While the topic of parenthood comes up from time to time, it is often from the perspective that solos are typically not parents. In this week’s episode, however, Peter McGraw talks to two solo parents – one who is a single mother by choice and the other who had an “oopsie.” You will hear their stories, discover how their “team” helps them, and also learn a bit about how they go about dating (or not).
Listen to Episode #89 here:
While the topic of parenthood comes up from time to time, it is often from the perspective that solos are not typically parents. However, in this episode, I talked to two solo parents. One is a single mother by choice and the other had an oopsie. You’ll know their stories, discover how their team helps them, and also learn a bit about how they go about dating or not. I hope you enjoy the episode. Let’s get started.
Our first guest is Paula Wood. She is an award-winning filmmaker and entrepreneur. She has worked in development at Twentieth Century Fox, produced reality television, and is now the CEO and Principal Creative Director of her own marketing firm working with clients across the country. I got to know her through the Solo Club on Clubhouse where she is an outstanding moderator and an easy laugh. Welcome, Paula.
Thank you, Peter.
Our second guest is Marla Cichowski. She is an SMC, Single Mother by Choice, living in Chicago. She’s a former TV news journalist who traveled the country and parts of the world for years, covering breaking news. She’s now a Public Relations Executive managing media relations for clients at a global creative communication agency. I met Marla through a mutual friend who couldn’t say enough good things about her. Welcome, Marla.
It’s great to be here.
I’m thrilled to do this. This took a lot to get set up and here’s why. I have two solo parents who are working full-time. One of the themes in this show is the freedom and the optionality that solos have. A lot of that is often focused on the fact that solos don’t have a family and yet, sometimes they do. This show still keeps with that with regard to the freedom and optionality that adults have, specifically women have nowadays, to still have a child outside of a partnership. You two are doing it and doing it well. I have many readers who are parents themselves and they have been clamoring for something like this. This is my first foray into an episode specifically on solo parenting. I’d like to start with your stories. How did you get here? How is it that I’m talking to you besides the fact that you are going to be such a fabulous interview?
I have a daughter. Her name is Lucy and she’s the love of my life. I can’t believe that I’m a mom every day I wake up. I’m usually waking up to hearing her in the next room and I think to myself, “What is that? Yeah, that’s my baby.” It’s been wild. She was born in June 2020 during the pandemic. If anyone knows anyone who had a baby during the pandemic, it was quite an experience. Everything that we go through makes us stronger on the other side. My journey to becoming a single mother by choice is something that took a lot of personal reflection over a lot of time.
When I was 25, I thought, “If I’m not married by the time I’m 30 with probably at least one kid on the way by the time I’m 32, then the world may stop rotating.” I can’t imagine what my life would look like if those things had not happened at that age. At 40, I had gotten out of a relationship not too long before that and I was like, “Here we go. Where are we going? What am I doing?” I know so many women that have walked in those footsteps. I know being a parent is not for everyone. I have always felt in my heart that somehow, someway, I would become a mother.
I feel like I’ve never taken the conventional path forward. Everyone’s graduating from college and going to big cities, working, and have these big jobs in big cities. I went to La Crosse, Wisconsin to be a local news reporter making $7.50 an hour. It’s the complete opposite of the big city for a valuable reason because I was pursuing my dream to become a TV news reporter after going to college for it. Everyone’s journey is so different and personal. I got to a stage in my life where I knew, “If I’m going to do this, I need to focus and figure it out.”
That was at age 40?
I decided to freeze my eggs at 40. For anyone that wants to explore freezing the eggs, it’s not a slam dunk and there are no guarantees with any of it. The eggs that I did end up freezing are not the eggs that got me my daughter, which is surprising to a lot of people.
This relationship that ended, I assume you had others before that. At what point did you have this idea that you felt in your heart you wanted to be a mother? You knew this young, at least in your mid-twenties. I’m guessing it’s probably even before that.
I’ve always loved being around children. I’m close to my mother. I don’t come from a big family so I don’t have nieces and nephews growing up. I have one older brother and he was killed by a drunk driver when I was turning sixteen. That’s a massive tragedy in our family that has impacted me forever. I think about it every day. I wish that my brother was here because my daughter’s middle name is in honor of him. I know that he would be so in love with her.
Part of me was realizing that if I don’t take control and try to create the things that I wish existed, I want a family. There are so many ways to approach that, not just the traditional way when you explore your options. There were long nights of thinking about, “How am I going to do this? Is this the right decision? Am I making the right decision?” I’m sure every mom, regardless if you’re single or not, has gone through that. There were a lot of ups and downs and hurdles. Knowing at the end of the day in my heart like, “Do I want to be a mother?” The answer is yes.
One of the things that are striking about this is there’s so much of life. If you want to live it solo, you can in a lot of ways now more than ever, in terms of making your way in the world, structures, inventions, innovation, support and so on. For the average person, especially the average woman, there’s like, “I need to solve this other problem before I have a child,” which is, “Who the hell am I going to do this with?” This episode is coming on the heels of a two-part episode on this notion of waiting. That is a common theme in singles’ lives, whether it be hopelessly waiting or hopefully waiting. Some of that waiting is not just for a potential life partner, but then also for a potential father or mother of would-be children.
This is from women I dated, female friends, the audience and in conversations. I get this sense that there’s often this time in life because of the reality of, “If you do want to have children, there is a timestamp associated with it,” which is, “I better get serious about this.” Marla, you got serious about it at 40, medically. Was there a time where you felt like you got serious about the dating that you were doing or the person that you were spending time with, how you were vetting who you might go out with, and who you were swiping right and left to?
