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Single Mom Raising Boys: Bad Grades and Winning

I say it often: being a single mom raising a boy is hard and often leaves me feeling inadequate as a parent. There always seems to be something missing or just not quite good enough for me to offer especially when it comes to school and bad grades. But every once in a while, something really cool happens that reminds you that there is no straight line to good parenting. We all have to duck and dive with the ebbs and flows of life.

Like a lot of other parents, I find myself looking at what other kids are doing. Facebook and Instagram are great places for us to see how perfect everyone else’s lives are. From a young age, my son was always around great kids doing awesome things in school, sports, and life in general. Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing everything I can to help facilitate my son’s success.

After all, when your child does poorly at something when you see so many others succeeding, you can feel like maybe you should be doing more or something different.

Then again….

A Choice to Test Out of a Class

Parents are often faced with keeping smart kids mentally stimulated in classes that bore them. For some parents, skipping a grade or testing out of a class is the best answer. It’s a tough call in a lot of ways. When you have a smart kid, will the adjustment to a higher-level class be one solution only creating a social problem of not fitting in with older students. My choice leans finding a balance of mental and social stimulation.

There has never been a question that my son is a smart kid. As a middle schooler, he decided to test out of Algebra I during the summer so he could get a head start on math for high school. The summer was essentially dedicated to this singular goal and I spent quite a bit of time and money both relearning Algebra and bringing on the hired guns to tutor him. It was accelerated and took a couple of tries, but he passed.

My concern was that Algebra I is the foundation of all other math he will do from here on out. Did he have a good enough understanding of the principals to do well in the future or would it be a problem in the future. He was only in the 8th grade taking Geometry and Algebra II concurrently. Ultimately, he got A’s in both.

Getting Help for Poor Performance

When your kid succeeds at something you were concerned was a wrong decision, well, a bigger pride comes over you simply because they proved you wrong. The Algebra thing concerned me and I still wondered about the long-term effects of cramming Algebra I into a 3-month tutored lesson. But, he not only passed the test, he also showed great dedication and resolve in the process.


boy with Apply laptop on bed

Along comes high school. He got through his Freshman year in a new school and a new state. His grades weren’t perfect, but there was no concern over bad performance. He became very involved in jROTC and weight training. All in all, he was building a group of friends, doing well in school and starting to develop into a young man of character. All things moms are proud of.

Welcome Trigonometry. At this point, my son has well surpassed my math skills. I wrapped at Algebra II in high school and never thought twice about taking another math class. I would never be of any help. As the quarter went on, it became apparent that he was having more than a slightly hard time with the class. I barked at him as a mother concerned about her child’s GPA would.

Parenting Through a Failing Grade

My barking became a search for solutions. He was required to see the teacher at lunch and after school. I hired a tutor – actually two of them because the first just wasn’t connecting with him. He put the time in. We thought he was making progress but at the end of the semester, the final grades came in and it wasn’t even close. He had failed the class miserably. The F stood out among what was an otherwise excellent report card.

I remember sitting on the sofa looking at the report card as he sat next to me, clearly concerned about my reaction. The rule was that if he didn’t take care of business (his school work), he’d lose his afterschool jROTC activities. I could feel my own anger well up, wondering how such a smart kid could let this happen. Why did I waste the money on a tutor? This was going to be hard to overcome for college planning.

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From Lamenting to Learning

It probably took me a good five minutes of frustrated nagging in search of any plausible answer from him for the grade. He simply had no answer and I knew it; he had gone to the teacher every day. He had gone to the tutor twice a week after school. He did the extra work. I saw it – that I demanded. He put the effort in and neither of us got the result we wanted.

It became very clear to me that I was upset because I want the best for him; I expect his potential to shine through on everything he does. However, there are times in life when you will do everything right, everything you can to succeed and life will just throw you a curve ball. That is what this was, a great big stinking F-bomb (math style). A series of my own failures and struggles in life ran through my head.

A big deep breath and then a hug. I apologized to him for my reaction but he kept apologizing for the grade. It took me longer to articulate my thoughts because the emotions of disappointment still swelled throughout my body. Finally, I was able to explain to him that I was upset that the grade is bad and there is work we need to do to address that but that I was proud of him.

Proud of a Failing Grade?

He heard the word proud and took a beat, shaking his own head in disbelief. Why would you be proud?

He worked hard. He didn’t give up. We knew the journey from Algebra I had its risks that could lead to failure and maybe that had finally caught up to us. He was probably burnt out on all the math and science and his brain simply wasn’t computing things, literally. How could I be mad at someone for giving everything he had and coming up short.

