Sheryl Sandberg has certainly done a great job of raising the visibilty of the mommy wars, where one camp wants to focus on being home with their kids while the other wants to continue to promote the role of women in the workforce. I clearly fall into the latter category, but then again, I also did not have a choice after my divorce. Many single parents lose the luxury of staying home with their kids once there are two households to manage instead of one, and we actually have to lean in at work more because that is the only way our family will thrive.
Truth be told, the idea of being a single mother was my worst nightmare come true. I already saw how hard it was for my mother to raise me on her own when I was growing up, and I had ZERO intention of following in her footsteps. So, I followed the cookie cutter path of graduating from all top tier schools; I got married and bought a house, and by the time I was 31 I had the dog, the Merc, the six figure salary and the kid– and then the following year I had the worst meltdown of my life. We fired the nanny, sold the house, got rid of the Merc, and I had to slash all expenses so I could continue to build my own law firm, which was the one thing I wasn’t willing to give up.
For the last 8 years, I have been solely responsible for my own income and managing my own household. It has been far from easy, but with the support of my ex-husband and friends, I have been able to lean in and prove that women deserve to be in leadership roles and have a lot to offer at the upper tier of the business world. Not only did my law practice thrive, but I ventured into radio and tv, and authored various pieces, which now allows me to play with the big boys, and while that is fun, wow do I wish there were some more women around.
Like Sheryl, I used to avoid using the term “feminist” to describe myself– it was a dirty word in college that I avoided like the plague. Yet, from where I stand now, it is so hard to avoid feeling quite disheartened– I was taught that we were equal to our male counterparts, and yet at my age I see so few women at the top tiers of their law firms. Less that 15% will make partner– and this drops to less than 3% if you are a female minority like me. The truth is many of my friends “self-selected” out of the rat race once they had kids, and I understand the choices they made, but that simply wasn’t an option for me.
My married friends struggle with meeting the competing interests of their work, spouse, and 2 kids. They barely have time to go to the gym, let alone take time out to pursue any other endeavors. I feel for them, and so perhaps that is why I decided that on the days when I was not with my son, I would work extra on behalf of my fellow women to champion the cause that more of us need to support– the rise of the female executive, who can still make time to enjoy her role as a mother.
Hollywood, of course, has many shining examples of single moms: J.Lo, Heidi Klum, Katie Holmes, Sharon Stone, Jenny McCarthy, Denise Richards, Minnie Driver, Christina Aguilera, Sofia Vergara, Madonna, Sandra Bullock and Sheryl Crow are but a few. I bet if you polled them all, none would say their dream was to be a single mom, and despite all the resources they may have, I am sure none would say it is easy to be both a mother and pursue a career in their ridiculously competitive industry, and yet there is something compelling them to prove that it can be done. I think I know what that is– and it is completely related to being a mom.
We all need to lean in, but maybe the strongest push is going to come from those of us who are single parents (including men), determined to show our kids that with strength and resilience you can accomplish whatever you want in life. None of us dreamed of being single while raising a family, but maybe that is exactly what had to happen to give us that extra push to go rock this world!
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.