Thursday, December 9, 2010

Going it alone

After I posted my dating diatribe about denying the loud ticking sound, I received several emails from single women closing in on that scary birthday that starts with a four. They all basically asked the same thing: "You have a kid. Would you recommend doing it alone?"

Hardest question ever. I've quipped more than once that I wouldn't wish single parenthood on my worst enemy. I love the Grape, but he's exhausting. And I don't have to parent him alone, or anywhere remotely close to alone.

But my frank response seems - inevitably - to yield the follow up question, "What if I really, really want a baby? Shouldn't I'm go for it on my own?"

I'm going to channel my inner politico and say it depends.

Because it truly does. Everyone knows that having a baby changes life as you know it, but I doubt anyone fully internalizes the seismic force of that change until they've spent the first weeks home with the new bundle of joy.

So I'll garner my share of hate mail for writing this, but I would advise women driven to distraction by the ticking noise to take a serious look at their resources.

I don't mean just money, though having some helps. Money may not buy happiness, but it absolutely purchases choices.

It's reckless to assume everything will go swimmingly. Who could you bring in to help if you have complications, or your child has problems, or you get an infant who, for whatever reason, never ever sleeps? What if you conceive twins?

Can you miss work for child-related crises? Can you afford child care, and back up child care? Help with other household tasks?

On an outwardly more frivolous level, can you handle the hit to your social life? Because if you want to see your kid and you need to support your kid on your own, your nights out on the town will decrease (if not vanish). As, I suspect, will your romantic prospects. I'm not saying that you won't be the yummiest of mummies, it's that you'll have scheduling issues and a child much of the male dating pool will regard as baggage.

There are other ways, of course. Single girlfriends sometimes ponder freezing their eggs. Unfortunately, any reasonably good reproductive endocrinologist will admit that eggs don't freeze nearly as well as sperm. Plus you have to inject hormones for weeks before they can harvest your eggs to determine if your body gave up any worth saving.

What strikes me most about the whole quandary is that never have I heard a single woman over thirty-five ask whether she should settle. I don't mean for any old loser, but for a good and kind man who might make a great dad, but who doesn't do it for her in every other way. Lori Gottlieb, herself a single mom, had this to say about settling for Mr. Not Quite Right:

Based on my observations, in fact, settling will probably make you happier in the long run, since many of those who marry with great expectations become more disillusioned with each passing year. (It’s hard to maintain that level of zing when the conversation morphs into discussions about who’s changing the diapers or balancing the checkbook.)

Ms. Gottlieb's advice won't sit well with many women. We're conditioned to hold out for what we want, to make no compromises in the mating game. But if what you want above all is a biological child, then it seems that dismissing guys who don't check every box on your list might be a tad self defeating. She never suggests that settling is ideal, but she argues emphatically that parenting is a better experience with a solid teammate on your side. I can't argue with that.

I don't, however, subscribe to the dated notion that a child will suffer in a single parent household. Sometimes a parent dies and the survivor has to fend for everyone. I know a couple of single moms by choice who have charming, happy, well adjusted children. They themselves have no lives, and that's not an exaggerration.

Families come in countless functional forms, and plenty of single moms and dads do a fantastic job. But I do think it's easier on any parent to have consistent adult support.

Here's the link to Lori Gottlieb's piece:


  1. I could not agree more that single women considering motherhood MUST first consider their financial and physical resources as well as considering the type of mother they want to be. There is much more sacrifice than most women understand, and not just to one's social life. It often comes down to sacrificing a shower or one's own doctor's appointment or even a promotion if one wants to be an involved child rearer.

    And, money does buy options in that you can pay for care for your child so that you can nourish yourself (working out, hygiene appts (manis/pedi/facial/waxing etc, yoga, lunch/dinner with friends, etc) but it does add up and quickly.

    I am not sure that one can ever deny their desire to be a mother, but planning is a must before acting.

  2. Thanks for reading. Good observation on the foregone promotion. It's almost a given that a single parent's career will take some kind of hit. There's just no way to give the office a hundred per cent at all times when you bear sole responsibility for a baby. Put another way, you can absolutely keep your career going, but it's hard to see how your upward trajectory wouldn't slow.
    Also, many well intentioned employees plan to work from home, which does eliminate commuting time. In my experience, it's completely impossible to accomplish anything from home unless someone else is minding your child.