How to Make It as a Single Mother


A How To Guide for Single Moms

Video intro for Chapter 4

A link to a FREE Chapter from my book

Living Learning Loving

by Gail Cawley Showalter

Chapter 4

Living with Courage

We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face. . .we must do that which we think we cannot.

–Eleanor Roosevelt

It can be extremely difficult for single women to enter the job market if they have not been employed outside the home before. Sometimes it may seem impossible, but having a job is a necessary part of life. The job interview is a challenging experience in itself.

Landing a job requires a level of confidence that may be damaged by divorce or an abusive relationship. We all know it takes courage to sell yourself and your skills. I recall an early job search of my own. My dad always said when it comes to getting hired, “You have to let them know if they don’t hire you they’ve made a mistake.”

I never had enough nerve to do that until as a young married woman I was in need of a job – a real job. There were three ads in the Houston Post that described jobs I thought I could handle. I had never had a “real job” before, one that required forty hours a week and a boss that meant business. This would be the first.

My first interview was for the managerial position for several mall kiosks that sold common greenhouse plants in cute containers. I arrived a little early to the interviewed. The person who was going to interview me was a young man that wasn’t much older than I was at the time. He asked that I take a walk through the greenhouse while he finished some business. As I strolled the aisles, I recalled gardening with my mom. I adored flowers of every kind since childhood.

The interview began with the usual questions; background, education, job history, (something I had precious little of). He began to withdraw saying, “I have two others to interview. I’ll let you know.” I thought, I can handle this job and he isn’t going to hire me. Daddy’s words came back to me and out of my mouth, I heard myself say, “If you don’t hire me you’re making a mistake.”

He was stunned. So was I. He grinned, “What makes you think so?”

With confidence, I replied, “Because I know the name of every plant in your greenhouse.”

He nodded. His expression more serious now, “You may be right, but I’m obligated to interview the other two applicants.”

I had another interview that same day with a different company for a graphic layout artist. At the end of the interview, I said to the man, “I need at least $25 more a month than you are offering.”

He left the room for a few minutes and returned with a smile. “You’ve got the job.”

My first real job! I had my own work area. What a thrill! 1971 was the start of new beginnings.

The real kick came at 7:30 AM the next morning when the kiosk manager for the plant job called to offer me the job.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I’ve already taken a job.”

“I knew it,” he said, “I knew you would be hired by now.”

Over the years, I’ve been on several job hunts, mostly as a single mother. I’ve held many different kinds of jobs and gone through challenges of interviews and finding the right job in the right place at the right time. After my divorce, I attempted to find a position as a high school theatre teacher since that was the area of my degree, skills and education, but at one interview, a school administrator pointedly asked, “How can you manage this position with all the evening rehearsals and weekend contests as a single mom with three children?” This probably wasn’t a legal question, but was one I needed to consider. How would I juggle directing plays at school and children at home? What was I thinking?

Though my mother was determined to stand by my side and assist in any way she could, I wasn’t being realistic to put that kind of pressure on her, no matter how much she loved me. It was a wake-up call.

A school principal in my hometown advised me that in order to be the most employable educator, I needed additional certifications. The more subjects I could teach the more job security I would have.

As I rounded this turning point, I saw that I would have to learn to be open. (Being open to a change, or new ideas can be just the thing that works for you in your new situation.)

I was able to attend classes for two summer semesters at Lamar University, where I received by bachelor’s degree, and earned a teaching certificate in English.  My high school theatre teacher recommended me for a job in a school district forty-five minutes away, and I accepted it. Teaching high school English wasn’t a dream job, far from it, but it was a start.

When a dream collides with reality, reality seldom falls to its knees.

Letting go of the idea that we shouldn’t settle for less than our dream occupation may be difficult. So often, our dreams become our identity. Be open to learning something new. Sometimes these sidesteps open doors that we would never think to knock on and may be just what we’re looking for.

The workforce is always shifting; new ways of living produce new ways of doing things, and new jobs. You may find yourself in a state of inertia. Change is the single thing we humans resist more than anything else. It would be so much easier to do what we are accustomed to doing, the familiar. Change happens and those who are willing to adjust and move forward.

After I taught for a few years, I realized my salary would not increase significantly unless I had a master’s degree. The only avenue for higher income as a teacher was to have a higher-level degree. When my children were nine, seven, and six years old, I made the decision to return to college.

Earning a master’s degree seemed like an adventure, but the thought of moving three children to another city, locating day care, and a place to live for three months in the summer, and paying for it all was an overwhelming leap of faith, so I took one baby step at a time.

The process was not all smooth travels. For acceptance into graduate school, I had to take the Graduate Records Exam (GRE). I had not taken a standardized test in eighteen years. I would need three open slots in day care for the summer months in a city where the openings were few. I took baby steps of faith.

I prepared for the GRE, but even so, it was no easy feat. When I received the results, I had mixed feelings. I had scored fairly well on all three sections. Trouble was—they only counted two of the three and I didn’t quite make the cut for The University of Texas Graduate School by testing out. This meant I’d have to gather letters of recommendation, transcripts, fill out more forms, and meet with the Dean in order to be accepted on probation. This required swallowing my pride.

I could have given up at that point. I could’ve said, “Maybe this isn’t meant to be.” My desire to prove the test wrong was as strong as my desire to achieve something that would change my life. I had a brief meeting with the Dean as a formality. He nodded, signed a paper, and I was accepted. It was the first inkling that determination is a big part of reaching a goal.

I still would have to make arrangements for the care of three children while I was in class. Most openings in the nice childcare centers were not available just for the summer. Friends told me, “Parents pay for spots to hold them even if they aren’t using them in the summer.”

