Advice for a Single Mom: A Reader Response Post

A reader, let’s call her “Karen,” contacted me recently for advice. She’s a single mom with a five-year-old and she’s pregnant again. She’s feeling very scared and lonely, trying to figure out how she’ll negotiate life with a new baby and a full-time job.

I’m so grateful for the advice of readers on this blog so I asked Karen if I could post her dilemma here.

Here’s Karen’s story:

I am a 30-year-old single Mom with a five year old daughter. Being a Mom is the greatest joy in my life. I am also 16 weeks pregnant. I was dating someone who was told he was sterile. After many months of dating, I broke it off with him—because of many reasons, one of which was that I didn’t like how he spoke to me and my son and another was he is not family-oriented and he said he didn’t want kids. Right as our relationship was ending I was increasingly ill and found out I was pregnant. It is his child. I am keeping it happily.

His parents, who live in the same city as me, while great in some ways, are very very controlling and all they can talk about is “their bonding time with the baby” at least nine times his Mom has brought up the idea of me going back to work after one month (might I add that I have to have a C-section due to some physical issues) and that they would watch the baby and help pay for daycare. They also are pressuring me to go take time off to meet their family, who the father of this child is estranged from and never speaks to.

It is so much stress and pressure on me.

What puzzles me is that I am a great Mom, my daughter is awesome, and she and I are really close. She is happy, well adjusted, and healthy, and they are aware of this. With my first baby I worked from home, at night, doing virtual administration and clerical work and editing, so I could stay home. When she was three I got a job outside the home and she went to daycare for the first time. I am a breastfeeding, babywearing, love-being-a-Mom parent, and they think this is strange and over the top.

I want to share this baby with the family, but I’m having panic attacks that they are trying to separate me from the baby. I called a meeting with his parents to tell them that I appreciate their support and involvement, but that I need them to stop talking about these things that stress me out. My ex-boyfriend’s Mom even told me last night that she didn’t think that my Mother should come right after the birth because there would be too many people at my house, and that she and her husband would take care of my needs and care for the baby. My own Mother she is trying to push away.

Readers, what advice do you have for Karen? How can she keep a relationship with her ex-boyfriend’s family—and accept help from them—but also set clear boundaries and have the time and space she needs to bond with her baby? Strong advice and opinions are fine but please be kind and compassionate in your responses.

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19 thoughts on “Advice for a Single Mom: A Reader Response Post”

  1. Those cultural differences are trying; but they aren’t any different from what many conscious parents have to deal with from their own families. It’s wonderful that you’re making the effort to work it out with them and have those grandparents involved in his life, and in town–I wish my kids had that. It’s important to be honest and clear about your needs and boundaries, but also always to be tactful and compassionate. Remember that they are very motivated to be involved, and that motivation is love; and they know you hold the keys. If you distance yourself from them they will be very hurt, so wield your own power gently but confidently. You are establishing a new relationship with them, and you need to be clear in your own head what you want that to be, and how you will deal with the problems that arise. They may be bossy and not swift to change, but if you are firm and clear and don’t cave, they will get used to your way of doing things (insofar as they are able).

  2. As one single mom to another, my advice to Karen is to think of yourself and your kids very seriously as a family. Even though your family might not look like a typical family, you are as much as any family with two parents in the picture but unlike a two-parent family, you are the only person who can stand up for your unit, to define what it will be and what it won’t be and how much input and help you want from others.

    I realize it’s a generalization but I think it’s easier for two-parent families to say to the world, “No, we’re doing it like this…” but it’s important for all families–no matter what you look like–to decide and to communicate what they will and will not accept.

    One thing that helped me with this was when a friend gave me a large framed portrait of my two children and myself. I hung it in our dining room, and it’s rather majestic looking. When we’re eating dinner, I sometimes look over at it and think, “Yes, that’s who we are.” It’s not that extended family isn’t important, but the primary unit of family is the people who live in your home, and I find it works best when my decisions are made with the highest good of that group first in mind, above all others.

    It’s how I see it. If it helps, awesome. If it doesn’t, disregard it.


