Empowered Health


Unintended consequences: Solo moms face extreme vulnerability during COVID-19 shutdown

While the coronavirus shutdowns have been difficult for everyone, they weigh especially heavy on single moms who are navigating everything alone. Dr. Marika Lindholm, a sociologist and founder of Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere (ESME), an online community for solo mothers, explains how the pandemic has amplified single mothers’ socioeconomic vulnerabilities. Across dozens of ESME-hosted Facebook groups, the mothers’ posts contain the same undertone: They are scared.

because we have a lot of lighthearted stuff, funny stuff, informational stuff, but we also acknowledge that parenting is hard, and parenting alone is even harder. And every minute it’s not going to be joyous and it’s going to be tough, you know? And it’s okay to have that duality as you mentioned.

Dr. Marika Lindholm

Emily: I’m Emily Kumler and this is Empowered Health. So I’m at home, like most of you feeling pretty stressed out about the coronavirus and then on top of it, having the other stress of our normal lives and our work and seeing our kids feeling really fried. And every morning, like I was saying to Jill this morning, it’s like a panic attack in the house when it’s, there’s a morning message that says like, Oh, don’t forget on this tweedledee dumb app you need to do this assignment. And no one’s ever heard of that app before. And clearly there’s an email that I’ve missed or that program hasn’t been uploaded. And we’ve now locked down our kids’ iPads because they decided to buy hundreds of dollars worth of gems from random games that they were playing that apparently didn’t have any kind of censorship or lock on them, which obviously all of this is the parents’ fault. However, I think the level of stress in my household is about as high as it’s ever been and I don’t think I’m alone. But then, you also have to put that in perspective because we have food, I have tons of toilet paper because I forgot to cancel our Amazon subscription for the last year and you know, we’re doing okay. And then you have to sort of think with all of the millions of people who have filed for unemployment and the people who are reliant on a minimum wage job at a restaurant or at a place that’s non-essential, where they’re now not working. They’re not getting any kind of money, maybe some unemployment. We know a lot of people have filed for unemployment. And I understand the largest cohort of people who has filed for unemployment are single moms. You kind of have to wonder how are they managing this stress knowing kids are not going back to school in Massachusetts or New York or a lot of other States until next September. So you have a situation where you have people who are very dependent on their jobs, which no longer exist and maybe won’t for a while. Next on top with like being at home with your children, which is a stressful thing. I think even if you’re like Mary Poppins, you’re going to find times where being at home with kids is really hard. And I don’t think it even matters how old the kids are. I think little kids can be difficult in one way and exhausting in one way and I’m sure having teenagers where you have to convince them not to go out and see friends or visit with boyfriends or whatever must be incredibly stressful. So the guest that we have this week is somebody who I had planned to talk to for months and it just sort of happened that this conversation took on a whole new sort of sense of seriousness or a sense of purpose because of the environment that we find ourselves in now. And she launched a website, it’s called Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere. It’s a resource for women who are mothering on their own. And she’s very clear that this isn’t just single moms or divorced women who have children, which is how she started this with her own personal experience. But it’s also for women who are mothering while their husbands are away serving in combat or people who find themselves at a distance because of their jobs. And it’s providing resources to moms who are found to sort of be on their own. But what she’s learned over the course of doing this, and I think they have thousands and thousands of resources available to these moms, is that the connecting of women to each other, especially she says late at night when women, especially right now are wondering how they are going to get through another day. And that many women are emailing or asking about how to get diapers or wipes, basic necessities like food that they don’t know how they’re going to get. I think when we’re in a crisis like this, because of this pandemic, we are as a society making clear choices about whose life we value and whose life we don’t. And I don’t want this to be an episode where I get on some sort of soapbox and talk about who’s really at risk of dying from this virus versus who will die because of the outcomes that we have chosen, which I would say are pretty clear right now. There’s a whole lot of families that don’t have health insurance and that probably won’t have health insurance. They will have catastrophic outcomes because they will not have access to doctors. I also want to point out that plenty of pediatric and gynecological and other routine services are not happening right now despite the fact that children are at very low risk for any kind of critical outcome from the coronavirus. They are now at a critical state where they’re not going to get diagnosed with things that may cause very serious outcomes for them, especially in pediatrics. Catching something early has a massive impact on the outcome for that child. The hospitals, children’s hospitals, doctors appointments, they’re all not happening right now. I’m not sure anybody has actually weighed that properly. And that’s true for women’s services as well as men’s services. I mean, I think it’s sort of across the board. So I think not to be doom and gloom, we are looking at a situation where economically women and children are incredibly vulnerable. And I would say medically women and children are incredibly vulnerable right now. So I’m excited to talk to our guest this week about the things that she has been doing for years to try to help this vulnerable population. And I hope it inspires all of us. It certainly has inspired me to try to figure out how those of us who have resources can help this vulnerable population because as of right now, very few people are.

Dr. Marika Lind…: I’m Dr. Marika Lindholm and I’m the founder of ESME.com and as ESME stands for empowering solo moms everywhere. And we are a support site for any mom parenting alone — connection, resources, and lots of inspiration. And I recently edited a book called, “We Got This: Solo Mom Stories of Grit, Heart, and Humor.” And I have three co-editors who are fabulous. And we have 75 solo moms telling their stories, writing their poems and some are famous like Amy Poehler. Some are yet to be discovered. Basically, I’ve been a solo mom ally since I got divorced, wow, probably 15 years ago now. And first as a sociologist teaching at Northwestern and then starting ESME. And although I’m now remarried, I’m still an ally and fight every day for single moms and solo moms.