These were points that took the better part of the night for me to explain. Sometimes life doesn’t give us what we want. It is up to us to continue to try, to find other solutions and to work hard. Overcoming a bad grade would be the next project.

HESTEMP and Summer Learning

We conferred with his counselor and decided to pull him out of math for the second semester of his Sophomore year. He already had all the math he needed to graduation so it felt like the right decision to let him focus on other classes and use the period for study hall. As summer approached, he and his friends started a voluntary program through the University of Hawaii, HESTEMP.

They started going to UH on weekends to work with their mentors, Ph.D. students in the engineering program working under a doctorate professor. His group decided on a project idea and the mentors gave them a list of the curriculum to go and learn. Over the course of the summer, my son taught himself via YouTube lectures, conversations with his friends, and some direction from his mentor Calculus, Trigonometry, Advanced Physics, and Coding. They designed a rocket and the systems in it to determine guidance.

Sample HESTEMP project
Similar to what he’s working on.

At this point, I can’t even explain what he was learning or doing other than his end goal was to eventually work on a piece of a NASA project. The program gives him no grade. He gets no credit for going, even though he diligently caught the bus almost every weekday summer morning and many weekends since school started back up. He spends hours online reading scientific papers and determining how what he is developing can be applied.

Math theory. I’m not even sure what that is. All I know is the kid is into it.

Along Comes a NASA Conversation

After nearly a year of self-education, recruiting a couple younger team members and presenting his project idea to the PhD students, professor and a few NASA representatives, he tells me that the algorithms he is developing have applications for NASA and the FAA regarding drones in urban areas.


Did he just say NASA understood what he was talking about, felt it was correct, and applicable?

Single Mom Panic to Parenting Win

As I listened to the joy come from him as he explained how successful his presentation was, I couldn’t help think back to the conversation on the couch about putting the work in, being motivated to succeed, and persevere through hardship. I’m not sure what is next on his educational road – we’re planning the college scouting trip for the summer. What I do know is he has the tenacity and intelligence to accomplish what he wants in life.

That doesn’t mean life will always put checks in the Win column, but I feel good knowing he has cracked the code to overcoming disappointment and failure. There is no way to tell if my reaction to his Trig grade played a roll in him developing that skill. Like I said, I’m always wondering if I’m doing this single mom parenting right, if I’m doing enough, and if I’m helping him grow.

This one time I’d like to think that I did the right thing.

Wondering if you’re doing this single mom thing right, too? Come join the Single Mommy Tribe. We’re here to vent, laugh, and support.

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Single Mom Raising Boys: Finding Male Role Models

Single Mom Raising Boys: Finding Male Role Models

Most days, if the phrase, “moms raising boys” hits the news there either is a school shooting, reviews of gang violence or other youth violence. Troubled boys without a father-figure in their lives is often a primary topic of concern. Some call it an epidemic resulting from boys not having a dad or positive male role model in the picture. As a single mom of a son, my concerns are the same as any parent.

How do I raise a good child who becomes a healthy man capable of contributing to this world, being compassionate and at the same time strong in his own character with good manners and independence?

No matter whether you have a boy or girl and are a single mom or single dad, single-parent homes pose challenges.

The Role of Dads in Boys Upbringing

man and boy

Fathers play an important role in the development of both boys and girls. When it comes to sons, fathers don’t just teach them about using tools, shaving or asking that first girl out on a date. Fathers set the tone for how men interact with other men, how they treat women and deal with adversity. The monkey see monkey do theory applies very strongly.

Most of what a boy learns from his father is unsaid. He observes traits, actions and thought patterns that either leads him to want to be just like his dad or nothing like his father. In recent decades, parental roles have shifted. Where female roles were primarily nurturing caregivers and male duties were providers and disciplinarians, parents today often seem to blend tasks and parental duties. Yet, boys still get something from fathers that they don’t get from the women in their live.

When Dad Isn’t Around or Isn’t a Positive Role Model

Just because we are moms and dads doesn’t make us great or even good parents. Raising children is hard. Having the strength and wisdom to be better every day, spending time with our children requires constant self-reflection. As it was once expressed to me, “the fact that someone cares enough to question whether they are doing right or wrong for their child elevates them as a parent.”

This happened to resonate with me (and make me feel better for all the mistakes I feel I constantly make as a single parent and as a mom in general). There was a point after my divorce that my son refused to go to his dad’s. School and police didn’t force the issue feeling my son had a compelling enough story he could articulate that was his reason for not going. I suggested to his father to go to family therapy to fix the rift between them.