The swiping is non-stop. I went through all of that. I remember getting on Match more than a decade before the swiping started. All of those apps have evolved so much. It lasted for several years and I got to the point where, with any relationship, you’re thinking, “Where is this headed? Are we both on the same page? Do we both feel the same way in our hearts?” For me, the answer was, I love this person, but I’m not in love with this person deeply to the point where I can honestly say, “If I look forward five years, what does their life look like together?” Of course, there was that clock. After that relationship ended, I traveled a bunch. I got a lot of traveling on my own out of my system, which was amazing, and then you come back to reality and you’re like, “Where is he?” You’re thinking, “One of these apps has got to be the magic trick that I need.” Finally, I’m like, “Screw the apps. I’m not doing this anymore.”
I get it. I had an unfortunate date. This woman was 42 and she was like, “If I wanted to have a kid, I could have a kid.” She’s an incredibly optimistic person and I found that deeply attractive about her. I said, “Are your eggs frozen?” She’s like, “No.” I’m like, “Are you going to do this with a partner?” She’s like, “Perhaps.” I’m like, “You got to get to know the person. Maybe they want to have a little time with just the two of you before there’s a third.” There’s that reality that can exist.
It’s very rare on your first date to be like, “Do you want to have a baby?”
Paula, you have a different story than Marla. I don’t know your story. I know that you have a son.
My story is a little bit different. I always wanted a big family and lots of children. I grew up with two other brothers and sisters. I have thirteen aunts and uncles on my dad’s side. My mom had some brothers and sisters, but most of her brothers had passed away. It’s just her and her sister. I’ve always wanted a big family but as my life grew, I didn’t focus on it. I just wanted to pursue my career and have fun. It wasn’t even a thought. I want to be a wife and be in a healthy, happy, reciprocal relationship. Those were the things that I wanted but it was never like, “I have to have a baby now.” I still had some time before I started freaking out.
I went to a private Christian school growing up, so I didn’t even learn about the body, the eggs and stuff until a few years ago. My friends were like, “Every time you have a period, you lose your eggs.” I was like, “What? Really?” They’re like, “That’s why women freak out when they get older.” I was like, “Maybe I should start thinking about this.” Everyone thought I was so silly for not knowing that. I was dating this gentleman and it wasn’t going anywhere. I was in a place in my life where I was very insecure. I had limited relationship experience. I’m a giving person so if you’re in need, I’ll help you.
I was raised by a single mom and I’ve seen her take care of us, the family, strangers on the street, co-workers and employees. If anybody needed anything, she was there to help. Growing up with this strong, independent woman, it’s second nature. If you’re with somebody who you enjoy being with, you help them. I got caught up with someone who couldn’t financially take care of themselves and ended up in a 4 or 5-year relationship where he lived with me. I paid for things and paid for trips. Don’t judge me. Towards the end of that relationship, the light bulb clicked for me and I was like, “What are you doing?” I had lost some weight and I finally gained that self-confidence. I was looking at him every day and I was like, “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
You’re thinking this. You’re not saying this.
Correct. I tried to think about it a couple of times and he was like, “Make me. Call the police.” I was like, “This is horrible. This is a nightmare.” He was like, “Make me leave.” I was like, “This is my place. Go to your mom’s house.”
If someone says you need to leave and your response is, “Go ahead. Call the police,” it means you need to leave. You got to go.
I went on a trip to Saint Lucia.
I’ve heard about this trip. It’s Paula getting her groove back.
There was no groove getting on the trip but when I came back, this homie who was living for free got the groove. That was the time that I conceived. Three months later, throughout, I didn’t realize that was a thing and I did. My mom was like, “You’re pregnant.” I thought she was going to be upset with me because she’s a career woman and she had great big plans for me. I’m her oldest daughter. I’m like a mini-Margaret. She was like, “This is so exciting.” I was like, “What? You’re not mad at me. I’m having a baby outside of marriage. This is not what you wanted for me. This is not what I wanted for myself.” She was like, “You’re getting older. It’s time for you to have a child. I was getting worried about you because you didn’t have anyone.” I was like, “Okay, mom. Whatever.”
I had my son. I and his dad were anti-medicine and anti-hospitals, so we did agree to have my son with midwives at home in an indoor inflatable pool. That was a beautiful experience. I had two midwives and an intern. My mom and my sister are in the room. It was beautiful. I pushed him out. Every morning he wakes up and he’s like, “Mommy, mommy.” I’m like, “I’m coming.” He’s the smartest little boy. I’m going to brag. When he was a year old, he knows all of his colors. He knows numbers up to ten by himself and can count up to 100 with help.
None of this means anything to me.
It’s a big deal.
Marla’s shaking her head, nodding approvingly like, “That’s quite good.”
I’m watching on YouTube every day these brilliant 2 and 3-year-olds reading books and I’m like, “My son’s going to be one of these kids.” I love my son. He’s the best thing that could have ever happened to me. He and his dad are not together. I am dating. This co-parenting thing works because I have time alone to do me when he’s with his dad, and then when I have him, I can be a mom. I thought my life was over when I found out I was pregnant. I was like, “I can’t move to LA anymore. I can’t do this and I can’t do that.” I get the best of both worlds in my situation. That’s my answer for now.
Are you about 50/50? What is your split on this, Paula?
