I was young when my daughter was born, which meant that I was often a bullseye for unsolicited, low-key rude comments like, “Maybe you should stay close to your family instead of moving to New York City for grad school,” “you’ve got a lot of baggage,” or an all-time fave from white liberal men, “How did a feminist like you become a single mom?”
Whether well-intended or not, folks more often want to learn about your path towards becoming a single mom rather than understanding your dreams and challenges. Yes, single moms have limited resources. And yes, it’s freaking hard to raise kids solo. That doesn’t mean our futures are hopeless. Judging women in general, from what we wear and how we talk (remember “vocal fry”?) to limiting what we can or can’t accomplish, is still sadly an American pastime.
It’s time we stop putting barriers on what women are capable of — whether they’re married, single, moms-to-be, or choose to never have kids at all. No one woman is alike. To prove that point, we spoke to four single moms who are pursuing creative careers and passions, all while raising a kid by themselves. A few of these women have creative common ground—most of them have gravitated towards audio storytelling. We are in the golden age of podcasting after all.
When Erica Dickerson became a single mom over a year ago, she scoured the internet for a parenting podcast. She searched for something uncensored, funny, honest, and most importantly, relatable to her as a woman of color and young single mom. When nothing came up, Dickerson and her friend Jamilah Mapp created Good Moms Bad Choices, a podcast that brazenly challenges stereotypes about single motherhood.
On the podcast, Dickerson and Mapp explore topics like toking up to ease anxiety, the ins and outs of sex and dating, why parenting guilt affects moms but not dads, and handling terrorizing toddler tantrums. Every Wednesday, Dickerson and Mapp round up their 3-year-old daughters for a playdate, then record and chat with guests like TMZ’s Van Lathan, who is known for going off on Kanye West for his “slavery is a choice” comment, and Jessica Schrody, an internet sensation who recently created a single mom inspired parody rap of Cardi B’s song “Money.”
Often, Dickerson and Mapp’s kids interrupt the interviews. “People say they love that part of the podcast,” Erickson says, laughing. This realness sets Good Moms Bad Choices apart from other prescriptive, cookie-cutter parenting podcasts that tell you “what to expect” or “the dos and don’ts” of parenting.
“Our podcast isn’t just for moms because we have a lot of listeners who are regular women and even men,” Dickerson says. “We talk about things that women might be scared to talk about.”
Podcasting isn’t Dickerson’s only passion — she’s an actress, too. Dickerson grew up in Los Angeles around actors, rappers, and singers because her mom, who was also a single parent, was a celebrity make-up artist. Dickerson spent time with her mom on sets, which is where her love for acting and modeling was born. She also saw how her mom’s resourcefulness led to the birth of a now-global product and brand called Beauty Blender.
On top of acting and podcasting, Dickerson is a CEO-in-training at Beauty Blender. She shadows her mom, represents the brand in-stores domestically and internationally, creates content, and appears on Home Shopping Network and QVC as an on-air host.
Dickerson never envisioned herself as a single mother. In fact, she planned on never having kids after witnessing the struggles her mom endured. But, three years ago, Dickerson gave birth to Irie and learned that there are no accidents in life. The relationship with her daughter’s father didn’t work out, so she found herself as a single parent, which was once her worst fear.
“Thank God that I had a blueprint, though,” she says, “I saw my mom and how she was able to balance her career and also be an amazing parent. I said to myself, ‘If she can do it, so can I.”
Now, a year and a half into single parenting, Dickerson believes that Irie has motivated her to answer serious questions about what she wants in her life. “Just do it, just try it,” is now her motto.
“I know there’s no way I would’ve had a podcast if I were still with my partner. I would have had no motivation for it,” she says. “Single parenting propelled me to be fearless.”
