Rosanna Hertz, author of Single By Change, Mothers By Choice: How Women are Choosing Parenthood Without Marriage and Creating the New American Family writes in her introduction “First comes love. Then comes marriage. Then comes baby in a baby carriage. Or maybe not…What then? What about baby?”
These days there are all sorts of loving, supportive, unconvential familes. How did they emerge? What steps should a women take before raising a child on her own? These are exactlly the kind of questions Hertz sets out to answer in her new book. Below, Hertz answers some questions for OUP about Single By Chance, Mothers by Choice. Also, check out Rosanna’s live chat.
OUP:How did this topic, of single mothers having children, first come to your attention?
Rosanna Hertz: I’ve always been fascinated by how people manage to stitch together the fragments of their lives to make something whole. Work, family, friends, finding time for themselves, for their kids, for their brains, for their bodies. All those competing demands. When you have a shortage of time, who or what gets the short end of the stick? How, for example, is family even possible with all these conflicting pressures?
So, first I looked at how dual-career couples manage to satisfy employers’ demands, their own individual career aspirations, then each other’s needs, then their own individual personal aspirations, and then have families and be part of families.
I got very interested in how other families worked, especially new families, like single moms with jobs, careers, independent means.
OUP: How did you research this book?
Hertz: As I write in my book I saw an ad in the local paper which read “Is single motherhood for me? 9 sessions on decision-making for women whose biological clock is ticking. Explore single parenthood options vs. childfree living.” I called the number listed…
The social worker who had written the ad put me in touch with the local chapter of a single mother’s group. Since I was not considering single motherhood, I was upfront about the fact that I had a child and that I was married, but I also wanted to understand what was happening. I learned from these women about the often painful reality of coming to terms with marriage fading into the distance, while still wanting to become a mother. I then set out to find women who had selected different routes to motherhood in order to capture the diverse ways in which women were becoming moms: from adoption, to known and unknown donors, to chancing pregnancy by having intercourse. Most important I wanted to know about fathers, dads and other men in the lives of these new mother-child families.
OUP:What important lessons can single women who are considering having children on their own learn from your book?
Hertz: I highly recommend that women take stock of their life.
- Keep a diary for a while of how you feel about becoming a mom, even if a partner doesn’t come along after you become a mom.
- Think about what life will be like if you give up the dream of having a child, versus how your life will change to have a child on your own.
- Assess your living situation. Think creatively, because housing can be turned into a way to cover part of your rent or mortgage (buy a two-family and rent out one apartment). Find a roommate and trade a room for some babysitting. Take a leap and buy a home in a neighborhood that is filled with other families. These other adults will be of economic or social help.
- Talk to family, friends, and others in your circle (religious leaders, self-help groups) about the importance you place on having a child. Ask them to come aboard and support you in your journey to become a mom.
- 4. Assess your job and if need be find one that offers you more flexibility, or don’t take the newest promotion. You want employment where you can be on auto-pilot for a while. This allows women to place family at centerstage while bringing home a paycheck.
- Think about finding broader support networks outside of your family (through community organizations) which include other children at different ages so your child has “surrogate siblings.” While it may take effort to maintain these early relationships, as your child grows older it will provide a broader family experience.
- Put away extra money so you can pay for a maternity leave, and if you can, take some extra time off, or start back to work slowly, increasing from 3 days, to 4 days, to 5 days. This extra time with your child will be invaluable, time which all mothers regardless of marital status should have.
- Think about the route you select to motherhood. Ask yourself what tradeoffs are you willing to make to become a mother? Do you want to known the genetic father? If you can’t find a known donor do you want an anonymous donor who will agree to meet your child as an adult? Are you willing to adopt a child? If so, how important is it to you to adopt a child of the same race as you, or a child who is an infant, or a child from another country? What will each of these routes mean in the future when your child is old enough to ask about their genetic parent(s)?
- It may relieve stress to know upfront that you do not need to have more than one child.
- Recognize all the ways in which men are a part of your life and can become a part of your child’s life: relatives, teachers, athletic coaches, and babysitters. Men, even if they are not your child’s dad are necessary to develop important relationships.
OUP: Do you have children?
Hertz: I have a 15 year old daughter.
OUP: What was the greatest challenge you found in being a mother?
Hertz: I suppose feeling that it is okay to be “good-enough” at everything. I had to give up the idea that I had to do everything and be the best. I used to think if only I could become more organized than I’d be more efficient and I’d get it all done. Not true. There are just not enough hours in the day. I’m not so hard on myself anymore. I don’t have to be at every soccer game but I do have to be at the two parent-teacher conferences a year. I can miss an occasional meeting at work and I can turn off the email. No one will suffer. But I am never late to teach a class. Since I couldn’t become more efficient, I have made what I consider reasonable priorities as a parent and a professional. However, I still don’t carve out enough time for myself.