Let’s call it 50/50. It’s equal. When I go to work Monday through Friday, he watches him like a daycare from 9:00 to 5:00, and then I have him every night. Every other weekend, we switch. The reason I say it’s not 100% equal is because in my research, when I have him all of the evenings, it’s as if I’m a full-time parent. He should share some nights with his father for it to be equal, so he gets to go out and have fun every night and I have to be on baby bedtime duty.
Marla, you’re 100%.
Yeah. I have been fortunate. My mom and my dad have stepped up to the plate. When I had my childcare fall through soon right after I went back to work after my maternity leave, they were like, “Okay.” They have been helping me raise their granddaughter. My mom and my dad come for a couple of days. I’ve been so lucky. They both live fairly close. There are so many people out there that struggle with childcare. It is tough. Lucy started daycare, so I drop her off to a new place.
How did it feel to drop her?
It’s crazy. It was hard for me to trust another adult that doesn’t belong to my family to care for her, but I’m seeing the other kids in the class, how happy they were, and knowing she loves to be around other kids. She loves people. She loves being part of the party. Seeing her at the end of the day when I come to pick her up and seeing the pictures throughout the day, they send you and everything. They made it easier but also harder being like, “What is she doing that I’m not going to be able to see when it happens?” It’s been such a wild ride. This chapter of daycare is good for her and it’s good for me because I’m still working from home every day, which has its own set of challenges, and then you throw a child into the mix and it is challenging.
Both of you have pivoted your careers in different ways. How much of those pivots have happened because of motherhood or was that happening anyway?
I went into the PR world several years ago. That was before all of the egg freezing and the IVF journey and all of that began. Since COVID, I had a baby in June 2020 thinking, “By the time my maternity leave is over, I’ll be going back to the office.” That never happened because then we had wave-two of COVID here in Chicago. I’ve been working from home every day since. There are pros and cons like everything. I get to go to the gym in the morning when I should be commuting. Thank God for that. There are little things that you can get so much more done. At some point, I want to have a human conversation with someone beyond the guy at Starbucks or whatever.
It’s a lot of alone time, and then it’s a lot of parenting time. Those are your two modes.
I plan ahead a night out with a friend.
How about you, Paula? I know you’ve pivoted also.
Things change a lot. Before I was pregnant, I was about to sell my car, buy a van and travel across the country to do van life. I had a friend who was going to let me park my van in her driveway on Redondo Beach where she lives. I was going to do the hippie thing for a while and do freelance gigs out there in Los Angeles. I had some things lined up and some shows to work on. I had to be a full grownup. When you’re doing that whole thing, I wasn’t making a lot of money. I was doing oodles of noodles out of soup and ramen. You just eat what you want to eat.
I was a vegan on purpose. I cut out meat, save money, lost weight, looked good and felt good. I was going to do that and live my best life. I was like, “I can’t take care of a child like that.” I did have to humble myself. My mom has her business in DC, so I bit the bullet and said, “I’ll come back and work for you.” I’m the office culture manager. I manage about 70 to 80 employees working on proposal coordination. I’m part of her business development team. I have a regular job now, which is a blessing. I wouldn’t say anything negative about it.
I’m taking a pause right now and getting on my feet as a single mom. I’m purchasing a house. In 2020 during COVID, I moved in with my mom and saved a ton of money. I came up with a down payment for a house so I and my son can be grownups together. I can be a respectable mom. Not that anyone else is not doing that. It doesn’t mean you’re not. We can have our own space. I love our neighbors already. There’s a whole Facebook group of us.
I shifted to Corporate America. I have my marketing company that I do on nights and weekends, which is fun. I have this big client that I did some work for and prayerfully, getting more work to extend it so I can shift some things around. I can maybe work for my mom half the time, so I can maximize the opportunity I have with him. He’s got a cool tech company out in Texas and we’ve got some commercials going on. I’m excited about that. I haven’t lost touch with my creative side. It’s just that I’m not doing the Hollywood thing.
One of the things I talk about a lot on the show is how solos need a team, this team concept, so family, friends, professionals and people there to support your life. I always like to say something that I took from Bella DePaulo, which is, “Married people have the one. Single people have the ones.” That is this interconnected group of people. I’m a big proponent of friends and family is part of that. Having Marla’s teachers at the nursery school is part of her team. You both have spoken glowingly about your parents. That seems essential in your case. I know they’re important because I had a colleague once say to me, “I would have my in-laws move to the same city if they could to help with the child-rearing and I don’t like my in-laws.” That says it all. Who else do you consider to be part of your team besides the folks we’ve talked about and why?
For me, at least in addition to my small immediate family, some of my close friends don’t even physically live in Chicago. That’s been a challenge. I’m wishing they were closer but they’re all spread out. I have friends here in Chicago but they’re single. Of course, they are happy for me.
We do in the abstract, Marla.
Nobody can say they understand until you walk in those shoes for anything. There’s a Chicago Facebook group, Single Moms By Choice, that has been supportive. There’s a group of moms that connected right before the shutdown of the pandemic and we were able to meet in person. All of us had babies around April, May, June. We were forever connected and will be forever connected because of that. I’m sure Paula knows this too. A single parent connecting with other moms is great but I don’t even feel somebody can totally relate to my situation unless they are living it.
I agree with everything you said. Because I gave birth with midwives, they grouped as women together by birth month. During the pregnancy process, we had monthly meetings with each other who were pregnant and there was an email list. Now that we have children, we email diapers for sale or a birthday party or like, “We’re having a Zoom this year.” It’s helpful to keep my sanity as a single mom. I did feel bad because everyone had husbands and I was the only one without a man.
Don’t worry, that won’t last, Paula.
I don’t know what was wrong with these people out here.
I wasn’t talking about you. I was talking about them.