Emily: Great. We are so excited to have you on the show. And I think just sort of start with your story — is probably a great place. You know, you didn’t set out to be a solo mom, but there you were and you had young kids. And what did you realize in that moment? And I think bringing in this idea that you were interested in, the sociological implications of this is really important,

Dr. Marika Lind…: Right? So I want to stress that most women don’t set out to raise a child by themselves. They might come to that decision later, or if someone makes that decision for them or an accident, or circumstance happens. But for me, I actually initiated a divorce when my kids were three and five. And I was teaching issues of feminization of poverty. And talking about when you become a widow or divorce that your financial situation gets difficult. And I always had an empathetic and analytic perspective on single motherhood. But then suddenly I was thrust into the situation of raising a three and a five-year-old pretty much by myself. I was co-parenting as well. But the financial piece took a long time to sort out. I was teaching as an adjunct, so I struggled. I went to an apartment and slept in the living room and, I ended up getting a blood disorder that took a long time. It was very traumatic, it was the most difficult time in my life and I realized that I felt really alone. I felt alienated. A lot of my friends had to take sides or some people felt threatened by what I represented. Perhaps their marriage was looking ugly or whatever it was. I found that my network was dwindling and I felt lonely. And so kind of the seed of thinking about how do we help moms through this really hard time? It took 10 years of me getting stronger and teaching and writing and then finally deciding that I wanted to use my time and my resources to build a site for solo moms. And I use the term solo mom very self-consciously cause it’s moms that perhaps their partner is deployed, partner, incarcerated. You know, some of us are separated by oceans when we have two different jobs. So, the heart of the site is often single moms where there is no partner anywhere. But I also use the term solo mom to just have this larger community of strength and inspiration.

Emily: And so when you set out to do the site, what was your objective at that time? Was it to connect people or offer resources or a little bit of both. I mean it has a lot to offer now. So I sort of wonder what was the initial goal?

Dr. Marika Lind…: I think the initial goal was to make it through a night when you’re feeling lonely because I felt so scared when I was not sure what was wrong with me. And I had this, I mean it’s very curable blood disorder, but I didn’t know and they were thinking, Oh, maybe it’s your heart and maybe it’s this. I remember that it was so scary at night, like just my heart pounding and thinking, Oh my God, what have I done? I’m here with my three and my five-year-old and you know, I don’t have a ton of money and I’m just trying to figure all this out. Wouldn’t it be great to talk to somebody? That was the first piece, the connection piece, that having a community of moms that are there 24/7, and I find this to be true now.Yes, we’ve extended to over 5,000 resources, we have over hundreds of articles. But the place that really is, I think the most valuable is that you can find moms at anytime and you can write something and there’s usually going to be a mom that writes back and if no one writes back, I’m going to write back because I think that’s when you’re feeling really stressed and you just need someone to hear you. And I can tell you right now with what’s going on and with the economy and the fear around the virus that moms are popping on in the middle of the night all the time, just saying like what is going on? How am I going to survive? So I’m proud to say that the piece that I needed most is probably resonating the most with the moms out there.

Emily: Yeah. So let’s talk a little bit about this. Like we’re in the midst of this sort of self-isolation, quarantine, you know, pandemic. We’re in Boston, school has just been canceled for the rest of the year here. I’ve been thinking a lot about wanting to write an op-ed or you know, some sort of article or something about the fact that like what nobody seems to recognize with this and like, I’m sure this is going to be highly controversial. What I’m about to say. That number of deaths right now, the projected deaths will be far less than the number of families and potentially deaths of people who will lose their health insurance. And people who are not going for regular appointments now and cancers that are missed or even pediatric diseases and things that you really need to sort of get a handle on quickly. Those appointments have all been canceled. Like when the New York city public schools closed a little bit earlier this month, my immediate thought was like how many single moms are out of work but are hoping that at any moment there, you know maybe like minimum wage job is going to say, okay, come back and they’re not going to have anybody to take care of their kids. Like I think we don’t talk enough about the fact that we have a childcare crisis in this country, but I think you add to that the fact that the public school system really does serve this phenomenal need for especially parents that are charged with taking care of their kids on their own and working. And now we’ve cut that lifeline off. It feels like we are certainly making a value judgment about whose life is important and this is like, I know it sounds a little extreme, but it’s like the people who like 99.1% of all deaths in New York (editor’s note: latest study for NYC says 94%) and all deaths in China and all deaths in Italy have been people who have an underlying chronic illness. Unfortunately, I feel like we are a nation of sick people. So like that’s not an excuse to say like, oh well we shouldn’t care because this is a minority. I would guess the majority of Americans at this stage have some sort of underlying illness. However, that doesn’t mean this crisis is going to pass. Right? The flattening of the curve, all of that has been about spreading it out. Not about really making a huge dent in the numbers themselves. And I think people don’t understand this. It’s like you don’t want to overrun the hospitals, but at the same time like we are not doing routine treatments that save lives. People have lost their jobs, they will not have insurance and the lowest-earning Americans will not have childcare anymore with the schools closed. So like this is I think a real crisis for women and children in a very particular way, as the most vulnerable parts of our population. And then to add on top of that, the layer of like how many women are mothering on their own and working. This becomes a very dangerous, volatile situation from my perspective.

Dr. Marika Lind…: Yeah. I mean you’ve said a lot there and so my head was just like firing with responses and ideas. And let’s just start with the fact that when school is closed, there’s no childcare and there’s no food for many kids. Right? So some of the schools have done a good job of trying to keep food going. My daughter actually teaches at a school in New Bedford, Massachusetts where, you know, if those kids don’t come to school, they don’t eat breakfast or lunch. And I am on the front line of the most vulnerable women in our nation. And I just wrote a piece for Ms. Magazine that came out and they wrote to me and said, this has been one of the most shared pieces. It’s just it’s resonating. And then because what I talked about was that solo moms are scared and they’re scrambling and they’re scared for their health because they often work in essential jobs and then they have no childcare. So they’re like, do I leave my kid with someone who maybe doesn’t practice social distancing as well? What about my ex. Is my ex gonna practice social distancing? Do I even let my kids go with my ex? They’re afraid. They’ve lost their jobs. They are definitely a big part of the 22 million who filed for unemployment. They’re in jobs that often, they’re the first to go. They’re low wage, they don’t have any savings. I hear about women not being able to get formula. I hear about women who spent their last couple of dollars to get to somewhere trying not to take public transportation, took an Uber to a store that they thought would have diapers and they get there and there’s no diapers. They’re devastated. They have no money. And I’m really proud to say that on ESME we have met over 70 Facebook groups that are in different locations and the moms are stepping up for each other. They’re giving each other formula. They’re giving each other diapers, wipes or something that they haven’t been able to get to. And so yeah, when you’re talking about the vulnerability and that there are people with underlying conditions and of course they’re at risk. And I actually agree with what we’ve done so far and, particularly I’m a New Yorker, in New York. I think it was an important step to just sort of keep it at bay, but now we really need to start understanding that we’ve what we see is a frayed safety net. What we see is that there are going to be these people, these people, these women, the women I talk to every day, they’re fighting for survival. Well, our team yesterday together wrote a letter to all of the solo moms on our site. We wrote a letter that we published on ESME. We wrote a letter that we put all over our Facebook saying that we see you, we know what you’re going through. We know that when you go to the grocery store with your child, you get dirty looks. We know that people — you’re scared. We know that you’re isolated. Imagine being a mom alone in an apartment. She can’t see anyone. She has no support. I mean, we all lose her mind being trapped with our kids. And it sounds bad, but you know, and then someone who’s also has the financial stress of like, I don’t know how I’m going to survive. So this crisis is showing that we need universal daycare, we need universal childcare, we need better wages, we need our safety net to be stronger. And I hope that people, leaders use it as a political moment to push for these things. And I hear everything that you’re saying about like, you know, what risks do we take? What populations do we take care of? And I just hope that we can forge forward in a way, and I’m going to continue to just fight to have those voices out there of how fragile it is, how scared they are. You know, how just awful, but they’re so strong and they’re so resilient and I think that we are demanded of so much of them already and they raised 23 million kids and you can see them getting all fired up and sad. But that’s just, that’s just the truth. And so we have to do better. Turn it to you.

