A Single Mom’s Guide to Career Advancement

This is a guest post by Jenn Lyons, a working single mom who kicks ass!


It was one of those days… rushing to pick up my daughter from daycare, scrambling to make dinner, dealing with an after-hours call from a new boss to discuss an important initiative, while at the same time my daughter was excitedly asking me to come join her for a tea party. That’s when it hit me: I was a true single, working mom.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in2012, more than 80% of 12.2 million single-parent families were headed by women. That means there are 9.7 million of us dealing not only with the mundane issues of getting the oil changed and folding laundry, but fears about our career options, our personal lives and that question any parent on a career path faces, “How can I foster professional growth when I have to foster my child’s growth?”

While there is much debate if working mothers can “have it all,” single moms go out and “make it happen.” There is no other option. Achieving career growth, even under the best of circumstances, requires self-awareness, strategic thinking and careful planning. But there are steps all working moms with professional aspirations — single or married — can take to achieve their goals. Here are five guideposts that will help keep single mothers (or any working parent) on the path to professional, personal, and parenting goals.

1. Find an advocate
Find someone in your company who is your advocate — better yet, work for that person. When I was offered my first job out of college, I informed the hiring manager that I was concerned I might not be qualified. She replied that it was personality traits and intelligence that she needed; the skill set could be learned. She saw something in me from day one that she fostered and encouraged. Because she saw my potential, I was able to pursue my dream career. Everyone needs that kind of champion — find that person!

My next step up the ladder was working for a chief marketing officer at a Fortune 500 company. This CMO became my greatest advocate (and mentor to this day), helping me realize my strengths and capabilities and apply them to my career. She pushed me toward roles that were challenging and even some that were intimidating. Through her guidance and encouragement, my skill set, and simultaneously self-confidence, grew significantly. That confidence has served me well as a single, working mom.

2. Learn how to prioritize
Before having a child, I let nothing drop. I was as Type A as they came, balls perfectly balanced and all in the air. As I awaited the arrival of my daughter, many warned that things would slip and that would be OK. I thought “OK for you, but not for me!” Then as I became a mom and subsequently head of a household, I was surprised to see that I could continue to meet deadlines and objectives.

What I learned (often the hard way), was how to prioritize and stay laser focused on critical tasks.

When it comes to managing the workloads of today, data, demands and deadlines come at you all at once. It’s easier to duck and take cover than to stop and take stock. Be very clear on what you need to know to achieve your goals versus what is simply “noise” — meaningless data or even unnecessary tasks that simply distract and disrupt.

3. Surround yourself with good people
“It takes a village…” translated into your career means finding experts to ask for business or problem advice over coffee, lunch or at after-work gatherings. It is a waste of energy to reinvent the wheel, so talk to the experts who have been there and done that. You may find them at your company, at your gym, maybe even your next-door neighbor. Ask how they have handled tricky situations and use their wisdom to help solve your own problems as you move forward.

4. Stay true to who you are
It’s easy to lose sight of yourself as a person with hopes, dreams and goals when all your time and energy is spent on job, family and other responsibilities. But take the time to make a list of who you are and who you want to be.

Knowing who you are and what you want to achieve is important as new career opportunities arise. At some point you may be offered that job that’s not quite what you want, but it is close to home, or one that is a great opportunity, but requires too much travel. When considering career opportunities, avoid settling for less. That little voice in your heard that was concerned about the role will inevitably surface in reality and become a bigger deal than you had expected. Instead, honor your work-life balance priorities and be confident that your career can dovetail with your goals, not clash.

5. Flexibility is a necessity, not an option.
It is true that being a parent, especially a single parent, is a full-time job in and of itself. Flexibility is no longer a ‘”nice to have” — it is a must-have. The good news is many workplaces now offer flexible hours and/or the ability to work remotely a few days a week. Find a place that can accommodate your schedule so you maintain control over your work/life balance. You will feel better and your kids will too!

6. Changing the definition of “all”
There has been a lot of discussion of late about the question of can working women “have it all.” I wish I had the time to read Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, but I simply don’t have spare time to read about people waxing philosophical about the balance between being a mom and a career woman because I’m a single mom, which means I’m both — a full-time mom, full-time marketing executive — full-time everything.

With everyone from Drew Barrymore to Hillary Clinton weighing in on the topic, the question is: Can working single moms have it “all”? For that matter, can any working parent, single or married, male or female? Sure, but the key lies in defining what “all” means to you. If all means always having the time to get away from work every day to have lunch at school with your child, and staying on the career fast track , let’s be real — that likely won’t happen. However, if “all” means achieving the realistic yet, desired, items on your list of goals and priorities, then of course, on your terms it can be done.

Over time, I’ve come to realize that being a single mom is a challenge, but it is not a career limitation. A sense of accomplishment and fulfillment does not need to be sacrificed in the face of single-parenting demands. With an open mind, smart prioritizing and savvy decision-making, single mothers “make it happen” every day and as a result, they truly do “have it all.”

This post originally appeared on theglasshammer.com

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