They all seem good. Everybody has their little pictures on their Instagram. They got their fake life or real life. It was nice to have that community of other moms, whether they were single or married. In real life, for me, early on, it was some family and friends of mine. My mom has some friends that are our friends as well and they were like, “We know you’re still dating. If you need us to watch the baby, we can come over for a weekend or at night.” These are friends who don’t have children of their own but they missed the window. These friends are in their 50s and they’re like, “Babies, come over. I don’t have any of my own. I’ll watch yours. Just let me know.”
That happened a lot from 0 to 1 year old. Now that he’s walking and talking, I find things to do. I and his dad had figured out the schedule thing and that helps me a lot too. Every other weekend, he’s with his dad and when he’s with me, I find fun things to do. We might go to the beach or go walking or go to the playground. I don’t try to get rid of him on my weekends when I have him because that’s my time with him. On the weekends that I don’t have him, he’s with his dad and the girl is single again. As much as me and his dad didn’t work out or as much negative I want to say about him, he is a good dad. He does take him when he needs to. So far, there’s little backing out last minute like sometimes people do. He’s been a huge help for me and my sanity in my daily life. Some of my friends have offered. I don’t ask too much because I hate asking for favors. As a mom, I’ve learned that you better ask for a favor.
In my personal experience, I have little ability to empathize, although I can sympathize. My mom was a single parent and she was 100%. I now appreciate more how insanely difficult it was for her. We were super low income. She went from being essentially a housewife to trying to scraping together a bunch of shitty jobs. Until I was maybe 13 or 14, she got a job as a secretary, which was the mother lode. That was game-changing. This was a time when we were latchkey kids, so we were on our own a lot.
I can now interpret a lot of her behavior that I sometimes resented through a different type of lens, which is one around safety, security and control. I’ll give you an example of this that’s related beyond that, which is this idea of self-care. Paula, you’re alluding to it, and Marla, I’m sure you are when you’re talking about your parents helping out. How do you be the best parent to your child? You have to be a good parent yourself and that’s hard to do.
One of the things that my mom always made my sister and I do was get our sleep. Sleep was incredibly important to her for two reasons and only one I figured out later. The first one was like, “Sleep is good for you. Sleep is good for children.” We were always in bed early. She always made us take naps as kids even when we didn’t want it. I realized later that it was her only way to have quiet time, “Get these kids to bed so I can have some me-time and I can have some peace and quiet.” She gave me a great gift because I valued sleep my entire life, more so than the average person because it’s drilled into my head. Are there other strategies that you have to make sure you’re your best self as a solo parent in particular? A follow-up question to the team thing, are there any people on the professional side you spend money on who also might be part of this team?
Nothing for me. When you mentioned the sleep thing, I discovered this learning device. Marla, you need to look this up. It’s called the AILA, Animal Island Learning Adventure. It’s an artificial intelligence tablet that teaches your child. There are songs, math and numbers. He would sit there for 30 whole minutes on days that I have him to work. I get so much done at 30 minutes because he’s glued to this. It’s not a traditional touch tablet. It’s meant for them to learn and to repeat versus touch and swipe. It’s good screen time, not bad screen time. There’s a screen time thing for babies or children. You don’t want to give them too much screen time. It’s for twelve months and up. Anything to keep him distracted is amazing.
Self-care for me was definitely dating. I’m shifting this because everyone goes through seasons and sections of life. What’s right for someone at this season will probably change later. What I was doing was scheduling dates from online apps to get my hair done, get my nails done, and go out. I had to go out and I didn’t care if I like you or didn’t like you. I wanted to have a good time. My time is valuable and I’m not wasting my time on somebody I’m not feeling on the phone.
The first couple of months were like, “I got to get out the house. I got to feel like a woman. I have to.” For me, that’s what a couple of months of my life looked like as far as self-care went. I went to the mall and I bought a new dress. I was like, “I can’t afford to keep doing this.” Every week, I would go buy new clothes and new shoes, and get my hair and nails done. I’d spend $500 and I’m like, “What are you doing?” I was like, “Let’s change this.” It helped me. It was a small season of my life. Showers are important. It’s hard for a single mom to shower.
It restores your soul after a long day.
I remember, Paula, you talked about this in the Clubhouse room. I’m going to try to recreate this and then you can add a little bit of flavor to it. You were talking about, especially in the early days, that you’re one-on-one and it’s constant. You were like, “How can I wash myself?” You were using the bed and you created this barrier. You would get the shower going. The baby was in place and you would go into the shower as quickly as possible, then come back out and check. Is my recollection right?
You get the parts together hit. One time, I couldn’t do it anymore because he started rolling. I hope you haven’t done this, Marla. I’m a horrible mom. I was in the shower and he rolled off the bed. My bed sits high off the floor and I have hardwood floors. I heard it and I was like, “I’m so sorry.” I jumped out of the shower so fast. I had lightning speed. My superpower was flashing speed. I was there 2.5 seconds, not even. After that, I was like, “I’m not going to shower until you go to sleep, but then when you go to sleep, I want to sleep, so I’m not going to shower. I’m just going to sleep.” It was impossible in the early days.
The first time, there were nights where you’re like, “Shower or sleep? Which one is it going to be?”
Are you the same way? I’m sure some moms are reading this.
Showering does help me sleep better at night, which is always a good thing but then, that extra fifteen minutes could be devoted to sleep, which is also a good thing.
Do you sleep better or worse now that you’re a solo parent?