Emily: Well, I feel like I’m about to cry too. So this is turning into to… I feel so strongly about what you’ve said too. It’s just, it’s unbelievable that we don’t take better care of our moms and our babies. I mean it’s like, it’s infuriating and I think you’re absolutely right.

Dr. Marika Lind…: Yeah, no, I was just going to say there are a lot of stereotypes about single moms and there’s a lot of misinformation about single moms. It’s been a lot of blaming of single moms and I think that’s got in the way of rebuilding a true safety net. And I just want to lay out that often single moms and the majority that have one child, majority of them, they were either divorced or they were widowed. We have an opiate crisis, they lost spouses and partners to an overdose or there’s high suicide among military. I mean there’s so many reasons that it’s not something that people end up doing because they’re just lazy or careless. And I think that there’s been a lot of mistruths around that. And so now we have to like look at this population and understand who they are and understand that they’re raising 23 million American kids and start to, you know, hopefully build the safety net. Now that we’ve seen how completely dangerous and risky it’s been for them.

Emily: And so when we’re like sort of not in a crisis mode, what would you, if you were to sort of try to explain how much more acute this crisis is than what you usually see just from your vantage point of being able to tap into all these messages that are coming in, whether it’s measuring traffic on your site or some other metric by which we could sort of say this is really hitting these solo moms hard right now. Is there some way that you’ve been able to notice that in an acute way?

Dr. Marika Lind…: Yes, absolutely. So, we have over 75 Facebook groups in different cities and we are getting signing in 50 moms a day in some of them. And before we would get like one or two moms a day and now we’re getting 50 moms. I can see on the site that we’re spiking. I mean, I can see the numbers and I can see more people talking on the site. You know, when I wrote this piece for Ms, I basically just went through and looked at what everyone was talking about in the conversations were decidedly more intense, decidedly more often. In the past it was like funny means and ways to make, you know, side hustles. Yes, there were every now and then someone really desperate and people would all flock to help her. But now it seems like almost every post has that desperation to it. You know, for us, it’s a very concrete numerical difference. And I’m proud to be staying on top of it and trying to do my best to get everyone in and get people talking. And we want to keep our sites safe. So you can’t just sign up without some kind of checks. So, you know, we don’t want guys, we don’t want trolls. And so we’re working pretty hard. There’s three of us just basically checking out whether these are legit folks coming on. So we keep people safe and we keep it confidential.

Emily: Yeah, no, of course. That’s gotta be really important. Are there ways for people to help, like if there are men listening or women who want to somehow help the moms in your community, are there ways that people can offer assistance from the outside?

Dr. Marika Lind…: Well, the best thing is to, I think, look in your own local community and ask if you know, solo moms. I mean, there are ways that, you know, we have over 5,000 nonprofits on our site. And those nonprofits are doing a great job. And so if you wanted to find a nonprofit in your town that works with solo moms, I mean because we are confidential and because we have these private groups, it’s a little bit trickier too set up exactly like an exchange of food or something. I encourage people to look around in their own community and ask around and perhaps find the groups that are doing the work. People are doing work on behalf of solo moms all over the place, but they’re stretched really thin and they need people to help and they need money.

Emily: I mean that’s the other part of this crisis that I find so frustrating is that we are all so interconnected and yet, I mean like just very honestly I feel like I’ve had a lot of, you know, sort of like bad news or like tough things happen in the last month and that has made me like just become really zeroed in on what’s in front of me. But I have extra resources, right? Like I have extra toilet paper at my house right now. Hopefully we don’t have a million listeners who now want toilet paper from me. But like I wish there was a really easy, like I’m sort of surprised with all of the technology that we have that we don’t have some sort of like swapping system, right? Where like people can upload their own inventory of things they have extra of and somebody else can say like, Oh, I really need diapers. And I can say like, Oh God, I have an extra set of like size two from five years ago. I’d be happy to leave it out for you. Here’s my address. Right? Like there’s some really basic things that I feel like if you take the village model that we’re so terrible at today. That people would have been better about, right? I mean like I emailed all my neighbors when this all went down and basically it was just like, look, I’ve got extra of these things. We have a lot of elderly people who live around us or people who definitely were over 65. And I just sort of felt like, gosh, that’s gotta be really scary too. If you’re alone and you’re in this risk group and you’re, you know, sure in this community of people but you’re not allowed to like really talk to anybody or like you know, you go outside but you don’t really want to get too close or whatever. So I was like, let’s just start this email chain. You know, we’ve had really interesting things like one of the older neighbors said that there was like another time, like maybe 70 years ago or something when this kind of thing happened and everything was shut down for a little while. And I don’t know what he was referring to, but he basically like then gave ideas for kids to have nature scavenger hunts. Where he was like I’ve got this Oak tree and it’s about to bloom. And like maybe the kids could find that and everybody could like come up with like a different thing that you have to look for. And it was like, it was such a nice idea. And another older neighbor emailed about how like now that the library is closed, she’s putting a plastic bin of books out front for people to borrow. Like that kind of stuff people want to do. Do you know what I mean? But I think we’ve not done a very good job on a larger scale trying to help people. And maybe these nonprofits that we’re talking about are doing all of that, but like, they’re not on my radar. You know what I mean? And so I just, and maybe that’s just laziness, right? Like we all need to take the initiative to do a better Google search or figure out how we can help other people.

