Cara Lemieux was, by her own admission, “the opposite of married” when she got pregnant with her first child. The pregnancy wasn’t planned, but she found herself loving her role as a single mom — so much so that she decided to use a sperm donor to conceive a baby boy years later. Now, she’s a successful mom of two who even gave a TEDx Talk inspired by her experience as a single mom.
We caught up with Cara to hear what solo parenting has really been like, and here’s what she had to say.
M+A: Did the idea of becoming a single mom scare you during your first pregnancy?
Cara Lemieux: I was petrified. I knew I wanted to be a mom, I knew I wanted to have my daughter…I just didn’t know how I would manage. I was REALLY worried about the single mom stigma. To be honest, I had probably judged single moms myself before I became one.
M+A: Did people discourage you when they learned you were going to raise a child alone?
CL: Not a lot. There were some key people who doubted my ability in the professional sphere and a few other pockets. For the most part, what I received was overwhelming support, but I didn’t believe it. No matter much people [encouraged me], I doubted my own ability a lot.
M+A: When did that change?
CL: It was a process. When my daughter was about a year and a half old, I had a conversation with a friend and she said ‘when are you going to stop punishing yourself?’ That was really what it all came down to. I was beating myself up because I didn’t have what I thought was the perfect family to raise my daughter. That was a turning point for me. I started to believe I could succeed as a single mom.
M+A: Were there challenges you didn’t realize you’d face or things most people don’t realize single moms face?
CL: I think I was negative Nelly and anticipated the worst. The thing that surprised me the most was not how difficult the hard times were, it was how difficult the good times were. When my daughter would do something amazing, I wished I had someone right there who was as invested as I was to celebrate it.
M+A: Have you tried dating as a single mom?
CL: I’ve tried it. I’m not just a single mom, but also a solo parent, so it’s not like I have shared custody. [I have] limited time, and financially the cost of childcare on top of the childcare I need to work [is a lot]. [I’ve decided] I’ll just kind of do that after. I obviously wasn’t that successful [when it comes to dating], and that’s what led me to intentionally having a baby on my own. I don’t want to settle and have a baby with someone who isn’t right for me and bring them into my family. I decided to go the route of single-mom-by-choice. I’m open to dating, I just don’t really have that much time. He’d have to be really special for me to make the time.
M+A: Were people surprised when you said you were going to pursue parenthood again as a single mom?
CL: Probably…yes. I started throwing it out there a few years ago and my sister was like ‘why don’t you give yourself a year, go out on some dates, see what happens. If you still want to do this, I support you.’ So that’s what I did. I think people were initially like ‘whoa, I didn’t see that coming.’
M+A: Do you think there’s a misconception that no single moms are doing it out of choice?
CL: I don’t know the data but my instinct tells me there’s a boom in single motherhood by choice. I received a number of emails from friends [wanting to put me in touch with other women who were having kids using sperm donors]. I think the perception is changing, but I live in a liberal, open-minded part of the country. I’m lucky, but I think people think single moms are less committed and capable professionals. I think [we’re] the opposite because we are the breadwinners. There’s a lot resting on our shoulders.
M+A: You mentioned you love being a single mom — what are your favorite things about it?
CL: You do all the work but you reap all the rewards. I feel a great sense of accomplishment. I talk to a lot of my married friends and there is an upside to not having to manage a marriage on top of the demands of being a mom and working full-time. It’s just one less thing for me to focus on.
M+A: What advice do you have for new and expectant single moms?
CL: Stop being your own critic. I can promise you that anything anybody said about me wasn’t anywhere near as bad as what I said about myself. Stop beating yourself up — your life might not have gone as planned, but you have to let go of the life you thought you might have so you can fall in love with the life you do have.