There’s no comparison. In the beginning, you’re up at all hours with feedings and everything, but then she started sleeping through the night probably around closer to the five-month mark, consistently. That’s a game-changer. Now it’s solid ten hours, usually, from 8:00 to 6:00, give or take a little bit on either side. I know if she’s down by 8:00, my ass is in bed by 9:30 at least, hopefully, the latest is 10:00 because I need eight hours.
You sleep harder and better now than you did before because you’re exhausted?
No. I wake up more often.
Is it because of anxiety?
If she wakes up, I hear her. She may wake up and then she falls asleep again, but I could hear her. My friendly cat likes to wake me up at the crack of dawn for whatever reason. I’ve thought about checking myself into a hotel for one night. I was going to do that for Mother’s Day and that never happened. Speaking of self-care, that would be the treat for me to go to a hotel, and then I probably sleep like shit anyways. Go to a hotel and have an uninterrupted night of sleep in a very comfortable bed would be great.
The phantom cries are real. You’re sleeping, and then you think you hear a baby crying, so you wake up. He sleeps in his own room now. Before, I used to breastfeed and sleep with him in the bed. I slept well the first year he was born because I kept him with me and when he was hungry, I just pop a boob in his mouth and ate, so I could sleep. Now I hear the cries but they’re not real cries. They’re in my mind. You think you hear a baby crying and there’s no baby crying.
I said that as wishful thinking because I’ve thought about this for myself. I’ve never felt the tug of being a parent. I had a couple of relationships that I thought I would get married and I knew that if that ever happened, we would likely have children. Those relationships were more about the woman than it was about these would-be children. I’ve thought about this a lot. My anxieties are fine, except for the middle of the night. That’s when they come up. I don’t sleep eight hours straight anymore. In a good night, I make six straight and then I’m up, and then I’m back down kind of thing. I happened to think that if I had a baby in the house, I’d be up a lot more. I’d hear those phantom cries. I want to go check to make sure this baby’s still breathing.
That’s where your friendly video monitor comes in handy.
I’m sure there are apps and so on to help with this stuff. I can just imagine. I think I would have the same experience.
You brought up self-care. I get to the gym and try to get at least three days a week in there as soon as I can in the morning. It’s always in the morning because if it doesn’t happen in the morning, it probably won’t happen. For stress relief alone, that is key. Now that you finally don’t have to wear the mask at the gym every time you go. It is also an improvement. Throughout the IVF journey, and I know a lot of clinics are like this, they require you to meet with one of their psychologists on staff because the decisions that you’re making during this journey are life-altering. It was super helpful for me.
By the way, they should have people doing this for anyone having a child. If you think about it, no one’s ever like, “You should talk to a professional before you do this.”
It would be helpful.
You were asked to do it because it’s not standard.
It was part of the process of what I went through. To this day, even after I got pregnant, I asked her, “Now that I’m pregnant and graduating from the IVF to the OB-GYN clinic, I don’t have to talk to you anymore, right?” She’s like, “No. You can come to talk to me anytime.” I said, “Good because I’m not going anywhere.”
You have a good therapist is what you’re saying.
It’s gotten to the point where it’s usually monthly. It used to be more frequent monthly check-ins. Everything’s still virtual for the most part. To have somebody who knows your journey and with any therapy too, regardless if it involves trying to become a parent. You need that person who knows you and knows your history. I found that to be the same with dating. If you met somebody dating and you instantly have so much in common, and then you build this relationship with them and they know your history. That was always the hardest part for me. When you start over again, you’re thinking, “I don’t want to have to explain myself.” It’s a lot to explain
You were starting over again.
The job interview type of feeling.
I do have a previous Solo episode about How To Find A Therapist. I always make that plug when I talk about having a team. I want to second your observation, Marla, about having someone with who you can develop this into something ongoing. My therapist and I have been together for many years. He’s helped me make extraordinary changes in my life, including helping me with this fraught relationship with my mother. I was struggling at one point coming out of the pandemic and it caught me by surprise because I had been doing fairly well, all things considered. He immediately was able to hone in on some of the stuff that was happening and gave me some good advice because he knows me well. He’s seen me at my best and worst, and my most authentic and vulnerable. I’m happy to hear you say that.
I do want to ask a question about family, friends and professionals. What the two of you have done is unconventional. This show is for the unconventional. One of the things that happen when you diverge from the convention is at best, people will celebrate it. They’ll be like, “Good for you. That’s great.” They’re impressed and they find it to be inspirational and so on. The more common response is either by curiosity, “Tell me more. I’m puzzled. I’m perplexed by this. Why would you want to do this?” to outright judgmental. People have strong opinions as you know.
What’s amazing is how people feel incredibly comfortable telling you how you should behave when it comes to getting married, having kids, the number of kids, the way you raise them or what you call them. It is incredible how much strangers and beyond will do this. This was a topic of a previous episode on only children that did a lot of myth-busting around only children. I have to imagine knowing the two of you and hearing that you had a lot of encouraging and supportive people in your life. Are there situations where you haven’t felt supported, where you felt that curiosity and that judgmental perspective?
For me, it’s entering into the educational part of my son. I’ve noticed that he likes and loves learning. I’ve been doing a lot of research on traditional education systems. I am doing a lot of homework on homeschooling, unschooling, world schooling.
What’s are these? I’m curious.
Homeschooling, you know what that is. Unschooling is more or less when they’ve been in school, so you have to unteach some habits, but it’s like homeschool. If anyone’s reading this and they’re an educational expert, they’re like, “She’s got it all wrong,” but that’s from my understanding. It’s undoing what the school system has taught you like, “Sit down. Be quiet. This is what you want to study now.” Unschooling is child-led. They do what they want to do as long as they’re doing the different subjects whenever they want to.
