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Breadwinning Mothers and Single Family Households, Changing American Women One Day at a Time

As a child, I remember my mother going to work each day. I remember her getting dressed in a suit, putting on makeup and walking out the door confidently. Years later, she’d tell me that many of these times she left me she ended up crying on her way to work or throwing up in a public bathroom. To me, as a child, she was this powerful, beautiful woman who had it all and could move the world in an instant.

It made such an impression on me that I used to play going to work — with baby in tow — instead of house or school.

I never dreamed about coming home to cook for a husband and children — I dreamed about coming home after a long day to a delicious takeout meal and catching up on tv… and now, I do just that (plus a little wine for good measure).

And today, without a child or husband (or boyfriend), I find myself being questioned about why I can’t work longer, or why I am negotiating a higher salary or why I “need” any of the things that are my right to have — equal pay for equal work, choice over whether or not I answer an email after business hours, and how I choose to balance my life.

As women, we are constantly scrutinized for the choices we make — to be a parent or not, to get married or not, to wear lipstick or not.

“Damned if we do and damned if we don’t,” as they say.

It is exhausting, debilitating, and distracting, and I, for one, have had enough.

Single mother households are as valuable as two-parent households and working mothers have just as much to offer their children as stay at home mothers do.

The mommy wars do nothing but divide us and it is time to come together to support one another instead of harping on our differences.

The trends show that these “differences” are on the rise.

What the Stats Show

Single parent households are on the rise. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, the number of single parent households has more than tripled since the 1960s.

As a child of divorce, something that also reached peak numbers in the 1980s, I am familiar with this and I believe it is actually a positive thing when the mother is able to make the choices she needs for her family.

If not, as the Pew Research Center also found, it will put her at an economic disadvantage which will then create a ripple effect for years to come.

These research pieces, news articles, and contradictions don’t show the full picture. It’s about the experience that this creates for the children in these households. What it teaches them, how it changes them and how it prepares them for life.

Many millennials — born during the rise of divorce in the late, great 80s — often find themselves as children of divorce. Some were actually children when the divorce happened while others were young adults, teenagers or college students and graduates. No matter when it happens, divorce is something that changes a family.

Notice I didn’t say “for better or worse” at the end of that last sentence. The “good” vs “bad” distinction of divorce that is often debated (and very rarely agreed upon) is not truly applicable to the lifetime success of the children of the divorced parents — it is both parts, the good and bad, that truly allow children of divorce to succeed.

By being about to see their mother in a powerful role from an early age, men and women have a unique perspective on household roles, supporting a partner, and what it means to be successful.

Women are Becoming Whole People First

According to this article from 2014 by The Washington Post, single motherhood is so common in America that it is believed that half of all children live with one parent at some point before they turn 18…and that is a statistic from three years ago.

The trends in women having children later in life, with unmarried partners, and before marriage or without marriage altogether, contribute to this but it is also part of the overall change of how women are a part of the workforce.

From 1972 to 1985, women in the professional workforce increased from 44 to 49 percent. And my mother was one of those women.

My mother got married in 1984, at the ripe old age of 22 (yes, really) and started her life. She was married before she officially became a licensed attorney although she had finished her education and had taken the bar exam before she was married.

She had her first child, me, in 1988 and had the internet installed in her condo to be able to work from home in the mornings before heading off to court or the office later in the day.

Another interesting statistic on the rise in trends is that of the stay at home moms. According to this Pew Research report, the number of stay at home mothers rose from 22 to 29 percent from 1999 to 2012.

This isn’t truly representative of the number of stay at home moms (SAHM) who earn money on the side or from online businesses. There are many, many women who can actually “retire” their husbands with online businesses, thereby keeping both parents home with their children.

And I think part of this is inspired by mothers like mine who worked in a hybrid situation which gave us the courage to try to truly have it all.

What This Means for Women of all Ages

How many times have you seen a headline asking  ‘can women have it all?’ I’ve seen it so much that I physically cringe when I read it.

The reason we can’t have it all? It is not because we are not capable of balancing but it is because of the acceptance of a balance of home, personal and work life — by men AND women.

I truly believe that the rise of the woman equals the rise of the nation, but that in order for all women to rise, we must be united in our right to choose what works for us.

The Mommy Wars have been a constant in my mind and have played out in many ways in my life. As a child, I was aware of being a latchkey kid. As a teenager, all I knew was that I wanted to work very hard and very fast to have the flexibility to bring my baby to work with me someday.

And that paid off more for me than anything else -- it is what gave me the courage to choose to start my own business at 27 and the ferocity to do whatever it takes to make it succeed.

Is Flexibility the Key?

Choice. It’s a word that is chanted, shouted and debated. What does it really mean for women?

Flexibility in the workplace is one of the ways to close the gender gap because women, whether they have children or not, are more inclined to engage in many more hours of unpaid work compared to men and that is a statistic, not an alternative fact.

According to the World Economic Forum, women engage in 4 hours of unpaid work like household chores, child care, and personal to-do items after an 8 hour work day while men only engage in 1. By allowing us to have the flexibility to choose when, where, and how we work, we are better able to spread those additional hours throughout the day at a time where it is most convenient for us to do it, thereby freeing up our creative and analytical brains to do the work we are paid for.  

Flexibility is the key because it is what allows children to see their mothers making a positive choice for themselves and their lives.

Overall, it comes down to the fact that single mother households often have no choice but to become the primary breadwinner -- they make choices to survive, choices to thrive and help their daughters see that though these choices are hard, they are not impossible.

It can also be positive for their sons — by learning that women are capable of providing for their family, the sons can learn, as my brother did, that it’s important to support the women in your life in every way, not just financially.

My brother and I are both millennials who moved out of our mother’s home in our early 20s. We did it because we wanted to create our own lives…we did it because she showed us that if we worked hard enough, nothing would be impossible.


Victoria "Vix" Reitano is a Speaker, Content Creator, Social Media Expert, Content Strategist, and Digital Content Producer and Editor.  She is the Founder and CEO of CreatiVix Media, a boutique digital agency based in Manhattan. She manages the digital content and social media strategy for e-commerce and editorial brands, influencers, entrepreneurs, C-suite executives, and on-air talent. To learn more, follow her on Twitter @vixinthecity and Instagram @vixinthecity.

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Photo Credit: Peter Dazeley Photographer's Choice


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