Dr. Marika Lind…: Well, I think it’s tricky. I think it’s tricky because on our site we have local groups and a larger group. And we actually have in the local groups of place for people to post what they might want to barter or what they might want to give away. I think that the local groups, not on the site and on Facebook, have done a good job of trying to come together. But you’re right, we’re not connected. The networks aren’t as dense that you can get sort of outside and of course most of the people in our network are already vulnerable and so they’re helping each other but it’s not the ones with the resources. And you would want the ones with the most resources to be connected somehow. Like if there you of course now have me thinking about another project. But like I’m sure people are working on this. How do you expand this network and make sure that there’s people who want to do good and have resources and can be connected to the most vulnerable communities?

Emily: Absolutely. I mean that’s how I feel, right? Like I probably have a network of people who have lots of resources. Who would be willing to give them away, especially to moms. Right? I feel like maybe we need to do this together.

Dr. Marika Lind…: I know we can, we can start. We can do this.

Emily: Because it just seems so obvious. Right? Like, drive by my house, like pick up these things, or I can drive them to you. I don’t have anything else going on. Right?

Dr. Marika Lind…: I live on a farm and we have over supply of eggs and I was asking my friend who works in the local hospital if the nurses would think it was nice to get fresh eggs. And she’s like, they would love that.

Emily: Of course, yeah!

Dr. Marika Lind…: So I had all the kids paint egg cartons with saying thank you and we appreciate you and superheroes wear scrubs and like all this stuff. And we’ve just been, as often as we can, we’re now sending eggs over and they’re like, they love it, you know? It took a little bit.. I’m like why haven’t we been doing this? You know, I’ve been giving it to neighbors and teachers, but it’s nice to be able to give it to folks that you’re very grateful for and that you want to show appreciation.

Emily: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And then I think just sort of going back to your original story, I would love to hear your perspective on what was it like to be studying something in an academic sense and then sort of find yourself in that position personally.

Dr. Marika Lind…: Yeah, it was a little bit humbling because when you’re an academic and miss smarty pants and I’m teaching this stuff and I felt for the folks. But it wasn’t until I was like, wow, this is really hard. This is really hard and I have a job. And it wasn’t the best paying job because I was an adjunct, but I had health insurance. And I’m thinking, wow, if you don’t have a job or you know, it wasn’t a contentious, abusive situation. So I didn’t have PTSD, which many of the moms on our site do. It was just, I mean humbling is really the word and I actually think I became a much better teacher after that. I think you know, I could use personal experience and I did. And that was something that became a signature of my teaching style is like being open and being vulnerable. When you’re younger and starting and you know, you want to be show that you’re an expert. But as I got older and more things happen, I kind of changed my style to be really open. And I got remarried and I was pregnant and I talked a lot about the challenge of pregnancy at work. And you know, I taught courses on managing diversity. So it was relevant. And just sort of going back to work after you have a baby a week later. And so I don’t know, just these experiences that challenge and enrich us I think that they made me a better teacher. But yeah, the main feeling is like, yeah, I thought I knew knew a little bit more than I really knew.

Emily: Right. Well, and that’s also a part of growing up. But I would imagine like this idea of “expert”, which I feel like we’re sort of in this moment in time where everybody—the value of an expert is becoming,. I guess for me it’s like a little bit overdone. Because it’s like everybody thinks they’re an expert at everything. And then the real experts don’t really have any credibility. And those systems seem to be sort of falling apart and being rebuilt. Like as we speak. I mean I think you can even just look at the sort of public health spectrum and see that happening. And so I think that’s interesting too. And I think the word humbling is such an important part of that process of I think becoming more self-aware and stronger in general, right? It’s like you go through a period where you think you know a lot about something and then you realize like actually from experiencing it, you really didn’t know nearly as much as you thought. And there’s sort of that intellectual awakening when you realize you don’t know, right? Like there’s so much we don’t know that we kind of assume we do know. And I think motherhood in general has sort of been that experience for me. Like I don’t think motherhood is at all what I had pictured it to be. Not in a negative way, but like just, I don’t think I had any sense of responsibility the way that I do now. And I could imagine what it would be like to be responsible, but I couldn’t feel it in my heart the way I feel it now. Right? Or like the weightiness of it.

Dr. Marika Lind…: Yeah. I think that intense responsibility it hits you fast too, right? That baby’s there and then suddenly… I mean, I remember the first two weeks just feeling like so overwhelmed by that acute feeling that I’m responsible for this baby’s happiness, this baby’s food intake, this baby’s, survival. It is so intense. And then I always say to the undergrads, like we want to think that everything’s gonna work out smoothly and somehow we can do everything. And one of the truths is that our society is set up that it expects women to parent, like they don’t have jobs and to have jobs like they’re not a parent. And so there’s so many things along the way that you’re like, wow, not only do I have this intense emotional responsibility, but I don’t have a lot of mechanisms here that are helping me feel good, feel strong, feel arrested, and do what I want to be doing—work-wise, passion wise, parenting wise. So, you know, one of the things I always talk to solo moms about is be forgiving. And realize that at some moments, Michelle Obama said this and got in trouble, but you can’t be 100% great worker, 100% great mom. And I think there’s times when you are—it’s a balance. Like, maybe one day you’re were extraordinary in your parenting. And then another day, you know, you had something to do and you put your kids in front of the TV with some food and you were just like, oh, I gotta go get this done. You know, you’re not a bad mom. But when you’re younger and you imagine the kind of parent you’re going to be, you don’t realize that there’s some pretty hard choices. And they’re not fun. You know, there are choices that, you know, sometimes suck your soul a little bit and maybe it’s temporary. And now I’m getting to the point, my youngest is 14. And it changes. And I tell moms that when I have three-year-olds and five-year-olds that it will not always be that hard. But then you get teenagers and it’s a different kind of hard. And, it’s sometimes emotionally more difficult, but not physically necessarily. But yeah, I agree. You’ve just not, not prepared. And going back to the expert comment, I think it’s really interesting that the internet has created—we’re all experts, we just look it up. We come on so smart. And then ironically the people in leadership are often being selected that are not experts. So then expertise is being de-legitimized. And so yeah, I think you’re right. You’re sort of clued into this big morass of like who’s an expert? Who deserves to be an expert? I mean aren’t people on the ground who are experiencing stuff, experts? You know, we don’t hear from solo moms. The voices aren’t often put out there. There’s sort of ideas about solo motherhood. But my idea with the book, my idea with the site is to be like, no, these are real women who probably have much more expertise than you think in terms of their passions, in terms of the work that they do, in terms of the parenting that they do. They’re very savvy. They’re savvy in terms of like saving money, getting extra jobs, working so hard. And I just think their stories aren’t told enough. And my hope is that if they keep being told, then people start to realize that their stereotypes about solo motherhood are just completely wrong.