Was that the Montessori Theory? That philosophy where it’s child-led play.
Correct. I’m into Montessori. I was in Clubhouse in this single-parent room and there was this amazing woman who was world schooling. She had 3 or 4 children and she was single. I should introduce you, Peter. Her kids are 5, 7 and 13 or something, so my son is too young. She said, “Instead of learning about the Eiffel Tower in the book, let’s go to Paris and look at it. Instead of reading about Picasso, let’s go to the Picasso Museum. Instead of learning about speaking Spanish, let’s go live in Spain for a year.” It’s so affordable. She was telling me all these cool tips and tricks. You also do solo travel stuff so it’s similar concepts to that.
Paula, when you were talking about this, are you anticipating critiques for this decision or are people already critiquing these ideas?
Yes. My mom’s like, “Put that boy in the charter school.” She’s anti all of that. She’s like, “Do what’s easy. Put him in school with everyone else. It’s free daycare. Send him to school and they’ll teach him.” I’m like, “I can’t understand that.” That’s why I got to marry a rich guy, so I can stay at home and teach my own baby. It sounded like that. Don’t judge me. That’s not me all the way. Can somebody take care of me so I can take care of my baby, please?
That is one open secret of the education system. It serves a dual role. That was shined a light on during COVID, which is the childcare element of schooling. That’s very real.
I’m impressed by Paula’s getting out there and dating right after having a baby. I can’t wrap my head around that but bravo to you. I’m finally at a stage where I’m like, “Should I try to date somebody?” It’s been so long. Part of me is like, “Your time is valuable.” My time is ten times more valuable than it was before I had my daughter. I refuse to waste my time on anyone that’s not like, “You seem great.” It takes time to weed out the bottom feeders.
On one hand, online dating is amazing. The reach, the ability to sort through not hundreds but thousands of potential dates is incredible and yet, it’s still a lot of work.
Marla, we’re going to get back to some of your haters if you have them. I do want to talk about dating. How do you go about communicating your solo parenthood in your dating life?
If I had a dating life, I could answer that question but I don’t have it.
Let’s have a little fun, Marla. Let’s suppose you’re going to download an app.
Can we do a roleplay? I’ll be the guy. “Marla, do you have any children?”
“Yes, I do. I have a one-year-old daughter.”
“Where’s her dad?”
“I chose to have a baby on my own. I used a sperm donor. After a lot of long waiting and trying, I got pregnant with my daughter and she’s amazing.”
“That’s incredible. I like that.” These are questions men ask you, by the way. “You must not have much time to date since you have a one-year-old. Why are you even on the app if you have a one-year-old?”
“I am at a point in my life where I am ready to devote more time for myself and have an enjoyable evening out. I deserve that and I look forward to meeting somebody who I enjoy spending time with eventually.”
You’re getting a little bit of a flavor for the interview style of dating that some people do.
That’s a lovely setup, “You must not have too much time to date.”
They make assumptions and I hate that. I’m like, “I have a great support system.”
You crossed yourself off the list and have a good night.
As someone who has been on the interviewed side of these things, I also dislike the interview style of dating. The questions are more important than the answers. People reveal what their preferences are by way of the questions they ask you. I’ll give you my personal one. When a woman finds out that I have a show that celebrates and destigmatizes single living, some say, “That sounds great. I’d want to listen to that.” I’m like, “Fabulous. I’m not here to pick up listeners but if I pick up a listener, sure.” By the way, any of my exes who are reading this, thank you. I’m glad you stuck with it even if you didn’t stick with me. The other one is, sometimes I get, “Why are you on the dating apps? If single living is so great, why are you trying to not be single?” What that says to me is these people want to ride the relationship escalator, so any sort of thing that deviates from that seems wrong.
I’m at an age where I’d certainly date women who still have children and sometimes young, sometimes older. Sometimes they’re empty nesters, so it’s a full range. Oftentimes, it’s in the profile. You know before a match. Sometimes it’s the number one line. You lead with, “I’m a mom of,” or whatever. Sometimes it’s the final line. Sometimes it’s somewhere in between or sometimes it’s not discussed, but it’s part of the category, whatever it might be. This might be worthwhile. You tell me, the two of you. It’s worth knowing what role the man might play with regard to the child.
What I say is, “If you’re looking for a co-parenting situation eventually where we’re going to team up, I’ll help with the kid when you have him or her and we’re off on our own when you don’t, I might not be the right guy for you. However, when you have your free time, you want to get dressed up, go out, have fun, take a trip, you want someone to help with adult time, I am your guy.” The issue is for some people it’s like, “That’s exactly what I want. I got it sorted. I’ve got the kids sorted. I’ve got my team. I’m not looking for a dad,” and so on. Other women say, “That’s not right.” Paula is making faces.
Have you noticed a trend that women with younger children tend to want the father figure versus women with older children? They’re good because they’ve been a mom for so long that they have it figured out. That’s in my mind when you were saying that. I’m imagining women with older children don’t need help. Women with younger children are possibly more open to the whole co-parent idea. I’m curious.
I don’t know if I can answer that question.
I’m assuming that a guy meets a girl on an app and she’s got a child, maybe under four years old. I’m just throwing a number out there. I can see that guy being like, “I don’t want to have to raise a four-year-old,” if this guy didn’t have kids. If this guy also had kids, that’s a completely different mindset.
