Single Parent? Mommy Track? No Spring Chicken?

There’s nothing simple about being a single parent. Man or woman, widowed or divorced – you’ve got your hands full. And if you are a woman, single motherhood will likely put a strain on whatever career you’ve already established, unless money isn’t an issue or you have a fantastic support network.

What if you mommy track for a number of years, staying home to raise your children full-time? What if you take lower level or part-time positions? What if you add to that the burden of being an older mother? When it’s time to get back into the game, how will you approach it?

Can you parlay your smile and transferable skills into a job?

Can you still compete?

It’s tough enough doing the married mother juggle when it comes to work-for-pay and parenting, but for many of us, divorce becomes a career-killer, at least for a period of time. As for how long that period may be – it will depend on circumstances both within our control and many that are beyond us. So then what?

What do you do? Do you throw in the towel? Are you doomed to a downward spiral?

Women, Jobs, the Economy

So how do women – especially women over 50 – move from mommy track to career track?

In a problematic economy, this is no small feat. Some statistics estimate that 90% of new jobs have been going to men, and it is a reasonable assumption that the stereotype persists that men are the breadwinners.

Are men the sole breadwinners? We know that’s not the case. Are we dealing with a zero-sum game, worsened in our still troubled economy? Possibly so. Or perhaps, women are still doing the majority of the childcare juggling, making them less able to go for these same opportunities.

Citing a column by Barbara Hannah Grufferman that deals with women looking for paying work:

A recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that of the 1.3 million jobs created in the last 12 months, some 90 percent have gone to men. Women have gained just 149,000 jobs… Looking at the data since the end of the recession in July 2009, men have gained 600,000 jobs while women have lost 300,000 jobs.

Other factors?

My personal belief is that lack of self-esteem remains a significant factor that undermines women.

We doubt our abilities, and time spent career-sidetracked makes us question them even more. As we age, we also feel less attractive, and who would dispute that in this culture a woman’s beauty (or at the very least, appeal) is a considerable (necessary) asset?

Those “female maintenance” activities? They’re critical to our marketability, as well as our health and well-being.

Getting Back to (Paying) Work

So how do we dig our way out, or fight our way back? Is entrepreneurship the only answer, and do we even have time for that sort of round-the-clock work effort if we’re still actively parenting? And what if we’re solo parenting?

Try these suggestions.

  • Friends with whom to discuss and brainstorm
  • A simple calling card to introduce yourself and a willingness to use it liberally
  • Social media (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) to grow your connections
  • Asking for help when you need it
  • And taking risk — including the risk of rejection

The downside may not be so bad.

And the upside? Potentially huge.

My Story

If you’ve been reading me for awhile then you know my story. I’m a single (essentially solo) mother, and have been for a decade. I’m also an older mother, which presents other challenges – particularly for women who seek paying work.

Initially, being older when I had children allowed me flexibility; I brought years of experience and specialized skills to the table, and was able to negotiate a position with little to no travel, in an office only minutes from home. Eventually, I transitioned to a corporate job from an office in my home.

I was “full-time mom” and full-time manager, with a husband who traveled. I thought I was having it all and doing it all, but I didn’t anticipate how exhausted I would be, nor that I would become invisible to my organization.

When layoff and divorce hit simultaneously, an uncooperative ex and no money to keep up the fight left me slipping farther and farther behind the eight ball – and never able to dig out.

There have been good periods with wonderful clients and interesting projects. There have also been painful months – and years – when I was working for next to nothing and piling up the debts. There has been contracting and freelancing, non-stop self-marketing, and no benefits. Don’t forget that independent workers do not receive unemployment; nor do we show up in unemployment statistics. And, when you’re over 45 (much less over 50) – paying for medical, life, or disability insurance becomes prohibitively expensive.

Your Story? Your Skills? Your Pay Prospects?

What about you? Are you married with kids, and performing the important job of parenting?

  • Are you also working another job for pay?
  • Is your employer flexible with family-friendly arrangements?
  • If you’ve mommy tracked, what if the other breadwinner gets laid off?
  • What happens if you become a single or solo parent?
  • Are you currently trying to compete again in the workforce?

To say that this is concerning is an understatement. So how do we put a face on the problem? How do we “size” it? How do we get our political leaders, or business leaders, our media mavens to address these issues? What about all of us who have long since fallen through the cracks – contractors, independents, freelancers – no longer in the statistics?

What if all these wasted skills – yours, mine, ours – could be put to good use in this country? What might that do for the American economy?