    Author, How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed

  3. Single mom definitely needs to set boundaries — now. Grandparents are not legally responsible for her, nor should they be entitled to dictate how she lives her life. The only way they get that control is if she gives it to them. So I would suggest setting immediate boundaries that are true to her beliefs and cognizant of her personal needs.

    Should the grandparents hold that against her, that is their issue and not hers. It would be helpful for Single Mom to avoid guilt at all costs, otherwise, she will act on other people’s behalf and not her own nor her baby’s.

    Also, if it’s important to Single Mom that her mom be there with and for her at the baby’s birth and some time after, that is her call, not the father’s side of the family. Even if the parents were married, it wouldn’t be the in-laws’ say; it would be hers. She’s giving birth. This is her child. She needs to have by her side the people who care about her the most — her mom, and dad, if he’s around, or friends.

    I would thank the father’s parents for their help and let it be. She doesn’t owe them an explanation. But if she feels the need, she might wish to tell them nicely that she will have her mother present because that’s what she wants and needs at this time, and that they are welcome to be present at the hospital but not in the room when she’s giving birth. It’s a very intimate and vulnerable place to be, and I’m certain it should be reserved only for the closest people to her — not even the father if she doesn’t want that, since they are no longer a couple. I just think that would be awkward and not very healthy emotionally for the mother. I would think the hospital would help her with that plan, as far as who is allowed in the room during delivery.

    Single Mom may need to be more assertive than she sounds if she is to make sure her needs are met, and that she takes care of herself appropriately.

    What do the rest of you think?
    .-= Jackie Dishner´s last blog ..Motivation for Mondays- The Artists Way check-in for Week 9 =-.

  4. Dear Single Mom,

    From one single mom to another, I just want to say it will be OK. You talked about being stressed and having panic attacks over this, but try to see things in a different way. I wish that I could have had this kind of support from the father’s family, but not even close. I believe in my heart that having a support system with as many loving family members as possible is one of the greatest gifts you can grant your children.

    Don’t worry, you can gently set boundaries – and nobody can force you to do anything. I don’t know the grandparents, but I bet they are so worried that they aren’t going to be able to spend the appropriate time with the baby to build a close bond. If you reassure them that you want this for your child and that you welcome their love and support, they might ease up. Could it be that they are being more forceful because they sense that you’re pushing back? Just something to think about.

    My kids are grown now, and they didn’t have close grandparents, but they turned out great anyway – just like yours will.

    Remember that most of what we learn about ourselves is from relationships. Relationships with and through our kids, brothers, mom’s, ex relattionships, etc. Usually when we’re uncomfortable, it’s right where we’re supposed to be when it comes to learning and growing.

    I wish you all the best!


  5. My best advice is to follow your instincts for you and your children. You are already saying that it feels wrong to be separated from your baby. Listen to those feelings. You will know when the time is right to allow the grandparents to spend time alone with the child. Set boundaries now.

    You and your beautiful children are a family. You can do this! Find a support group of mamas in your area. This can help you keep grounded in a stressful time.

  6. My advice would be: follow your gut. Whenever I ask people for advice, I realize I’m only looking for validation for the answer I already know. If you’re hoping people will say “Cut them off” then maybe that’s what you should do. If, on the other hand, you’re just looking for reassurance that everything will be okay if you try to balance/juggle them, then go for it. You sound very grounded and I wouldn’t let them rock your boat. You’re the captain. 🙂

  7. Set very clear boundries early and never, EVER be apologetic about them! It’s amazing that they want to be involved even though the father isn’t a family man and your child will thank you later for letting them in his/her life, but you are the head of your family and you make the rules!

    Kendra is right, you CAN do this! Follow your heart and be confident in your decisions 🙂

  8. It sounds like his parents are aware that their son isn’t really the family type, and this may be their only opportunity at a grandchild.

    Other than that, I agree with the others. YOU set the boundaries as mother, THEY have to follow them, like it or not.

  9. I would give my right arm to have my in-laws want to be as involved as these Grandparents want to be. Mine live ten blocks away and have seen my children three times Since August.