Then it all started; weekly therapy sessions with my son and my ex-husband.

I have been accused by my ex over the years of trying to poison my son’s mind about his father. My relationship with my son is strong and it is none existent with his dad. My ex’s argument is out son has a mother and a father and that’s simply the way it is. He (my ex-husband) for years was intent on defending his rights but never once stopped to reflect on his actions.

One lesson I happen to recall from physics is that for every action there is a reaction.

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Not Every Dad Should Be the Primary Male Role Model

There! I said it. Just being a dad doesn’t make you a great role model. I don’t deny biological fathers’ rights. Nor do I think this is exclusively a dad issues. There are lots of moms not well-suited to rear and raise children.

Anyone who knows me knows the value I place on family. At the same time, we need to recognize the people in our lives who might be toxic to our mental health. When it comes to my son and his father, I’ll always recognize my ex as my son’s father. At the same time, I don’t think every father (or parent) is good for their children.

Being Able to Teach Ourselves As We Go

Don’t read into that statement the bling I feel parents need to be perfect. I am far from perfect. With that said, I spend a lot of time reflecting on my actions, apologizing if I jumped the gun on something and consulting other parents and experts when I am uncertain about something. Refusing to recognize your impact to your child’s long-term mental health is a big problem.

That doesn’t mean being a single mom is the best answer but for me was a better one. The question becomes: how to give my son the male role models he craves in a healthy way?

Moms can’t be that masculine figure. Heck, I’m as tom-boy as they get but realize I cannot cultivate the masculine essence of a young man by myself. Single moms face serious challenges in this area. Male role models and mentors fill the gaps of what a home without a dad.

New Men in Mom’s Life

single mom raising boys beginning dating

When single moms start dating, the male role model isn’t an automatic given. Boys if single moms become fiercely protective of their moms. They can resent a new man even if he is a great person. While they want Mom to be happy, they seem to always proceed with caution.

When my son was in elementary school. We started spending a lot of time at the municipal airport. He loved being in the hangar with the guys and was welcomed into the club. They robbed him, taught him about rebuilding and maintaining old warbirds. He talked story with WWII vets and occasionally had the chance to take a backseat.

He loved all the guys there and I moved that he had great role models. When one of the guys asked us out for Sunday brunch, my son was pretty savvy to what was going on. Even though he knew and really liked the guy, he became a human barrier between me and the proposed suitor. Did I say he knew and liked the guy? He just didn’t want anyone putting their mitts on his mom.

The Revolving Door

The other issue that arises when mom gets a new man in her life is the potential for that to be a revolving door. Let’s face it, we don’t always make the best decisions in love – there’s a reason we aren’t with our son’s father. Constantly exposing your son to the new guy leads to a host of issues. The instability often results in behavioral issues, emotional well-being and anxiety issues, as well as negatively effects cognitive achievement and function.

It’s better for a single mom to date discreetly until she is confident she has found someone worth pursuing with a long-term relationship. This can be hard when a single mom wants to balance everything with limited time and perhaps limited resources for child care.

Finding Male Role Models for Kids of Single Moms

A big question for society becomes where do boys of single moms get the proper guidance and comradery with adult male role models? I don’t know a single mom of a boy who doesn’t actively think about and seek out ways to get positive male influencers in his life. Finding male role models for kids of single moms often starts within your own network.

Family and Friends

Many single women can find great role models for their sons close to home. If your son is able to spend time with Grandpa or an uncle or adult cousin, these are often great ways to not just have your son spend time with someone as he develops his manhood, it also keeps the concept of family unity in place.

This isn’t always possible. In my case, my closest family was 2,300 miles away across the Pacific Ocean. Moving wasn’t an option at the time. I always felt great when spending time at a friends house with the kids and her husband would take my son to show him projects in the garage or offer to help with a school project. Not only did my son get to spend time with a great man, he also got to see how great dads interact with their children that is critical.

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Church and Youth Groups

Churches and youth groups including The Big Brother programs are great ways to not just meet more people and expand your single parenting network, the help kids find mentors and positive role models. Talk to the pastor or youth coordinator about finding a program your child will enjoy and be exposed to great male leaders.

Sports and Recreation Activities

Sports and recreation activities are probably the primary way single moms help their boys find positive role models. Coaches often push kids, help them establish discipline and keep them in check with manners. Coaches positively change the lives of kids every single day and it’s a great way to get some time to get dinner ready uninterrupted.