Fear is exactly what kept Kristine Ganancial bed-ridden when she abruptly quit her 9 to 5 job a few years ago. Ganancial has been raising her nine-year-old son, Brandon, on her own since he was born. When he was a baby, she worked full time in C-level positions with hospitality groups and agencies doing a mix of event planning, design, and marketing. She was exhausted by the struggle of child care and finding the elusive “perfect” balance.
Ganancial says having a nine-to-five job isn’t logistically or financially conducive to any single parent. Kristine’s work schedule demanded her to be in the office from nine to five, but her son’s daycare didn’t open until eight in the morning (and then you have to tack on commute time). Her pick-up was at six p.m. and extra fees would usually be tacked on if she were late.
“They tell women that they can have careers but at the same time they must take care of the children,” Ganancial says. “For women who want to pursue both, it’s challenging.”
For years, Ganancial had dreams of starting her own company of conceptualizing and producing inspiring, live, and carefully curated events, but at one point, a guy she dated told her it was an unachievable pipe dream. So instead, she took a well-paying job at a hospitality group in the hopes of one day becoming her own boss. After a year and a half of feeling mistreated, Ganancial packed up her things. She was done.
The next day, fear crept in. She woke up depressed, and said to herself, “Whoa what did I do? Holy shit. I’m a single mom. I don’t have family here to help.”
Ganancial she felt like she had to make single motherhood work no matter what, though. She built up steam by working smaller events. Then, she got her big break producing an experiential event for Samsung and since then her business is thriving with requests from clients like PayPal, Triscuit, and Gucci. Kristine says her hunger for a creative outlet is satisfied with starting her own company as an experiential producer (she’d also like to make time to join a book club soon).
“It felt like it was meant to be because I was consistently busy for like eight months. Sometimes I would do two events in a day,” she said. “Not only that but I was spending more time with my son and felt more connected with him.”
Ganancial’s alarm rings at 5:12 every morning. She says that very specific time gives her good juju. She doesn’t feel groggy and can get meditation, journaling, and eating done before Brandon wakes up for school. After she drops her son off, she attends meetings, reads emails, and does research. Then, when school is over, she takes him to tutoring. By the time she gets home, they’re both ready to unwind. Throughout the years, she’s learned to not indulge that dreaded mom guilt and just go with the flow. “I mean, there are some days, where I’m ordering Seamless two weeks straight,” she says.
Ganancial has also learned that self-care can help her recoup during tough times. “I’ve learned I have to fake it until I make it. On the really hard days, I’ll find a church just to walk into and just sit for five or 10 minutes for the silence.”
“You’re bringing a miracle into the world,” Aminah Imani said about pregnancy to an audience in Brooklyn. “But as soon as you walk into the train in New York City, everybody lookin at you like, ‘I hope your calves are strong because you’re standing today.’ Nobody cares. You gotta be having your baby on the train for anybody to care.”
Imani, whose career in comedy took off before she became a single mom, believes that laughing helps with the struggles. And fellow moms often respond after a show by thanking Imani profusely.
“It’s crazy how people are like, ‘Oh motherhood is the best thing in life.’ I’m over here like, “Let me tell you something...I’m not saying not to do it but I’m also not saying to do it, you know what I’m saying?” she says while chuckling. But, she says that caring for Nasir has made her a better person overall. She now has to consider everything from food prepping for weeknights to building a financial legacy for her and her son.
Imani isn’t just a comedian. Along with co-hosting a hilarious podcast called Wine Before Nine, her side hustles include braiding hair and teaching swim lessons twice a week at a community center.
“Having these side hustles and jobs allows me to be there for him,” she says. “It’s like a survival mode when you become a mom.”
Imani’s schedule varies but she always makes room to take Nasir to school, pick him up, and drop him off at soccer or basketball. While he’s in school, Imani’s either braiding hair or working on creative projects. On days that she’s doing stand-up in the evening, she’ll have dinner with her son at home before the babysitter comes. To get her money’s worth for hiring a babysitter, Imani will do two to three shows per night.