Emily: Yeah, no, it’s funny you say that. I have two books that are business advice books that are coming out this summer in August. And one of them is on how not to get promoted. And they’re supposed to be like sort of basically like stories of how things have gone wrong so that people can learn the right way to do them. But in the intro to the “How Not to Get Promoted” book, I felt really strongly that it was important to point out both that like if you’re a woman, your chances of not getting promoted just because you were born with a vagina are way higher. You don’t have to do anything. But second of all that like all of these business advice books that you find today are like grit, perseverance, like these are the qualities you need to be a good leader and be like a billionaire and whatever. And I was like, let’s just point out the fact that those are all qualities that you could find in most single low-income mothers and they are not guaranteed any kind of position in the C-suite. Right? So like while we say we value these things, there is a population of people who possess these in spades and that is not guaranteeing them anything. So like we’ve got to kind of point out that there is this bias of what you need to do or what you need to have. When in fact that is only geared towards a certain subset that’s already sort of prequalified because of their…let’s say like white men that are going to be more likely to be in those positions. And they’re basically those business advice books are like, don’t be a baby. You have to work hard. There’s a lot of people who are doing all those things and it doesn’t guarantee them anything. You know what I mean?

Dr. Marika Lind…: Oh yeah. Totally a hundred percent. I look forward to your books.

Emily: Every time, I’m like, you just need to have grit? I’m like, guess what? There’s a whole bunch of women who have tons of grit and like that’s not the most important quality. What they need is some help when they get home from the hospital and they’re supposed to go back to their job five days later. Right? Like I don’t care how much grit you have, that’s not going to work out well.

Dr. Marika Lind…: I know, I so agree with you. I mean the fact that we don’t have family leave in this nation and we’re expecting.. You know there’s so many, you know, social policies that just are basically rights and givens and other nations. And we don’t have it. And we have plenty of resources and wealth to have put these policies in place. But yeah, I was thinking as you were talking about, our book is called the “Solo Mom Stories of Grit, Heart, and Humor.” And yeah, grit is something that we see all the time, but absolutely does not translate into any upward mobility. And the other thing is I worked in the business school at Northwestern, at Kellogg and they would talk about people who could boundary span, like could go from one—they were comfortable, they could speak different languages. And how these boundary spanners were really great for companies, but they failed to understand that there’s all kinds of people doing boundary spanning all the time. So for example, a gay person in the military spanning two boundaries or an African American who is in Harvard business school or African American solo mom who is also working in another environment. There’s so many people who are adept at spanning these boundaries and they, instead of being rewarded and utilized they don’t even think to use them. So businesses would certainly benefit from understanding what solo mom’s needs are or what they need to help their families etc. etc. I mean, I don’t know if that made a lot of sense, but it’s just something I’ve been thinking about lately is how we aren’t taking advantage of that knowledge that’s sort of on the ground. And there are people who are immigrants that would be very useful to understand their perspective because they are spanning boundaries all the time. And so I’ve written about it. I came as a Swedish immigrant and I understand that experience. It can be very alienating. And you know, I came from a privileged immigrant group and still it was that way. So I’m imagining other groups that come here and they’re considered and now a threat. And instead, they could be seen as someone who could be a translator and be someone that helps groups communicate and create links.

Emily: I’ve said this before on the podcast, but I’ve run a couple of small businesses and so I sometimes am asked to go speak at business schools. And I had this experience a couple of years ago where there was a Boston based business school that asked me to come talk with two men. One was a big VC guy the other one was an entrepreneur. And before we went on the stage we were sort of just like talking to each other a little bit about like our backgrounds and what we sort of thought good advice would be for business students graduating soon, whatever. And I had just become a mom, like I think my son was like maybe less than a year old at the time. Or maybe it was my daughter, I can’t remember which baby it was, but I was fresh on the new mom or like new baby track. And I was like, I really think that, I want to sort of explain that when you become a mother you become like incredibly efficient, right? Resourceful beyond anything you could have ever imagined, just out of need. Right? But you also have to become this leader where like you just get stuff done and like you motivate people like get this stuff done even if they don’t want to do it or like get through a hard day and then like get a good night’s sleep and start all over again. And I sort of was listing off all of these qualities that I sort of thought, well everybody in business school is being told that to be a leader. Or like when you’re hiring people, like what do you want? You want somebody who’s like really a go-getter, right? Can be super resourceful, kind of like high energy team building all this. One does that shit better than a mom just period. Because you have to do it as a mother all the time. It’s like just part of the day today. And I had never realized that. Right? I mean like my mom has four kids, like incredibly efficient. Like we all were in different schools at one point in time. Like managing calendars. Like you wouldn’t even believe. All of those executive functioning skills that moms have. Like moms just have them because it’s survival. And I think like we don’t think of that. Like we think like, Oh, you took some time off of work to be home with your kids. Like uh uh you just honed in on all of your most important leadership skills while you were home. You know, micromanaging and macromanaging and future planning and financial projections and like all the family budget stuff. I mean that’s all business, right?

Dr. Marika Lind…: It’s so true.

Emily: And these guys both started laughing. And I was like, oh, I’m not kidding. And they were like, yeah, right, we should all go hire moms. And I was like, Oh my God. Like they don’t realize it at all. Like I now realize that like I should be running an HR department that just hires moms who are ready to go back to work because they will get it all done. They’ll skip the golf trip to go to their kid’s play, sure. But they’re going to get the work done and they’re going to do it really well because they’re going to understand the essential sort of—I mean like what we were talking about with responsibility. They understand responsibility better than anybody. And it was so frustrating to me and I feel like I walked onto that stage with just like such a chip on my shoulder.

