How to be a Successful Single Mother: Handle It

how to be a successful single mother

By Jackie Pilossoph, Founder, Divorced Girl Smiling, the place to find trusted, vetted divorce professionals, a podcast, website and mobile app.

My late father was one of the wisest people I have ever known. Among his countless displays of knowledge and perception was his ability to counsel this single mom. When I was going through my divorce, I would call him and tell him about a problem I was having, he would offer advice with specific suggestions, but one thing he would always include in his stern, get-tough tone was, “Handle it.” That’s why when people ask me how to be a successful single mother, I say: “Two words: handle it!”


Let me back up. Sometimes my dad would say things like, “Handle it like an executive would,” or “You can handle it, I believe in you,” or “The answer of how to handle it will come to you, just use common sense.”


So, when I saw this quote,  (no one was credited with writing it), I thought of my dear, sweet, SMART father, and then I just started crying because I miss him so much.


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“The women whom I love and admire for their strength and grace did not get that way because shit worked out. They got that way because shit went wrong and they handled it. They handled it in a thousand different ways on a thousand different days, but they handled it. Those women are my superheroes.”


Ever have a day when you feel horrible, when self-pity and negative self-talk  just won’t stop? When you find yourself playing the victim and saying to yourself,  “I never asked for this life and how could I have made all these mistakes in the past?” Ever just feel really tired?  Tired of being a single mom. Tired of being tough. Tired of relentless time-management challenges, and tired of working every minute and waiting for a payoff that just doesn’t seem to be happening fast enough? I have felt that way in the past.


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I recently read this post on Facebook from a recently divorced single mom:


Sometimes life throws you lemons and all you want to do is throw them back. Fuck making lemonade. That’s how I feel. Just so damn tired. Tired of my ex, tired of being strong, tired of shitty dates, TIRED…”

So, wondering how to be a successful single mother?

Let me tell you what “handle it” actually means.

It means that every day, every single person, divorced or not divorced, has problems. Little problems: like the vacuum cleaner broke or I lost my car keys, bigger problems like: my daughter broke her arm or my ex is dating my neighbor or I got into a fender bender and big problems like: I have cancer or my ex is suing me for sole custody of my kids.

Let me back up and explain that all problems are problems, even little problems. But, little problems usually work themselves out and new little problems arise daily and weekly. Medium size and larger problems are the toughies. Nonetheless, problems are problems and when you have one of those days when small problem after small problem keeps arising, it can feel hopeless and can make you feel frustration and anger.

Being a successful single mom oftentimes means taking control of your household and handling problems. That’s not easy. It’s not easy to have to set up a mousetrap and live with a mouse in your home. If your husband was around, maybe it would have been easier. It’s not easy to manage finances yourself, to do all the chores yourself, to carpool as a single parent when everyone else seems to have two drivers–a husband and a wife. It’s not easy to go to chemotherapy treatments or to care for your aging parents or to go to work every day and come home exhausted and you are responsible for making dinner. Every single night!


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Handling it simply means take one day at a time and handle what needs to be handled right now. Your divorce is going to take time. It doesn’t happen overnight, and problems are going to come up on what seems like a daily or weekly basis–your ex pulls something in court, he already has a girlfriend who you didn’t know about, you found out from someone in your neighborhood that he cheated, you realize you have to put your house on the market. These things are things that don’t have to happen right this second.

Just handle problems as best you can and prioritize what needs to be done. And in the meantime, just be the best best mother you can possibly be, and always make decisions with your kids’ best interest at heart. The dishwasher breaks? Call a repairman or get a new one. Your kid’s teacher calls and tells you he/she’s been acting out in class? Find your child a therapist. Your ex has a girlfriend? Sob and punch your pillow in private after your kids go to bed. That is handling it.

The big things are complicated. I have dealt with cancer and it’s really really scary. But, I handled it and now it’s good!

Want the good news? When you handle your problems, you will feel so great about yourself, so empowered, so confident and very proud of yourself. It’s calming to realize how capable and strong you are.

Try to remember that if you think other people–even married moms have it easy, you are wrong. Everyone has problems and everyone has to handle them.

I’ll never forget, a few years ago, my mom and I were at an art fair and we ran into three or four women I know. My mom commented on how beautiful and smart and sweet each girl was, and I would answer her the same way about each one. I’d say, “Mom, if you knew her story, you wouldn’t believe it. What she went through…”


I would tell my mom (not in detail) each woman’s story and my mom’s jaw was on the ground every time. I get that, because if you looked at these women–well dressed, well-groomed, smiles on their faces, seemingly carefree, just enjoying a beautiful summer day in Chicago, it appeared that they didn’t have a care in the world, and that everything had always gone their way. Not the case at all for any of them.


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Each of these women suffered. Each had problems galore. But like my dad said, and like this quote said, they were successful single mothers because they handled it. They got tough, they wiped their tears, they persevered, they were patient, they kept their dignity, they worked hard, they prayed, they hoped, they figured out what would make them happy and they went for it. They had guts. And like the quote states, they truly are super heroes.


So, if you are feeling tired and sad, and things seem hopeless, like they are never going to change, ask yourself if you want to be a super hero. If the answer is yes, then the solution is simple: handle shit.

Like this post? Check out “9 Single Mom Characters and The Gifts They Gave Us”

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    Jackie Pilossoph

    Editor-in-chief: Jackie Pilossoph

    Jackie Pilossoph is the Founder of Divorced Girl Smiling, the media company that connects people facing with divorce to trusted, vetted divorce professionals. Pilossoph is a former NBC affiliate television journalist and Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press features reporter. Her syndicated column, Love Essentially was published in the Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press and Tribune owned publications for 7 1/2 years. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism from Boston University. Learn more at:

    13 Responses to “How to be a Successful Single Mother: Handle It”

    1. Laurie

      Thank you Jackie!! You are an inspiration and are more than “handling it,” you are Rocking it! 🙂
      Love, love this article and will reread for those tough days.

    2. E

      Fabulous! About to go in for more mediation with an ex about child and this is what I needed!!

    3. Dor

      Handle shit is great advice.
      I’ve handled more in the past 4 yrs than most people would handle in a lifetime.
      I’m still learning from my mistakes and getting stronger.

    4. Mo

      Great article! So needed this. Great advice. I miss my dad too, i have a feeling he would have said the same thing…”Handle it”❤️


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