I scoured through her recent Facebook posts.
Surely, there had to be clues. A photo or comment—anything that could foreshadow the tragedy that was to occur. But there were none. In fact, just the opposite. There were reflections of a seemingly loving and doting mother. Profile pictures and cover photos sweetly revealed a day in the life of a single mom and her three little girls. There were smiling faces in the park, decorated birthday cakes, filter fun on Snapchat, and plenty of hugs and kisses. The same endearing moments featured on the Facebook pages of countless other proud moms.
So what could have possibly driven this single mom to pummel her 15-month-old baby girl to death?
That was the question of many in the small city where the 26-year-old mother and I both live. Numerous people who knew her never could imagine that this Solo Mom, who reportedly loved her children and “did the best she could,” would ever take one of her children’s lives. But as days passed, the whispers grew louder. There were allegations that child-welfare officials had been involved with the family at least a dozen times, that sometimes she handled her children too roughly, that she was stressed, and that she played the role of a loving mother too well for anyone to detect that anything was amiss.
Because of these allegations, my need for answers grew insatiable. I searched deeper on her Facebook page. I scrolled past the surface and examined years past. And there it was: her own words reflecting stress, sadness, hopelessness, and the desire to give up. Most striking was a comment in which she cited her family as being the only reason why she had not done so already.
More news reports emerged, including those of her insistence that she did not kill her baby. And again the whispers—that other people were in the apartment on that dreadful night and that there is more to this horrific story. I remembered my legal training and told myself that maybe it was true, that she is innocent until proven guilty and that I am neither her judge nor jury.
Time will reveal whether this single mom did the unfathomable and took her own baby’s life. But what can come out of this tragedy is raising awareness about five factors that greatly impact the mental and emotional wellness of Solo Moms.
1. Being the primary or sole financial supporter of the family. Financial pressures can break even the strongest of women. Quite often, single moms receive little or no financial support from their children’s other parent. Not having adequate financial support for their children results in Solo Moms experiencing feelings of stress, overwhelm, and depression.
To provide for their families, single moms commonly spend more hours outside the home and away from their children in order to work. And a large fraction of their earnings is usurped by prohibitive child-care costs. For Solo Moms who are under- or unemployed, the picture is bleaker. One way to tame the financial beast is to tap into the entrepreneur in you. No one is suggesting that you quit your job, but discover ways to supplement your income. Consider what you love (or would love to do) and monetize it. Whether it is freelance writing, blogging, catering, caring for children, creating an online business, becoming a virtual assistant, or selling real estate, the possibilities are endless. You may not have all the money you would like for your family, but with some thought, motivation, and grit, there is always the possibility of making more.
2. Navigating a contentious relationship with your ex. In the best of circumstances, you and your ex both understand that maintaining an amicable and cooperative relationship is always best for your children. But for many Solo Moms, the ability to successfully coparent is undermined by a contentious relationship with the other parent. The stress and residual anger that these relationships create can have a significant impact on single moms and how they parent.
If your efforts to coparent have been hampered by negative interactions with your ex, there’s only one thing to do—disengage. Participating in arguments, text wars, and explosive email exchanges only intensify Solo Moms’ feelings of frustration, sadness, anger, and self-persecution. Combat always requires at least two people. Try to keep contact with your ex to a minimum and solely about the needs and well-being of your children. And remember, you can always use the court system to assist in setting appropriate boundaries when necessary.
3. Raising a child with little or no family support. No woman can raise a child alone. We all need some help at some point in time. And for single moms, helping hands become all the more important. But when you have limited family to assist, you have to create your “village.” Throughout my journey as a single mom, people have offered to watch my child while I run errands, exercise, or even take a nap. And I have since regretted not taking them up on their offers because of my own mom guilt. I could have enjoyed a few more moments for myself and lightened my load a bit—even if only for a little while. In these instances, don’t be a “shero.” Look to the people in your village, and accept the help they are willing to give.
4. Skimping on health care and self-care. Solo Moms routinely put the needs of their children before their own. It’s just what we do. But to be the best mothers that we can for our children, we have to be whole. Health care and self-care are important to our overall well-being; eating healthily, exercising, meditating, and staying on top of medical appointments are essential to our health. We need to do all of that in order to have as many years as possible with our children. Equally as important is doing things that simply make us feel good, such as getting a massage, reading, having coffee with a friend, or binge-watching a favorite TV series. As unnatural as it may feel, we Solo Moms have to make ourselves a priority in our own lives. We and our children will be better for it.
5. Managing preexisting mental-health conditions. Like many other parents, single moms are raising children while managing mental-health conditions such as postpartum depression, clinical depression, or bipolarism. The immense responsibility of raising a child independently can exacerbate any existing mental-health condition and create feelings of being alone on your parenting journey. Stay in tune with your feelings through counseling with a mental-health professional, meditating, journaling, maintaining a spiritual practice, or talking to members of your “village.” The important thing is to never allow yourself to sink into a place of despair and isolation that can become harmful to you or your children.
The joys of parenting as a Solo Mom far outweigh the challenges. But through it all, remember to take care of you. You and your children’s lives depend on it.
Terri Linton, ESME’s Incarceration Resource Guide, is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, where she is currently pursuing a master of fine arts degree in creative nonfiction writing, and a graduate of Rutgers School of Law-Newark. Terri is a freelance writer and professor of criminal justice. She hosts and produces the podcast She Roads with Terri Linton, where she interviews women about their journeys of endurance and resilience. Terri’s writing has appeared in Ninth Letter, the Huffington Post, Motherly, and Mamamia. You can connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.