I'm A Single Mom By Choice — But I'll No Longer Be A Martyr

I had made doing things by myself a million times harder by not asking for help.

woman holding baby Rasstock / Shutterstock

When I was in labor with my daughter, I took the subway to the hospital, my labor-and-delivery app opens on my phone, watching my contractions spike every five minutes. I stopped and got a bagel and iced coffee on the way, my bag — the same oversized Chloe satchel I’d dragged on a month-long trip through Europe several years earlier — slung awkwardly over my shoulder.

You may know this because I’ve told this story about a billion times. I’ve told it in mom groups, both virtual and IRL, in essays, and in almost every new interaction I’ve had with anyone I find out is also a parent.


I always try to share nonchalantly, a casual-seeming anecdote thrown in with all the others about sleep schedules, weaning, and swaddle recommendations.

But I know there’s an edge to my voice. I want the validation, the raised eyebrow, the, "Wow, I could never do what you’re doing."

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I’m a single mom. My daughter, Lucy, was conceived during a yearlong trip abroad; her father is not in the picture. I knew that I would be raising my daughter on my own — no nearby family, no partner. It was what I signed up for, and for the most part, I was surprised by how easily we settled into a routine.


From the day I brought her home from the hospital — no one checking on us the first night, thank you very much — we were a cozy team of two. I brought her everywhere — a wedding, a waxing appointment, a job interview (hey, I got the gig!). The first time I left her with anyone was with the gym babysitter when she was six months old.

Now that Lucy is two, we have a good system. She goes to a daycare I love, we have a few backup babysitters, I’ve brought her on trips, and am a pro at finding sitters abroad. I know I am doing an awesome job as a mom.

And yet, whenever I hear a friend say something about the tough parts of being a parent — whether it’s flying with a toddler, dealing with a shift in a sleep schedule, or lightheartedly complaining about how she never has time to read a book — I feel a flicker of rage deep in my stomach.

How can it be hard? There are two of you! It’s jealousy, pure and simple.


But you won’t hear that from me. Instead (and I’m not proud of this), I’ll troll my parent friend who complains about her partner, asking her all the details. I want to hear how her husband will get up and put on cartoons or start playing with her daughter instead of following proper back-to-sleep protocols. I want her to realize how lucky she is to have someone else to pitch in.

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I never say that. Instead, I murmured sympathetically. When the conversation is over, my jealousy is tamped down by a vague feeling of superiority. It doesn’t feel great.

And here’s the other thing: Having these heart-to-hearts has made me realize that it is tough to share parenting with someone else. When it’s just me, I call all the shots. There are no weeks-long discussions on best daycares, no passive-aggressive glances when I skip a bath and put Lucy to bed in the T-shirt and leggings she’s been wearing all day, and zero guilt over rice and chicken for dinner three nights in a row.


Only relying on myself for parenting decisions has made me incredibly confident that I've—we've—got this.

But it’s also given me a gigantic chip on my shoulder. Sure, I’m good at doing things by myself. So what do I want? The validation? I’ve gotten it from friends. The attention? Yes, if anyone wants to know how to lug their car seat, their bag, and their toddler across an airport, they know who to contact.

And the thing I want—someone to occasionally help out and make me feel less alone—is exactly the person I’m driving away.

Case in point: A few months ago, I had a horrible stomach bug. I was throwing up every 20 minutes and counting down the seconds until 7:30 am when I could drop Lucy off at daycare.


The only problem: Daycare was a good mile walk away. Even driving took 15 minutes in rush-hour city traffic and I truly did not have the energy to get out of bed, put on jeans, go to the garage and strap Lucy into her car seat. I texted my group of three mom friends about my dilemma, explaining how I was just trying to just get enough energy to cross the room without getting sick again.

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Ten minutes later, there was a knock on my door. It was my friend Stacy, keys in hand. She kneeled down and hugged Lucy, explaining that she was bringing her to daycare, no questions asked.

After Stacy left and the house was silent, I felt profound relief. If she had asked, I would have said no. But she didn’t.


And it made me realize how I had made doing things by myself a million times harder by not asking for help.

There’s no gold medal for getting your kid to daycare while you’re sick. Sure, sometimes it’s inevitable. But the martyr act—which is played by married moms, too—does no one any favors.

Let's be clear: A mom friend is not the same as a husband. But actually letting someone else into our lives and seeing me in the vulnerable, "what the fuck do I do" element of parenting was a profoundly scary step. But for me, it made me realize that it was okay to let go. It was okay to admit that even though I could do it on my own, I might want to have a partner in the picture.


As Lucy is getting older and more independent, I look back at our first two years with a combination of nostalgia and relief. I know that I won’t have any more children as a solo mom. If I do have another, it will be within a committed partnership. I try to imagine another adult in the mix, the shadowy presence of someone else’s opinions and actions in the future is unknown and intimidating.

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Because here's the thing, and what I wish I had known when I took the subway, solo, in labor: Parenting—whether you're with a partner, on your own, in a commune, whatever—is inherently isolating. It's a unique journey that changes the fabric of your identity. It's hard no matter how you do it.

This is why you should just get over yourself and realize that help is all around. Accepting it is hard as hell, but it's by far the best parenting decision I ever made.


Anna Davies is a contributor to YourTango writing about parenting and family topics.