I’ve had this happen where I was dating a woman who had twins. At one point in time, she’s like, “I’ve met someone. He has kids.” I’m not saying that he didn’t have a whole lot of other good things that are better than me, also but there was this, “We’ve got the kids this week. We don’t have the kids that week. We’re going to team up and conquer.” That’s probably more of the norm.
I prefer a man to say something like that upfront. Some women might call it a bad idea or women who haven’t gotten over their mommy-ness, they might get offended. At the beginning of dating, I used to get offended when someone would say that because I’m like, “Don’t judge me. Why can’t we enjoy each other’s time and if things evolve the way they evolve, then you can meet my son?” If your intention is not marriage from Jump Street, which I’m not saying yours is or isn’t. I’m in my mind, I’m trying to track this. It’s like, “I’ve got a kid. You’re saying you don’t want to be a co-parent, so why are we even dating if you don’t envision a future that includes children? It’s like you just want to have a good time. If that’s the case, tell me upfront. That’s cool. No shade.” I would appreciate someone to say that upfront and the way you said it was nice. Some men say it meanly.
How would it be mean?
Some men will say, “You’ve got baggage.” Maybe it’s a cultural thing too. I’m a little chocolate so maybe it’s the men on my side. They don’t act right. I have been dipping on the other side lately. I do like dating white males. You’re all amazing. Sorry, guys. Maybe it’s the brown skin. I could be wrong. Some, not all. They look at it as a negative.
What I know about men is it doesn’t matter their color. There’s going to be some people who do it well and some people who don’t.
In my experience, I’ll say it that way. Some people say, “I’m not trying to be a father to your child.” I’m like, “I didn’t ask you to be a father.”
“I didn’t want you to be a father. Thank you.”
I don’t need you to do that. The way you said it is appropriate because you know yourself and you know what you want. If you don’t want that, then that’s good for you to say that upfront.
I’m not jamming it in there. I wait for it to be an appropriate time to have this conversation. Usually, it often comes up at some point. I’m being honest. Be honest early and you might be disappointed a little bit at the moment if there’s not a match if you’re attracted and interested or if someone is compelling. In the long run, it’s fair to do especially when there’s a child involved that suddenly is the case. What else is there to cover with regard to dating? Marla, you’re thinking about, “At some point, it would be nice.”
I have no appetite for it right now. I’m going to be totally honest. I am not looking to get back on any apps. I’m sure all my friends would love it because then they hear the stories about, “Who did you meet?” My friends have been married for more than fifteen years. They think it’s the funniest thing ever. I’m like, “You think this is funny? Look at these people. Look at what is there.”
I have a colleague and she’s like, “I’m living through all your stories.” She’s been married for over twenty years. She’s like, “How was your weekend?” You’re right, they love hearing the stories.
They lived through it. They can’t get enough. In a way, the app ship has sailed. I’m not necessarily eager to get back on board that ship. Whatever happens in the future, I’m open to it. I always thought that all the times that I travel for work constantly, I’m like, “Could you have ever sat next to somebody on a plane one time?”
Exit row, Marla. That’s where the good guys are.
I used to sit next to the row when I had that status because I am tall, so I need the extra legroom.
Thank you for indulging that bit of the conversation. Paula, are you going to add something?
For all the ladies, maybe this is a tip or not. For single moms out there in the universe. You don’t have to go online. Go to where nice guys hang out. Go to a live concert, go to a winery, go for a walk outside of some cigar shop. If you don’t smoke cigars, just walk outside. They own the street. Cruise on by. Go somewhere. Maybe I’m wrong. I know, Peter, your show is all about embracing solo living, and not chasing the man or a woman but for those of you that want to be with a man or a woman and you’re out of the phase, go to where who you want to meet are. Go to a finance conference or go to a CEO conference. Do you know what a good conference is? Go to the Inc. 5000 when they celebrate the top 5,000 small businesses that have experienced growth. Those are good conferences to go to and then write it off with your taxes if you have a business.
You never know who you’re going to meet. That’s my mother’s famous last words.
You don’t have to go online because online is a bunch of trash anyway. I’m online. I’m not trash.
It’s a lot of work.
I get it. I understand. Paula, I want to add another layer to this. You have to go and you have to try. You have to put on a friendly face and say hello.
Wash your hair.
Be open. That’s the thing that people are looking for. We’re going to have a resurgence of IRL stuff happening in the future. Thank you for that, Paula. I don’t like that the apps feel like the only game in town. There’s a lot of bad behavior. People are a lot more polite and warm and you can also figure out chemistry and connection in person very quickly that way. I want to finish by asking you to ask a question and here’s the issue. I don’t know what questions I should be asking. I’m not living your life. I’m quite distant from it. What is it that we haven’t covered that you think should have been asked of either of you?
I’m wondering because when Peter was giving your bio or intro, I was like, “Holy smokes. You’re impressive. This is awesome.” How do you maintain your awesomeness and stay on? You’re a real-life working mom. How do you stay on?
It’s a challenge. I’m sure you feel this too. I think about it in terms of the sun rises and the sun sets every day. I feel every day is a new day to start fresh again no matter what happened the day before. Never is that more true with raising a daughter on my own. There are so many good moments and there are so many hard moments. There are times when you lose your mind and don’t know what to do. It’s just her and me. There’s nobody to turn to and say, “You take her.” There’s that element. To your point earlier about asking for favors or asking for help, I feel like I should get better at that. I’m reliant on my mom and dad, and the daycare too. Asking favors from the people who you know, who have reached out to you and that you’ve had support with, being able for your friends, family, whoever to watch your son when he was younger. That’s so great.