    I imagine that they are panicking. It would be incredibly painful to think that you may not get to see your Grandchild grow because your son is choosing not to be involved. I really do believe it does take a village and that no child can be loved too much or by too many.

    I would suggest talking to them and honoring their desire to be so involved. Tell them that you are not sure what life is going to look like when the new baby is born and that you will have to see how it all unfolds. However, tell them that you do want them to be a part of this child’s life and will let then know in what ways will work best for you and your family.

    It sounds like their intentions are to be as helpful as possible (maybe even to make up for their son?). I think you are a lucky girl.

  10. I TOTALLY feel your pain. You actually do have a tiny advantage here- you don’t HAVE to keep them in your life because you’re not in a relationship with the dad. Sure, it would be wonderful for your child to know them and I truly think you should make every attempt to allow them to spend time with him/her. But you are the mom. You don’t have to unlock the door when they come over. You don’t have to answer the phone when they call to tell you what to do. Of course, these are all extreme things to do. I highly suggest that you BLUNTLY (but as kindly as possible) say that your mom WILL be coming for the birth, and that they may come over to see the baby for x (amount of time the first week, whatever you think you could tolerate) but that for the amount of time your mom is there they need to respect your boundaries and stay away. Same for all other issues- let them know bluntly that YOU are the mom and this is how things are going to be. Try the “positive negative positive” thing as often as possible… like, for example, “I love that you want to spend time with your grandchild, but you need to respect my role as the mother (or whatever, probably more concrete than that). I really appreciate all your help.” That was a lame example, but you know what I mean:)

    Also keep in mind that they may have the best of intentions and just are unintentionally pushy. Some people just are, and don’t realize that’s how they come across.

    If they are reasonable people (and even the most insane seeming people usually turn out to be reasonable) AND you make sure that you are being ASSERTIVE and not passive aggressive (which sadly we women are often guilty of being), then they should catch on eventually if they really want to spend time with their grandchild. But don’t feel like you should have to compromise your own parenting values and your time with your child. Like another poster said, don’t let them make you feel guilty for any reason. Above all, good luck with this and with the new baby!

  11. Sounds like single mom is a fabulous mom already – I agree with the others, follow your instincts here. It does sound like the grandparents, especially grandma, is very concerned about not being able to establish an ongoing relationship with your baby. Reassurance can go a long way, but not always. You know whether or not this will work.

    Good for you if you were able to be a WAHM with your son! As a mom of 4, who has been a WAHM (but also did a brief stint of the whole work outside of the home/daycare etc), I ‘d suggest that you stay at home, at least longer than 4 weeks (especially after a C-section). Perhaps, you can arrange a “schedule” with grandma a couple of times a week where she comes over to your home to let you take a nap, cook dinner etc. That way they can bond with baby, help you recover, and you still get to oversee what happens and make sure that G&G know your boundaries. Then, as you feel better, you could arrange 1-2 mornings a week where they watch the baby while you can commit yourself to work (or play!), be it at home or outside of the home.

    Remember to follow your heart, and assume that their actions come from a genuine place of love for both you and the baby you are carrying. If you offer them reassurance, and also alert them to the stress they are causing both you and baby, they should back off and hopefully just join you in the happy glow of pregnancy! Good Luck!!

  12. I say, fear not! Babies are a whole lot of work and babysitting is very expensive. I was a single mom of two, and when I got divorced my ex wanted the children every weekend. I let him have them 3 weekends a month, and pretty soon HE made the request to alternate weekends. (That’s the give them enough rope technique.)

    Now that my children are almost 30, I can tell you having a village help raise your kids is really a good thing. My in-laws put money away for the girls for college my ex taught them how to drive. Really, it’s true, the more people who love your child the better. Your influence on your children will be huge, and not only in good ways, no matter how good a Mom you are.

    That being said, you are in charge. Of course you must say no when their requests (like not having your Mom come for the birth) are out of line. But don’t forget re-direction, take their willingness to help and let them know how they can help in a way that really is helpful.