Dr. Marika Lind…: Yeah, it’s so maddening. And so when we start ESME, we were dedicated to hiring solo moms and people are like, oh, that’s going to be really tricky. Like they’re probably unreliable. I mean I found the complete opposite. Of course, they’re going to get their work done on time. Of course, they’re going to get the piece written because they need the money and they’re figuring out how to juggle all this stuff. And I’ve seen now because we started, you know, we’ve been live for five years, but we started like eight years ago. And I’ve seen a lot of the moms that started here go on to do really amazing things. And just because of their work ethic and their grit and their organizational skills and their resourcefulness. I mean, there’s no one more resourceful than a mom has to juggle all this stuff. I’m sure that if they’re single dads who out there who are figuring out they’re realizing like how hard it is to be a solo parent and how much you have to juggle and that, yeah, you learn a lot of skills. And we have this article, it’s gone viral around like, what nations are controlling the virus the most? It’s ones with female leadership. You know, there’s a lot of qualities about being a woman, being a mom, and you know, just that not only impact, like your ability to do well in the job but then to be a leader. As you said, to manage groups to get people to communicate. I mean, all of these things, the skills that we build. So I really totally agree with you. I also have seen the other side where there’s a real disdain for these experiences. So I taught a course called gender and management and I think you know that it was 95% women in the class. And then I’ve taught a course managing workforce diversity and it was 95% people with diverse backgrounds. And so the people who really need these classes and really need to understand some of the stuff aren’t stepping in that room. And you have these guys laughing at you and you’re okay, I challenge you to stay home for a year and do it. And then you laugh at me. I mean in Sweden they have something where they have the one parent that does not give birth, usually the dad, but could be another mom. They have to stay home for 10 days with the child. It’s a law. And I know 10 days doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is somewhat revolutionary because if you stay home with a newborn for 10 days, you learn a lot. You learn a lot about how demanding it is. You’re not going to laugh at someone, Oh, why didn’t you get the laundry done? Or why isn’t this clean? Like you suddenly recognize how overwhelming and demanding it is. So I mean, I really think that that was a policy that has served Swedish women quite well. You know, I know that women use the maternity leave more than men, but in terms of just one policy that’s worked really well is in requiring that the parents, they home for 10 days and just get a sense of like what, how demanding that job is.

Emily: Yeah. Right. I mean there’s no better way develop sympathy for somebody, than to like have experienced that a little bit yourself. I think the thing for me that you’re kind of alluding to that I definitely felt in that experience very acutely too. It’s like an egregious misunderstanding or something, right? So like this idea that Oh well women are going to be flaky if they’re moms. Or like they’re not going to understand the responsibility that’s coming from the perspective of like when I go home after my job, like I don’t have anything to do. Right? Whereas like what they’re neglecting to realize is that like a mom goes to work and her job is not done, she goes to her second job, right? Or her third job or like whatever it may be. So it’s like you leave your workday to go home to then do all the mom work and the housework, even if you have a partner who’s helping out, there’s still a ton of stuff that you have to take care of. Right. And so what I realized is—maybe it’s part of the reason I was became a journalist, I feel like I’ve always been really interested in other people’s experiences that are different from my own as a way of realizing how we frame things by our own perspective and then assume that they’re universal and they’re almost never right. And so in the situation, and I’m assuming a lot by saying this, but like in the situation of those guys laughing and like sort of saying like, moms would be like the last people that we would hire in an entrepreneurial situation. What I realized was when they come home, there are probably stay at home wives, right? Which is like, fine. My mom stayed home with 4 kids. She didn’t get paid, but I would say she worked very, very hard. But like those women are often taking care of all kinds of things for their husbands. Right. Like, I have this joke that I feel like has also come up on this podcast several times where like I’ve said like, what I really need as a wife, right? Like I’ve got a husband, but like he’s kind of useless when it comes to like he doesn’t organize my calendar, he doesn’t set up networking dinners for me. Like, whereas I have a lot of people in my extended network who are wives who manage all of that for their very successful husbands. They’re a team, right? Like those women are basically working for the family corporation in some way. And so if these guys are thinking to themselves like, well, I go home and I can’t wait for my day to be done so that I can go hit the links. Like for a woman and she’s going to make her deadline because she’s got to get to her next shift. Right? So she’s not gonna like procrastinate or push it off or whatever. And I think that’s sort of a misnomer. People forget that. There are these sort of like dual shifts or whatever that are unavoidable, for most moms.

Dr. Marika Lind…: Oh, there’s so much research on this. I mean, the women are bearing the burden of all this and it’s not just caring for children or cleaning a house or you know, setting up play dates or making doctor’s appointments or setting up summer camp or all those things that you have to do. But it’s also who’s taking care of the chronically illwho’s taking care of the elderly, who’s taking care if someone in the family gets breast cancer or something. I mean, women are stepping up over and over again to take care of all of these individuals. And so this unpaid care work is just extraordinary. It’s stressful, it’s difficult, but they’re doing it and they’re juggling it. And on our site, we have a lot of women who have children with special needs and, often marriages when there’s a child with special needs end up in divorce, it’s a very high divorce rate And so talk about superheroes. These women who figured out like they, they suddenly have to organize, there’s therapists, there’s it’s just complex medical procedures. So, you know, I was talking about single moms as superheroes, but then there’s a whole subset of even more major superheroes who have kids with special needs and what they have to accomplish in terms of like, how do you figure out IEPs and how do you figure out insurance. And I’ve been super impressed with their skills and their adeptness at navigating these really complex systems and it just shows the ability. And then that it’s not respected It just drives me up a wall. like why isn’t this respected? And someone if they have five hours a day to give, you know they’re going to do a good job. They’re working these skills, these muscles are being exercised every day.

Emily: Well, and I think this idea of not respecting is such an important one too, because you can’t decide to disregard something that you haven’t experienced. I like I think that’s so easy to do. And so, when I say you can’t, I guess I should say you shouldn’t, but like that’s what’s basically happening, right? Is that it’s like, Oh well, you know, I don’t really know about that, but I’m sure she’s got to figure it out. Just spend five minutes imagining what that would be like and how hard it would be. Right?

