ruth Bell Graham tells a story of some fishermen in Scotland who gathered at an inn to rest and enjoy a cup of hot tea:
“Just as the waitress was serving them, one of the men began describing the day’s catch in typical fisherman gestures, and his right hand collided with a teacup. The contents splashed all over the white-washed wall, and an ugly brown stain emerged.
“I’m so terribly sorry,” the fisherman apologized repeatedly.
“Never mind,” said a man who jumped up from a nearby table. Pulling a crayon from his pocket, he began to sketch around the tea stain, and there emerged a magnificent royal stag with his antlers spread. The artist was Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, England’s foremost painter of animals.
If an artist can do that with an ugly brown stain, what can God do with my sins and my mistakes if I give them over to Him?” 3
2. Refuse To Give In to Comparisons.
Comparisons can be toxic. First, they’re usually shortsighted and incorrect. You never see the whole story. You don’t know what other people may be dealing with. Anyway, we’re each unique. None of us is alike, so why are we constantly comparing ourselves to one another?
When we make comparisons, we begin to have expectations. And often, those expectations are unreasonable. Just as a low-income family can’t expect to have a house and car as nice as those of their more well-to-do neighbors, you can’t expect to produce the same energy and creativity around the house as your married, stay-at-home friend next door. That’s just not realistic. The best advice is to use your mental and physical energy in determining how to make the most of your situation, not focusing on comparisons or expending all your efforts trying to match someone else’s standard of living.
A friend of mine often says, “Things wouldn’t be so hard if we didn’t expect them to be so easy.” Things won’t be so difficult for you as a single mom if you don’t expect them to be easy. Refuse to make the comparisons. Refuse to buy into the expectations of keeping up with someone else, of having everything they have. The truth is, you won’t be able to do everything. You may not have all you want or once had. But that’s okay. Our lives are not measured in our abundance of things.
3. Never Give Up
When you give up, you quit fighting. When you quit fighting, you lose. Never give up because only by hanging on will you win.
Determination is necessary to overcome any obstacle, any challenge, any handicap. Whenever something doesn’t work out, you have to try again. Maybe from a different angle, perhaps in a different way, but you have to keep trying. Set a goal, have a plan, and never give up.
4. Nurture Your Soul
All of us need a resource outside ourselves. And everyone needs to go to that source for nourishment and refreshment. Nurture your soul. Refresh it. Don’t neglect the needs of your innermost being.
For our family, our source has been God Himself.
My mother nurtured her soul from the Bible every day. When there was no soap for the washing machine, Mom would remind us that God would provide. Things would get especially tough, and she would rehearse for us how good God was, how He would never leave us. When my father became abusive and mom was in physical danger, she would reflect on God’s promises and remind us that He knows everything.
Imagine the inner strength she must have had to endure those hard days. That strength remained constant because she nurtured her soul. And imagine the foundation it gave her three children. We saw what truly mattered. She showed us how to lay a foundation to support us against anything we would ever face in life. We learned where to go for our own inner strength. And what security and emotional stamina that built into us!
A Single Mom Can Do It!
My single mother lived through horrible circumstances with her abusive husband before he left, but she went on to live a victorious life. And her three kids not only survived but thrived as well.
So, can the single mom do it? It’s not an easy road. Strive to have a positive attitude. Refuse to give in to comparisons. Never give up. And nurture your soul. For Mom, that meant reading her Bible, believing God was big enough to deal with her problems and then choosing to live like it. I pray these will be your resolutions, too. They work!
1. US Census Bureau – Table FG10. Family Groups: 2017
2. US Census Bureau – Table C2. Household Relationship and Living Arrangements of Children Under 18 Years, by Age and Sex: 20.
3. Patricia Daniels Cornwell, A Time for Remembering: The Ruth Bell Graham Story (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983), 229.