The university had an office for “returning students” that gave me a list of 100 childcare centers in the city. They had everything from tiny home-based centers to large ones. There were centers that focused on horseback riding, computers, and nothing at all. I wasn’t having any luck, until the day I visited St. Martin’s Lutheran, in downtown Austin. My thinking was that it would be too expensive and certainly wouldn’t have a decent playground located in the heart of the city as it was.

The elderly director cordially welcomed me and gave me a complete tour. She pointed out that the new playground had been given an award and then asked, “May I sign up your children?” Stunned I asked, “You know I have three children?” She said she did and I was able to enroll all three in one of the highest quality day cares in Austin.

The last piece in the puzzle was housing. It was too late to qualify for university housing and at the moment, I lived too far away to do the research on my own, so Carliss, a lifelong friend, who lived in Austin began to search for me. Time was running out. I had a deadline for getting any of the down payments for tuition and childcare back. We had posted on bulletin boards in every place Carliss could think of. Shortly before the last week to back out she called, “I’ve found an apartment that you can sublet. It is in a quaint complex in the Clarksville area of Austin. You can lease it for the summer.” It was going to happen. But how would I manage the day-to-day routine and all the changes for the kids?

The shuttle bus system runs like a spider-web across the city with stops all over the university campus. Imagine my surprise when I learned the bus stopped at the corner near our apartment and drove directly to the corner of St. Martin’s Lutheran. I could also pick up either of two buses from the daycare center that would stop in the front of the education building where all my classes took place. This was truly amazing considering the size of The University of Texas in Austin.

The odds of me figuring all that out and making it happen in my own power were slim, but one baby step at a time taken in faith blazed the trail and prepared the way for me.

After three summers on our final trek home my children put a poster on the back of our station wagon: “Hurray, hurray. We’re happy as can be. Mom just finished at UT.”

Facing the job market for the first time or after being out of the workforce for a while requires more than a bit of courage. Most women who are fulltime homemakers and mothers do not give themselves credit for the managerial skills and knowledge they have acquired and use daily—twenty-four seven. Homemakers use workplace skills all the time. Example: meal planning, scheduling activities, paying bills and balancing a budget, etc. all of these skills will be valuable in the workplace. You may find that in a crisis you are more willing or even pushed to test your limits. You may be surprised at what you can do.

Even if change is difficult for you, take a moment and consider a few of the opportunities open to you. Many of the things we feel are just dreams are obtainable with bit of planning and the courage to try.

You may find your next step requires more education. If that scares you, before rejecting the idea of returning to school, talk to an advisor or coach and see what kind of doors open for you. Education is something that can never be taken away from you. It is about more than the knowledge you gain. Entering college, studying, and passing exams is about expanding your reach, exposure to new ideas, and experiencing self-awareness and building self-esteem. It is about the journey. Along the way many single moms, just like you, achieve a stronger awareness of their self worth.

Always continue the climb. It is possible for you to do whatever you choose, if you first get to know who you are and are willing to work with a power that is greater than ourselves to do it.                    – Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Courage is a choice, a decision to face your fear and accept the challenge. I’ve watched single mothers tackle challenges with courage. One mother, Maigan, the mother of four sons, returned to college and earned a degree all while working full time and raising her boys. Some moms raising children alone pull back and away from active life. Nine out of ten do not attend church. I know single moms who have a difficult time reaching out for help or attempting any challenge that has a risk of failure. Risk of rejection is too much for most moms. Those who return to school, gain a sense of empowerment. They develop more control over their lives.

As a Life Coach I encourage women to dream, set goals and make a plan for achieving it. A vision statement is part of the coaching process. A vision is a dream clarified. Moms who establish a vision make progress towards a healthier future. A plan is a beginning. Action must follow. Action takes courage. Single moms often benefit from the guidance of a mature woman such as a Spiritual Director, a Life Coach, or a mentor. Working on your plan with another person is ideal. Being accountable to someone increases the likelihood for success.

“Take courage. Don’t be intimidated” is repeated in scripture. (x) I regret that I couldn’t do this with my ex-husband and his wife. He surely knew how to push my buttons and I avoided any encounter that I knew would involve conflict because I was always intimidated. “He’s really got your number,” as my counselor put it.

Whatever or whoever intimidated you may be your obstacle, the one that you need to overcome. Don’t let it or them be a barrier to your future peace of mind. We face roadblocks, deterrents, and hindrances that can tempt us to lose focus or quit. Keep your eyes focused on the goal and you will jump the hurdle like an athlete.

Have courage. You are not alone. There are many women traveling the same path as you are, on their own. Each is heading towards their distinct destinations. You are on the path to your future—one that is right for you. Do not be intimidated.

If your vision is to return to college, take simple steps in that direction. Gather information. It costs nothing to gather information and doing so gives you valuable factors for making decisions.

Perhaps you need to get your GED before you can start the college track. You can take preparatory online courses through Kaplan or other online courses. Google “online GED prep” for numerous ways to get you started. Another option is the Christian Women’s Job Corp. They have various courses to help you cross your bridge to empowerment. Every step you take in the direction of your goal will bring you closer to a more satisfactory life.

As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “We must do that which we think we cannot.”

headshot-in-blueI raised three children as a single mother before I remarried. I have experienced the potholes, pests, and perils of being the single head-of-household. As an educator in regular and special education for twenty years I know a great deal about child development and how to handle kids. I am the founder of SMORE for Women, a nonprofit whose goal is Single Moms, Overjoyed, Rejuvenated, and Empowered. I’m also a Certified Professional Coach and my stories have been published in several Christian books and magazines. My book, Living Learning Loving is available on CreateSpace, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble online.


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