Dr. Marika Lind…: Yeah. I mean that’s going back to the teaching when I was becoming more humble, I realized that when I had African American students in the class, when I had gay students in the class I really needed to open up and learn from them. Like I wasn’t going to tell them my expertise on what they’re going through and I need to respect what they brought to the classroom and I needed to make sure that other students would respect it as well and hear it. And I had all kinds of interesting ways of strategies for trying to get this to happen. But yeah, it seems like there’s, unfortunately, a large segment of a population that just has no interest and no respect for a lot of the work that’s being done every single day on behalf of the elderly or the children or just keeping a household running and it’s kind of depressing me.

Emily: To bring it back to the site and to the sort of like, I don’t know what I would like to believe is like the change that’s happening right now is that like, I can remember even being a kid and having people in my family talk about like how women should be grateful for children. Right? And that like there was this, and I think even after I had my son who was my first, and I definitely was like sort of suffering from whether it was like postpartum depression that was never diagnosed or just like a really rough transition. I felt really strongly that there was this sort of sense of like, well you have a baby so like you should be happy and like aren’t you lucky? And like just concentrate on the positive. Like instead of saying, you know, I have to whatever say like I get to whatever and I wanted to like throw like a glass bowl at whoever was in front of me. Like that was trying to tell me to just like reframe it as a positive. And I think that’s something that is starting to—I mean like certainly in the past couple of years. And I feel like it’s a big service that your site provides, Is this idea of like, no, you know what, things can be really hard and really wonderful simultaneously and that’s okay. Right? Like it doesn’t, it’s not just one or the other. And I think again it goes back to like these rules were not written by women. They were written by probably men who wanted to come home and not hear that the woman was at home having a hard time, which again seems like so overly simplified. But like I kind of hate that theory just as I’m saying it out loud because like I think we have to give men credit for being humans and being emotional and being sensitive and all this stuff. But I think there is something that, in my own experience was very informative about people basically saying to me, you should be happy. And I actually remember somebody very specifically saying to me like, you know, I know people who can’t get pregnant and they’re having a really hard time. And so like you can’t complain about this stuff because you have a baby. And it broke my heart. Because like I never would want to act like I wasn’t grateful for my children. But it was fucking hard and I was really alone and I felt really scared and overwhelmed and like, I didn’t know what my future looked like and all of that stuff. And it’s like that I deserve to be supported in that experience in a way that I don’t think I was. Because I think that there was this sort of, I’m a strong person and I think people get sort of scared when I get scared because they don’t know how to handle me, which is a longer story, for another therapy session other time. But I do think there is a shared or a more of a collective understanding that we need to share stories about things that are challenging or hard or sad, right? Because that’s part of the experience. And denying that it’s part of the experience doesn’t actually move anybody forward. Like this idea of like the 1950s housewife, like just being sublimely happy in her ranch, well secretly she’s like doing heroin and wanting to kill herself all the time and like, like fighting with the neighbors or you know, these key parties or like whatever. I mean, I feel like there’s this underbelly all of these times that we sort of idealize as like, oh, you know, when women didn’t work. ell you’re only talking about wealthy women when you say that, right? Like lower-income women have always had to work. But I also think like there’s this idea just in a very personal way, like for women who are listening right now who are like at home with kids and they feel like they’re going bananas. Like you’re absolutely right. You know you’re in probably one of the toughest situations you could ever be in. Like let’s all own that. Like let’s not pretend that there’s some silver lining because you are lucky enough to have a child. Like of course, being a mother is a phenomenally rewarding experience, but it’s also one of the hardest experiences you can go through. And it’s certainly the biggest identity shift, probably of your life. And like, I wish we spent more time acknowledging that to help women realize like you get to experience a gamut of emotions and experiences. And some of them aren’t great and that’s okay. It doesn’t make you a bad person.

Dr. Marika Lind…: Yeah. I mean you’re really speaking to what we try on ESME to do because we have a lot of lighthearted stuff, funny stuff, informational stuff, but we also acknowledge that parenting is hard, and parenting alone is even harder. And every minute it’s not going to be joyous and it’s going to be tough, you know? And it’s okay to have that duality as you mentioned. And you know, we have a history of a lot of blaming of mothers and mom guilt, and I’ve written about this before, but I think mom guilt is one of the worst things that’s ever happened to women trying to parent successfully. Because always feeling guilty doesn’t make you a better parent. You know, feeling guilty about the fact that you couldn’t be there, really super attentive or that you actually might not want to get on the floor and play all day long. You’re not necessarily a bad parent. You can be a fantastic parent. But you know there’s so many messages blaming moms. Even when someone goes out and shoots somebody, a single mom was blamed because their kid was… there’s a lot of blaming going on. And I think that if we could kind of chuck this mom guilt, we’d be a lot better off. And just sort of embrace this idea that it’s a dialectic of really big challenge and really a big joy. And, you know, we love our children, we adore our children. We’ll do anything for them. But also it is very difficult and you’re only as happy as your most unhappy child. That phrase, I find that to be super true. I have five kids and like the days when I’m just like, there’s no way I’m going to have five happy kids all at once. I bear the I shoulder their disappointments and now I just want to speak to moms out there. Like we’re all shouldering the disappointments for our kids right now as they face this. Like no sports teams and no school and all the things that they’re being disappointed about. And I felt guilty. I’m not on the front line, I’m not going out and volunteering, but you know what I’m doing the best I can to help solo moms do this virtual world. And I’m also raising my kids and trying to make sure that they are resilient and aren’t faced with the just dealing with the psychological reality of everything that they’re disappointed about missing graduation or not being able to compete in their sport that they love. And then another thing I want to say about the site is that we have sole amounts by choice. And the thing you said about, Oh, you should be grateful they really get that all the time. Like, Oh, you went out and decided to have a child. And so you can’t complain about how hard it is. And we say to solo moms by choice, Bravo, you made a decision. You know, perhaps you were older and decided you really wanted a child and that doesn’t mean you can’t admit that it’s hard. You know, it is really hard raising a kid on your own and we welcome you and want you to come to the site and get support and get resources because you know it is damn hard.