My son wasn’t really into sports. His aviation interest was his recreation and we were lucky to find a group that adopted us as their own. I had no aviation experience. People would ask why I spent entire weekends getting greasy and doing grunt work in a small hangar. It was to help earn my keep, really my son’s place in the crowd. Sure, he did his part and that was the deal. His interest was aviation and I was going to foster it any way I could.

The Lesson I Learned Because I Didn’t Over-Mother

He was 8-years-old when he started helping around the hangar. I’d actually dismiss myself when possible to not be the “mom” hanging around. I’d stay close in case there was a problem. After about an hour, my son came in totally ecstatic, “Mom, Stu gave me a job and I did the whole thing.” The job was to use a razor blade to scrape off old labels on a parts drawer and my son’s hands had more than one oops cut, though nothing major.

With a deep breath, I smiled, checked his hands and said, “Wow, what’s the next job?” I knew I would have never let my son fiddle with a razor at age 8. But, I also knew Stu had an eye on him. My son was as proud of himself as I had ever seen. It was a gut check for me. Men challenge young men to do masculine things, to step into manhood. I would have mothered him and found a safer task.

All I can recommend to other single moms is spend time with your sons and daughters. Learn what makes them tick and be open to knowing you can’t be everything for them. Find them mentors in things they love and they will find their role models naturally.

It’s still scary. I have a teenage son and am watching him get ready to leave the nest. But no one needs to feel like they are part of the epidemic. Our boys can thrive. We will make certain of that.

Being a single mom does mean you are parenting solo, but it doesn’t mean you need to be alone. Join the Tribe for support, resources and fun.

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Buying a House After Divorce

Buying a House After Divorce

Buying a house after divorce was my number one personal goal aside from caring from my son and getting back to work. I knew what it would take but it all seemed so far out of reach. For as much energy as my mind worked on this goal, it took a long time. There were many obstacles I had to overcome in the homebuying process. Here’s how you can buy a house after divorce with less headache.

Define Your Goals

Don’t just say you want to buy a house. Define why it’s important to you and understand what it will take. You may not be able to afford the same size or city that you owned a home while married. Get clear on your priorities so you can focus in on the goal.

For me, real estate was a huge trigger. Before I got married, I was already a homeowner. In fact, I was closing escrow on a second property to move into and rent my first one out when I got engaged. There was a minor problem at the end of escrow and my soon-to-be fiancé gave me his two-cents as an attorney: get out of the deal. I regretfully did.

We got engaged and married, and I rented out the first place until he decided that was too much work. I sold it – just before the real estate boom. Meanwhile, he owned the home we lived in, made sure to close escrow on the 18-acre weekend ranch before our nuptials to make sure I had no right to the property, ever.

By the time our divorce happened, I was a stay at home mom. That meant no income and when I got a divorce, prices had sky-rocketed. I could have done one of those “stated income” deals when they were still around and everyone was doing them, but I chose to be responsible. That meant the numbers weren’t in my favor.

Get Pre-Approved

When you have everything in place, get preapproved for the loan. A preapproval is different than a prequalification. Prequalified is a ballpark approval loosely based on your income and a few details you provide. Preapproval means the lender has looked at your credit, your income, your debt and all the factors to define how much he is willing to lend you. The only part left of the approval is the appraisal on the home in many cases.

As long as your situation doesn’t change, you should be good to go with the loan after a preapproval. Don’t mess it up by quitting your job or financing new furniture for the new home before the loan is closed.

This step was critical for me. I was self-employed. This is a traditionally difficult career type to get loan approval for. Working with a great lender is critical to figuring out how to meet the guidelines as a freelancer with one income.

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Know What You Can Afford

Affordability is the big reality check for homebuyers. After a divorce, you are getting used to all sorts of changes in financial status. Often what you could afford during a marriage isn’t what you can afford after a divorce. For me, it wasn’t even what I could afford before marriage. Yet, it was important to me.

My son, though a toddler, had a certain lifestyle. We had a dog. We spent a lot of time in our backyard. I didn’t want that to change. I also didn’t want my son growing up living in a tiny apartment with Mom and bouncing from Bel Air to a country ranch with Dad. I’ll admit, it was a bit personal, especially since my ex made sure I had liquidated property long before the divorce.

Finding out what I could afford was depressing at first. I couldn’t afford anything in the Southern California housing market during the boom. Not even a small place in a less-than-desirable area. Realistically, my savings was paying for my divorce and that quickly became debt as we fought a two-and-a-half-year court battle. Though the house was a priority, affordability wasn’t there. Not yet.