    I’m sure a lot of the pushiness comes from their insecurity because you don’t have a relationship with their son. The fear that you could take their grandchild and vanish no doubt fuels the controlling aspect. So maybe if you reassured them a little, let them know that they will be part of their grandchild’s life, they might back down a little.

  13. From Single Mom to Single Mom, too.

    I support all the above comments about YOU making the decision that feels right to YOUR FAMILY. You can be friendly and gentle but firm, as I’m sure you’ve had to be with your son as well, if they offer something that is too much then maybe ask them for something that fits you better, so they can feel helpful but within what works for you. Especially where they think your wonderful, loving parenting approach is questionable, stay firm. We who have gone down that road know it’s the best for our children. As another poster said, the highest priority is always the wellbeing of your family, your two children. If someone else’s ego has to take a blow, oh well.

    However, I also want to just add the caveat that while the grandparents have no legal rights to the child, the father does. He might not be into family now, but could be in the future. He might give into his parents’ pressure and demand shared custody. If they are controlling and manipulative, they could “use” him when they can’t get to you directly. I don’t know what your situation with your older son is -or with his father- but do seek to inform yourself of the legal rights that the father has. You can ask to set up a parental agreement where visitation rights and decision making responsibility are clearly defined. I would do this earlier rather than later, and make it to give you as much freedom and rights as possible (ie if you have to move to take another job or something). You can always verbally agree to more, but if you are scared that they will take babytime away from you (and I’d trust my pregnant instincts here) then protect yourself from it. Yes, it’s nice for the child to have many many loving people around, but it’s not any good if you have to give up the child one week out of two. At least for me, who looooooooves being a mom, that situation would make me sick.

    Good Luck. Protect the gift you’ve been given.


  14. There may be a possibility here of using their involvement/support to your advantage if lines are drawn and you speak honestly with grandma and grandpa about what you need…They are likely totally unfamiliar with atachment style parenting and believe that they are helping by giving you time away. If you are clear about needs and expectations, they may be willing to fall inline in order to have a solid realtionship with their grandchild. Explaining things by how they make you feel might go a long way too – perhaps they will be able to see your viewpoint.

  15. First of all, if you have the time or the resources find a therapist/counsellor who specialises in family and break down all your concerns with him/her. It’s important you find someone without an agenda in order to help you establish what’s important for you and to speak to someone with some formal training who can help you identify what is causing your anxiety and steps you can take to take care of yourself.

    Second, you need to take some time in order to figure out your boundaries, whether bit be with professional help or on your own, and then communicate these boundaries clearly and repeatedly with the grandmother and her family. It’s important you understand that you have NO responsibility to the grandmother and her feelings, you are not responsible for fulfilling her expectations nor having to be sensitive to her culture. You are the parent and you responsibility is to yourself and your children. This is is not being selfish, this is taking care of yourself.

    I find this list very helpful to use when i am training groups in assertiveness as it opens us up to how much we are stuck in traditional assumptions and identifies how we can empower ourselves (

    Guilt is a terrible curse socialised into most of us — but it is a lie borne out of out a flawed belief we are responsible for what happens to other people and their feelings. anxiety goes hand in hand with guilt.

    I suggest exploring how to be assertive (good website for support on this

    Addtionally, you cannot “make” people see your point-of view and frankly why would anyone want to waste energy “making” people see their point-of-view — people either want to empathise with you or they don’t, you can’t make them. All you can do is figure out what you need, figure out how to communicate your boundary and then ether include or exclude people in your life dependent on their response to you. If people cannot respect what you establish then you do not need to invite them into your life. If in communicating clearly what you want and need, and people then behave in a way that shows respect and concern for the fulfillment of said wants and needs, then you have a situation wherein there is mutual respect — without respect there is nothing.

    most significantly, it is important to recignise the difference between people who offer support as a gesture of genuine and authentic kindness, and people who offer support as way to try and gain control of you.

    In the end this is your child and the anxiety you are feeling is your responsibility to address and deal with — you do not have to expose yourself to situations that create anxiety, you do not have to put yourself in contact with this woman. you do get to take all the time you need to figure out what you need, what you want, and how to ask for it. don’t worry about what she thinks, don’t worry about making her “understand” you–work on what is in your power which is you.