“I’m capable of going out and doing shows. I’m capable of dating. I’m capable of having some time to write and go to the spa. It’s just more planned. A lot of people think you can’t do this or that. I’m not going to lie, originally, I felt that same way, especially when it came to comedy. But you need another purpose other than your child. It gives you balance, makes you more relatable, and broadens your perspective on life.”
Imani feels like she’s gained patience and appreciation not only for her son but for herself as well. One minute the day is going well and everything is on schedule and the next thing you know, he peed on himself or his water bottle broke in his book bag, she says.
“The same way you have to be as a mom, you have to be with your career and your journey. You have to be able to bend, fold, and be flexible. But you also have to be able to enjoy it.”
She believes that society should stop selling moms short. Instead of looking down on single moms who don’t have a partner, she says, take the pity and turn it into admiration.
“There are some things you could learn from us. It’s not the end of the world to become a single mother,” she says. “I wear it as a badge of honor.”
Amy Gastelum dreads mornings. Her five-year-old daughter, Bobbi, hates waking up for school. At around 8:30 the night before, Gastelum makes sure that her daughter is dressed in her school clothes, which are tights and a soft long-sleeve shirt.
“It’s a mom hack and I don’t care,” she says assuredly. “If I have her dressed the night before, it makes the morning a little easier.”
Each morning, Gastelum rises at six, so she has time to enjoy her coffee, read, and write in her journal before the unpredictability and potential madness of waking up a young child begins. After making Bobbi oatmeal, she goes into her room to wake her up.
“She can probably sense that I’m weak and scared because I feel like, God damn it, she’s going to be mad and she always is,” Gastelum says. “I just nag her until she gets in the car and she always cries and whines. It’s not cute. I don’t love the mornings.”
Gastelum became a single mom when her divorce finalized last year. She went back into public health nursing and continued teaching a part-time audio storytelling class at Indiana University. Initially, she also wanted to freelance for outlets like PRI The World or NPR News, places she was thrilled to produce big stories for before she became a single mother.
“It wasn’t long for me to realize that freelancing as a newly single mom and newly divorced was just more than I can do,” she says. “Nursing really saved my butt. In radio and journalism, there’s a huge culture of martyrdom that I can’t afford. I have a little girl who needs me. She needs my attention. She needs my love. She needs me emotionally, spiritually, physically to be present.”
Gastelum isn’t putting her creativity on the backburner, though. At her nursing job, she convinced the leadership team to let her produce a weekly podcast instead of doing run-of-the-mill committee work and community outreach.
“I traded certain responsibilities in my work life to replace with a creative outlet. I’ll sit down on a Sunday night when my daughter’s gone to bed and just plan this thing out for Monday morning. You get into the flow and it’s fun,” Gastelum says. “Making something tickles your brain in a way that nothing else does.”
When Gastelum and Bobbi hang out, having fun is the priority. They cook, do art, and sometimes exercise together. In their apartment building, there’s a workout room that no one is ever in. She says her daughter will say, “I need some exercise” and put on shorts, knee-high socks, and tennis shoes and tell her, “Let’s go.”
“I bring my little Bluetooth speaker to the workout room and put on Beyonce and we both exercise,” she says. “It’s really funny.”
While life as a single mom isn’t exactly what Gastelum mapped out for herself, she understands that she’s not totally in control. She’s learned, too, that being married at a certain age, does not guarantee happiness or stability.
“I tried to plan my whole life out. From the time I was 18, I thought it was going to be this and then this and this,” Gastelum says. “And guess what, that shit is for the birds. It doesn’t work like that. I just do what feels good and see what happens.”
Just like these women, SMILF, the Showtime original comedy, reexamines what it means to be a single mother, going beyond one-dimensional portrayals and characters. Catch the second season, which returns on January 20, with new episodes every Sunday at 10:30 p.m — only on Showtime.
Natalie Pattillo is a NYC-based multimedia journalist. Find her at nataliepattillo.com.