Emily: I just think again like to emphasize like finding something to be hard or challenging doesn’t take away from the love you feel or the dedication you feel or how good or not or whatever you are. And I think the extension of that that I have experienced and I feel like I see all around me, is that you also find that at different stages. You’re a good or bad or happy or not happy. And I think, you know, one of the things that was really hard for me was my husband was running a business that was mostly women, like sort of clients. And so I would come in with the babies and the women would all be like, Oh my God, enjoy this time. This is the most amazing time. And I felt so depressed and so lonely and I had such a hard time, you know, at moments when they were really little and I was like, how am I going to get through the day and then to have these women saying to me like, this is the best time of your life. I was like, fuck no, it better not be because if this is the best time of my life, what do you mean it’s not going to get easier? And people will be like, Oh, it gets so much harder when they’re teenagers and you have to deal with like drugs and sex. And I was like, I would bring the drugs and the sex on because I feel like that might be more my bag and maybe it won’t be like, I don’t know. But I just felt like we do a disservice by telling people like no one meant to be mean to me. Right. Like they were trying to be encouraging and obviously feeling nostalgic for an earlier time in their life that they now remember really fondly. And maybe it was a great time for them. I don’t know. But I think we also, like when you’re talking about mom guilt, there is a part of me that feels like, I don’t ever say that to a woman. Like I don’t ever see a woman with a baby and say like, Oh, it’s so easy now. I wish my kids were that size. Cause that was so easy. Like don’t say that to anybody because you don’t know what they’re experiencing. And it might be the kind of thing where, what they would really benefit from as you to say to them like, Oh Hey, how are you doing? This is so hard. Everything’s so new. You know what I mean? Like I remember that being really hard because then the woman can look at you and say like, no, actually, you know what? We’re having a really great day and you can be like, awesome. But like don’t start off with this caveat of like, you know better and that like you had a really easy time doing that.

Dr. Marika Lind…: Yeah, I think you can remember things and glorify, you know, like when you’re in it. I always think I look at baby pictures and I’m like, Oh my goodness. Like why didn’t I enjoy that more? Or why wasn’t I more in the moment, you’re so tired. You know? I had one kid, and then I had another kid 18 months later. The two things, suddenly their needs are so different and you’re juggling them and you want to be present and you want to be enjoying. You want to just be like holding that glorious little baby. But the truth is, is that you’re handling a lot of other stuff and you’re often, many of us are working. And so it could be a little bit of, you know, projection backwards and wishing and hoping that the kind of experience that they had. Cause I can’t imagine that everyone’s like LA, LA, LA, you know, this is so great.

Emily: Well no, and I think the human brain is like pretty amazing at like not remembering pain, right? Like we don’t remember how terrible it was when we had the flu or like when we broke our leg. Like we don’t actually feel that pain anymore. And I think motherhood is probably like that. Like we don’t really remember how painful childbirth was. Right? Like there’s a reason for that. And it’s like, that’s probably a really great sort of like positive thing. But I did all this negotiation training and there was a guy who, his name is Chris Voss. He has like a big book out now and stuff. But he actually said to me at one point, he was the head of hostage negotiation for the FBI. And we were sort of exchanging tips from like different sort of situations that we had been in. And he was like, well you know the trick about calling people on the phone? And I said no, what is that? And he said, when you call somebody and you say like, Oh is this a good time? Their instinct will always be to say no because people say no cause they want like a little bit of a space and then they can decide. It doesn’t always mean, I hate saying like no doesn’t mean no, but in negotiation, no doesn’t mean no. It means like wait a minute, hold on. I don’t want to commit to anything. And yes is a commitment. And he’s like, if you call somebody and you say, Hey, is this a bad time to talk? They will almost always say, Oh no, it’s a good time to talk. And I feel like that’s such a good piece of advice when dealing with moms too, right? Like, Oh are you guys having a bad day? People will be like, no, I’m having a good day. Right. Not necessarily a defensive response. But like, if you’re like, Oh, this is the best day of your life, people are going to be like, no, it’s not like, do you know what happened this morning? And so I think like just sort of going at things with the attitude of—Jill and I talk a lot about this too. Like if you just assume that the people that you’re having, sort of superficial interactions with are having the worst day of their life, right? So like you go to the supermarket and the person mis this rings you up for something and you or somebody cuts you off or like something crappy happens and you just assume like that person just found out they have a terminal illness or like they just lost a child or like something terrible happened to them. You suddenly relax and you’re like, okay,I can handle your little snide remark or like your whatever response to me. And you know, I think that’s an exercise, right? Like it’s not something that is easy, enlightenment, to attain every day.

Dr. Marika Lind…: I always teach my kids that.

Emily: Yeah. And I think it’s like, it’s just a nicer way to go about life because there’s so much going on with other people that we don’t know. And I think extending the courtesy to people to either ask questions and not make assumptions or make the assumption that things are really bad, then you can kind of be a little bit kinder.

Dr. Marika Lind…: Yeah, I agree. I think that’s a great way to walk in the world. I think I tried to teach my kids that all the time, like when they tell me something that happened or someone was mean to them, I’m like, well what? Let’s think about what their home life might be like. Or maybe they’re getting bullied or what, we don’t know what’s happening. We don’t know why they’re behaving like that. And I always think about that in my social interactions out in the world and I try to model that for my kids. I just try to be patient and understanding and it makes a huge difference. And sometimes I’ll actually even ask a stranger, you know, if I see a mom struggling with a baby, I’m like, is there anything I can do like to help? I mean, and sometimes they’re just like, get away from you weirdo. But other times they’ve been really, really happy to have an—or just say something encouraging. I mean it’s all so terrible when like your toddler melts down and your baby’s crying on an airplane. And I always try to be really generous in spirit there because I’ve been there and it’s not fun and it’s hard. So just knowing that another person is looking at you and not judging is such a gift.

Emily: Absolutely. Yeah. And I think that’s a great place for us to wrap up. I feel like ending on a kindness note. That’s great. That’s what we all need right now.

Dr. Marika Lind…: Totally. And be kind to yourselves. Please be kind to yourselves. It’s a really hard time.

Emily: I’m Emily Kumler and that was Empowered Health. Thanks for joining us. Don’t forget to check out our website at empoweredhealthshow.com for all the show notes, links to everything that was mentioned in the episode, as well as a chance to sign up for our newsletter and get some extra fun tidbits. See you next week.


Dr. Marika Lindholm, founder of ESME.com

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