To Peter’s question earlier, “Who are your haters?” I went into the local shoe store to buy my daughter her first pair of shoes. It’s locally owned right up the street in Chicago. I bought the shoes and the woman was trying to sell me shoes for me. She’s like, “Look at these sandals. Aren’t these so cool? You could go on date night with your husband and wear these.” I said, “Yeah. If I had a husband, I could do that.” Her face dropped. She’s like, “I should keep my mouth shut. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.” I said, “I’m a single mom, and I’m doing it on my own. It’s all good.” She’s like, “That’s okay.” I’m like, “I know it’s okay, woman.”
“I don’t need you to tell me it’s okay.”
“I need you to stop talking now.” It’s moments like that where I get that we live in a society where people assume. They see you with a baby who is one year old and they’re going to assume there’s a father or a husband involved. It’s something that I wasn’t anticipating hearing at some point. When it happened, it was like, “Here we go.”
Was that the first time that you felt that?
I’ve been to so many parks with my daughter and met so many other moms. They’re there with their husbands or whatever and no one’s ever said, “What do you and your husband do?” It’s always focused on the conversation about your kids mainly or the other woman saying, “What do you do?”
You’re like, “He can count to ten without any help. He knows all his colors.”
I feel like a bragging mom. I feel so bad. I’m like, “Let me shut my mouth. These four-year-olds out here don’t know how to count or the colors. Let me shut up.”
It goes to show you to think outside of your bubble and it’s forced me to even think differently being in a situation that in my life has taken now. You look at other families and I live in a gay-friendly neighborhood. You’re probably seeing two dads and two moms. Every different family is special in its own way.
Also, the other thing is just because there are two parents, doesn’t mean it’s okay.
Marla, he’s right. Some of these people, my friends who are married with children have to consult someone else to, “I don’t want him to eat that. I don’t want him to wear that. Why are you holding him like that? Why did you put them in bed at this time?” There are so many things you have to work together that suck the energy out of you. Make a decision and it’s done. It’s our decision. It’s like, “I’m going to bathe him tonight.”
Most of the time, whether it’s me being like, “This is the way it’s going to be.”
You’re not going to get mom and dad. I’ll tell you that. If someone doesn’t like what mom had to say, they go over to dad to answer the question.
I want to respond to what Marla was saying about her career and staying on. For me, I had to take a break because I’m so hard on myself. I was the person that planned out my life in notebooks and vision boards. In 5, 7, 10, 15 years and by now. I was on track to do certain things and then a baby. I had to be okay with taking a break. Meaning, all my friends in the industry, I feel like they say, “What happened to Paula? Where did she go?” I was everywhere and having fun. No one’s ever said this. I just feel like I’m being left behind.
I had to be like, “Paula, your life now is about you and your child.” Not that I’ve given up anything. I was getting bad anxiety. I was like, “I should be working. I shouldn’t be reading a script. I should be emailing this person,” because I would work all the time as a single person. With the baby, you don’t want to work. You just want to go to sleep. I don’t think I ever had postpartum depression but I can understand those thoughts that moms have. I don’t know if you knew that, Peter, after you have a baby because it’s such a huge change in moms. I’ve heard some stories of moms wanting to reject their babies.
It’s serious. They constantly screen you after you have the baby for all the signs and triggers for that which is scary for anyone who feels all this.
You might have a physiological response that leads you to think about things that don’t seem rational.
In some of the groups, they say it’s okay to feel these things. It’s how you guys were talking about counselors earlier and therapy. Everyone is a mom now. You hear all these stories and all of the moms are now encouraging each other saying, “It’s okay to hate your baby.”
It’s okay to feel things that you think are not okay.
To feel frustrated, angry or tired. How about giving up and being able to go easy on yourself in terms of changing goals?
Be kind to yourself.
Full stop. You wanted to be a mom. You planned it. You froze your eggs. You were like, “This is it.” I’m like, “I was hit by a Mac truck. I’m a statistic now. The great life I had is over. How do I come back from this?”
Hearing you say that makes me realize that right now, you’re in the thick of everything. I love that you do vision boards. You’re going to get to those vision boards. They’re not going to happen right this second.
It’s the control freak in me.
You’re going to get there.
I always thank my guests. I try to be gracious but I want to thank the two of you because I know that this is not like, “No problem, Pete. I’ve got plenty of time.” I appreciate you finding time to do this amongst your busy schedule, personally and professionally. I also thank you for your vulnerability and also for being so delightful and thoughtful. This was a long-overdue topic. It’s important. Solo is a big tent. You two fit under that tent and you’ve done a nice job of highlighting both the challenges but also the great reward for people who might be considering this. I have a feeling there are readers who are doing what a lot of my readers do which is to say amen or hallelujah when they’re finding a message that resonates with them that they’re not hearing elsewhere. With that, I want to say thank you to both of you.
Thank you for having us.
This was fun.
I wish I could give Paula a big hug right now.
- Paula Wood
- Solo Club
- Marla Cichowski
- Bella DePaulo
- How To Find A Therapist – past episode
- Previous episode – The Only Child
About Paula Wood
Paula Wood is an award-winning filmmaker and entrepreneur. She has worked in development at 20th Century Fox, produced reality television, and is now the CEO and Principal Creative Director of her own marketing firm working with clients across the country.
About Marla Cichowski
Marla Cichowski is a SMC – single mother by choice – living in Chicago. A former TV news journalist who traveled the country and parts of the world for years covering breaking news, she is now a public relations executive managing media relations for clients at a global creative communications agency.
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