  16. For a situation like this I would immediately recommend a Family Constellation to unveil what the hidden dynamics are that are causing this level of conflict and complication. FC’s are particularly good for looking at the true dynamics that are running these kinds of relationships and are, in my mind, essential for dis-entangling the children from the generations before them. Karen could look directly at the FAQ’s page on my website and see what resonates there. Constellations are simple and direct, with almost no overlay from the client’s bias or the therapist’s beliefs. They give an immediate, clear picture of what is really going on underneath that is driving all these behaviors. Once that is acknowledged we make shifts to the entire system, not just the client’s attitude and patterns or the person they are in conflict with. In addition since this is about the child getting their core needs met, and the child is who will ultimately bring forth the imbalance, it is the child who will get so much benefit from this kind of work. The most important and heavy truth of any family is that all members of a family system have the equal right to belong and be honored. So what I look for is who is not here that needs to be here? Who has been excluded? In Karen’s situation that question comes up for me right away. Who is it that has been pushed out of the family’s system in some way and that is being represented by the current situation? Until that is cleared up the family system may be changed in many ways but will come back to the basic imbalance, and will ultimately end up being expressed through the children or grandchildren.

    FC’s can be done long distance or you can find a therapist who does them where you live. This is something that is done in one session with a follow up talk session.

  17. I am married and have a 18 mos old DD and i have always had issues with my MIL trying to be too involved with my baby, and trying to do things that should be the mother’s job. i have found with her i have to be very direct and tell her no (as nicely as i can) when she is over stepping her bounds. i know that she means well, but she still doesn’t get it. i too am a breastfeeding, baby-wearing, very attached mother and i like it that way. she wasn’t that kind of mother and had a lot of help from my husbands grandma, so she really doesn’t understand why i won’t let her do certain things. if i tell her know why i won’t let her do things, that sometimes helps. like the other day when she was over and announced that she was putting my dd down for her nap i said, “no, i will do it. i only get to do it on the weekends (i work outside the home) and i want to do it.” i know she was upset, but she really couldn’t argue with my reasons.

    i also did not let her visit the first week we had the baby. i wanted my mom there. i figured my husband would help with the baby, and my mom would take care of me and help make dinners and such. my MIL was very upset about this, but again, she has gotten over it. i think she realizes that she didn’t savor my husband as a baby as much as she should have, and is now trying to make up for it with my dd. but, whether or not she fully enjoyed her child doesn’t mean that i have to give up my time with mine. i know sometimes her feelings get hurt, but the bottom line is that this is my child and i’m not letting anyone take my time with her away. i think she realizes now that if she doesn’t play by my rules, then her time with her grandchild will be cut significantly.

    my advice to you is to set clear boundaries from the beginning. they will get the point eventually. let them know that you want the child to have a strong relationship with them, but plan to do things a certain way. let them know that you will need help, and it would be great if they could come over and spend time with your older child, or help out by making dinners, cleaning up around the house, or other things. if you give them other ways to help, that may help them feel involved without them taking the baby out of your arms. let them know how important breastfeeding is, and how the best way to ensure a healthy breastfeeding relationship is for the mother and baby to be together as much as possible.

  18. I think this reader should realize that she is in the driver’s seat here. The baby’s father actually has zero legal rights to visitation unless he files for paternity. So, by default, his parents have zero rights, too. I think that one realization will help her see that how often and how much she allows them to be in this baby’s life is her decision. She doesn’t have to allow them any access. She can allow them some access. It’s up to the mom. If they complain, she can just say, “Thanks for making your views known.” She doesn’t have to cave in.

    Note: I’m not saying that she should not allow them to visit the baby. I’m only saying that she might realize her inner power and know that this is her decision–and that whatever she decides is best for her and the baby IS THE BEST DECISION… no matter what other people tell her.

    And I have to say, there were a few details that made me wonder about their intentions. They don’t sound pure to me.
    .-= Alisa Bowman´s last blog ..Marriage Books You

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