Determine Your Location

When you know what you can afford, you can start to narrow things down to location. Finding the right location that you feel will be a good place to raise your children and call home is important. If you can’t afford the perfect spot, you’ll need to be picky about schools and community safety. It doesn’t make sense to buy a home in a place you don’t enjoy living or people don’t want to come to visit.

My court order required me to remain close to our marital home. That was fine. It was close to my friends and my son’s playgroups. Even though I was renting at first, I lived where it would be conducive to my son’s upbringing and somewhere I hoped to buy. It wasn’t Bel Air but it was in a nearby community with great schools and close to friends. I felt safe with my son and my dog even though it wasn’t perfect.

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Think About Costs Beyond the Mortgage

Buying a home comes with costs beyond the mortgage. Keep these in mind as you shop. Sometimes a condominium isn’t a great deal if the HOA fees are several hundred dollars per month. Find out what the yard maintenance costs are as well as anything like pool maintenance or home repairs.

Remember that when you are the homeowners, you don’t call the landlord when the toilet gets clogged. Either you are the plumber or you call and pay for one. There is no other way around that. These were all thoughts centered in my mind as time went on and we still were renting. I’d go to open houses, watch DIY shows and price out projects. It seemed like a silly habit considering I wasn’t yet close to realistically buying.

Take Care of Credit

Your credit score will be the foundation for qualifying for a mortgage and getting the most favorable, thus affordable rate. Learn your credit score (as scary as it might be) and then learn to build it back up. You’ll need at least a FICO 520 to qualify for most FHA or government-backed loan programs. Work with a credit repair agency if you need to. Just start taking care of it.

Things happen that we sometimes can’t change. I had a costly divorce and continued to be taken back for various things over the years. It put me in debt. And as Murphy’s Law often points out, what can happen will happen. As I started to get a handle on debt and grow my freelance career, an unexpected spine surgery popped up. It broke me – at least financially.

Save Up Cash


It is really hard to buy real estate without cash. I know there are a lot of real estate investment programs telling you that you can buy with no money down. When it comes to residential, owner-occupied home buying, you will need cash. There is a down payment that can be as little as 3.5% or as high as 20%. There are inspection fees and closing costs.

Plus, you have negotiation leverage when you make an offer with cash in hand. Sellers see you as a more serious buyer and lenders value your ability to save. How much cash is contingent on the home price and these vary not just from state to state, but from neighborhood to neighborhood.

A House Vs A Home

buying a house after divorce

Anywhere you live with love and joy as a family is a home. We had moved a lot due to landlord issues. One was an elderly woman whose home was put into conservatorship. Another was pricing us out so they could develop condos. The last evicted us because he wanted to sell the place. It was never our fault, but it’s hard to have your home at the discretion of others people’s agendas.

The final eviction was the motivating force behind jumping in. There was a lot of stress in the process because I wasn’t quite ready financially. It was simply time to figure out a way. The market was hot and I got outbid on more properties than I can count. It still seemed so far away.

There was one day where my son was in his room and I was so frustrated and scared about our next move that I just started to sob. My head against the mantle trying to stifle my sobs so he wouldn’t hear. But he did. He came in, hugged me and after hearing why I was upset simply said, “Mommy, you always said that as long as we’re together, everything is fine. You’re here. I’m here. Arky is here.” Somewhere along the way, I still managed to keep his priorities aligned properly.

The Feeling of Winning

It took a long time for me to buy my home after divorce. The buying process was chaotic and I was a nightmare emotional mess. The day came; escrow closed. I was a homeowner again nearly a decade after leaving my divorce.

My real estate agent arranged for me to pick up the keys from his office; he was already in meetings for his next deal. I cleared my morning, grabbed my new house keys with a car full of my own little “housewarming” gifts to myself: a new comforter and sheet, some kitchen items and photo frame.

Pulling up to the driveway was surreal. All the years of dreaming about this and every little thing I did to make it possible with every obstacle that came my way were over.

One imagines winning with a big gleeful smile and doing the happy dance. Maybe I would have done that if someone else were there. My son was in school. Everyone I knew was working. There was no one to snap a picture of my standing in front of the house, putting the keys in the door or walking in.

It was just me. I entered. Everything was still and quiet. I walked through the house slowly, running my hands on the granite countertop. I made my way to my new bedroom, completely empty. I sat. I cried. Tears of joy. Contently alone. My son and I had our home.

Being a single mom does mean you are parenting solo, but it doesn’t mean you need to be alone. Join the Tribe for support, resources and fun.