When I came up with my 10-year plan, I was married. I’d decided to complete my bachelor’s degree while looking after my young children. This meant I could spend the day at home with them, then use my evenings to study for a better future. By the time I’d finished my degree, they would all be in school full time, and I would be able to embark on my new career. The plan was perfect, and while there were challenges at times, it went great during the first years.
Then my marriage broke down, and I found myself a single mom to 3 kids 2 years before I was to graduate. This brought its own struggles, mostly emotional at the time, but I never gave up and got there in the end. A year and a half later, just before I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, COVID-19 hit, and the whole world went into lockdown. No one could have predicted it, and it certainly wasn’t part of the plan. For me, the timing couldn’t have been worse.
Welcome to single motherhood
At this point, I was surviving unemployment as a single mom. I was also a fresh graduate in my field with no real work experience in the last 10 years. Sure, I had some self-employed work-from-home gigs over the years to earn a little money, but I was raising my children and hadn’t been in a salaried position since my oldest was born. It was at this point that I realized how hard it was to be a single mom who couldn’t find a job.
There are many challenges single working moms face. First of all, many married couples may decide to have the mother stay home with the children while the father works. When the parents are together, this works perfectly, but if they split, the stay-at-home parent is often disadvantaged. It’s frequently the mother who is left with the children after having been unemployed and serving as their full-time caregiver.
This means that not only does she shoulder the emotional burden of raising the children alone, but she now also has to carry the financial burden. She has also been unemployed for some time and is usually the main caregiver, neither of which typically sits well with employers.
The job hunt struggle
Finding a job as a single mom is a struggle in itself. There I was, qualified or even overqualified for many positions I applied to, and it often felt as if employers wouldn’t even give me a chance. Most of them say something to the effect of “needing someone with a flexible schedule,” which pretty much equates to “not a single mom with kids.”
From the employer’s point of view, a single mom is a liability, I suppose. If the schools shut down (COVID lockdowns being a case in point), then we will have to take time off work to look after our children. I completely understand their worries, but I also think it’s unfair to overlook a single mom because of her lack of flexibility.
After all, a single mom is likely to be a hard worker, well organized, and extremely efficient with her time, particularly one like myself, who has managed to raise 3 children while studying at university and doing contractor work to boot.
If I can write a 5,000-word essay on the biological communications of a cell while cooking spaghetti bolognese and getting kids ready for bed, I’m sure I can manage to do just about anything an employer would require. Yet, application after application came back with the same comment, “We are looking for a candidate with a more flexible schedule.”
Jobs for single moms
I looked up all sorts of jobs for single moms. Many companies offer sales-type positions where you sell makeup, candles, or diet products for a commission. However, the only way to make a decent income is to constantly push products on everyone you know. You would have to knock on neighbors’ doors, harass other parents at your parent groups, or rely on guilt purchases from your close friends and family. That wasn’t something I wanted to do.
There were lots of care jobs and warehouse work, but both often called for 12-hour shifts or other work schedules that just wouldn’t be viable. After all, paying someone to look after 3 children for half of the day would very likely have ended up costing me more than I’d earn at this stage. Not to mention that with COVID restrictions, many babysitters weren’t even willing to take on new kids.
The one I did find to look after my children expected me to pay a month’s worth of childcare fees upfront. This created a sort of a chicken-and-egg scenario: I needed a job to pay for childcare, and I needed childcare to get a job. This was compounded by the usual hurdle of needing experience to get a job but needing a job to get experience. I had never realized there were so many career-related issues for single parents.
Some survival strategies for single working parents in this situation might include co-parenting or having family or friends watch the kids until the first paycheck comes in. Once you get your first paycheck, you can cover childcare, get to work more easily, and eventually settle into a rhythm. Unfortunately for me, this was not an option, so I had to find something that either coincided with school hours or allowed me to work from home.
Getting there eventually
It took me a few months of consistent job hunting while working as self-employed for extra money to finally find a remote salaried position. The COVID lockdowns have interfered with my ability to get a job in the field I want, but my degree has helped me find a position working from home.
Many companies were forced to transition to a work-from-home model, and it just so happens I got offered a position with one of these. Still, during the interview process, I was asked several questions related to childcare and my availability to work. The flexibility of my schedule took precedent over my qualifications or personal achievements.
I’m grateful to have found a position working from home during this time. I know that summer makes it more challenging to work full time from home and be a mom who is present without the two bleeding into each other. I will likely need to invest in some soundproofing and resort to bribery until I can save up enough to foot a childcare bill to get the kids out of the house a bit. Until then, I will continue to do what single moms do best—keep going and don’t give up because we all get there eventually.