This Woman Will Change The Way You Think About Single Motherhood

No matter how you slice it, parenting is hard work. Looking back, how my mama managed to do it all on her own isn't something that's easy for me to wrap my head around — not because the closest I've come to raising a kid is a two-week dog-sitting stint, but because, despite a myriad of emotional and financial challenges and a demanding full-time job, she never gave up. In fact, she persevered day in and day out (three decades and counting), instilling in me the notion that if I work hard and stay true to my own sense of self, I can do anything.
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The thing is: Single mothers are pillars of strength. It's almost as if they possess some sort of superhuman ability to do whatever it takes to "make it happen" — with a whole lotta love, mind you. Katelin Sisson, cofounder of Yoga For Bad People, event producer, and single mama has a mantra that proves I'm not far off. To come out of this on top, she insists, "You put all of your pride aside and just do anything and everything you have to do. Literally, stop at nothing."
Eager to learn more about Sisson's personal experience being a single mom in New York City — and of course, shoutout single moms everywhere this Mother's Day — we teamed with zulily to find out how she overcomes feelings of self-doubt, her secret to balancing her 4-year-old's hectic schedule with her own, and how becoming a single mother has changed her life for the better. See what she has to say (and meet her crazy-cute daughter, Minnie James) below, and then set a reminder to call your mom on Sunday. She deserves it.
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First of all, tell me about your mom. What's your relationship with her like?
"My mom and I were always quite close, but when I was growing up, we had a lot of the same troubles that most mothers and daughters have — it was an incredibly emotional relationship."
What do you admire most about her?
"She is strong, almost to a fault, but with a heart of gold. She is extraordinarily soft in her tenacity. She is also very humble. The biggest lesson she taught me was to put all of your pride aside and just do whatever you have to do to make it all happen."
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On set, you mentioned that you had always wanted to be a mother. What was it about motherhood that appealed to you?
"I always wanted to be a mom, no question. I actually can't remember a time when I thought it wasn't for me — I definitely knew very early on (not that I was in a rush) that it was something I wanted to do, and it was something I was really looking forward to. My family, as complicated as it is, is very close, and I always wanted that to grow."
Your daughter, Minnie James, just turned 4 years old. What can you tell me about your relationship with her father?
"My ex and I were engaged when Minnie was born, and like some relationships, ours just didn't make it. I think we both put in plenty of effort to see if we could make it work. I fought very hard (probably harder than I would have otherwise) because we had a child. I felt like that was important. But ultimately, we weren't supposed to be together in the long run. Today, I think everyone is better off."
When you realized you'd be doing this on your own, what went through your head?
"Very quickly I tapped into my mom's mentality that you put all of your pride aside and just do anything and everything you have to do to make it all happen — literally, stop at nothing. I also very quickly realized that you have to be extraordinarily clear on the things you can do and the things you cannot do. If it's not serving the greater purpose, which is you taking care of your child and maintaining a life where there is some joy, you have to say no to a lot of things."
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Can you give me an example?
"A lot of my work requires me to travel a lot, which I love, but logistically, at some point, I had to start saying no to some of that. More than anything, it just mathematically was not working out. You also start to say no to things like dinners you want to go to, because it's not just the cost of the dinner but also the cost of childcare. That's just not realistic for me anymore."
What were those first few months like? Did Minnie handle the transition well?
"Those first months, I was very tapped into her sensitivity. It was a process — first of all moving and getting ourselves comfortable in a new home and understanding the new dynamic of just her and I. I think moms, they can have nothing, and they know how to make it right for their baby. The best advice that I was ever given, and the advice I give new parents, whether they are in a relationship or single parents, is to just parent your child. Don't worry about the onslaught of advice, just worry about your baby. You'll know what to do."
When it comes to being a single mom, what would you say is your greatest challenge?
"The biggest challenge is balancing out a life that supports her and our home — and then also being where I need to be for her, when I need to be there. I have to physically run from work or wherever I am to be at her school when she gets out at 5:15 p.m."
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So what's a typical day like for you and Minnie?
"Our mornings start at 7:30 a.m. Sometimes it's me pulling Minnie out of bed. She's sort of like a teenager in that way — she'd sleep all day if I let her. I get in the shower while she's eating breakfast. She won't get dressed until after I'm dressed. She goes to school while I'm at work all day. I pick her up, we hit the playground after school with all her friends, and then we go home to have dinner and a bath. We fight about bed for an hour, and then do it all again."
Do you have any specific pointers on how you balance it all? It can't be easy.
"The balance of life, work, and being a single mom is no joke! I can't say that NYC is particularly user-friendly for single moms. The schedules for these little kids is insane, and just when you're in a groove, BOOM — early dismissal from school that day and you're yet again explaining why you can't make a meeting. I believe having a strong support system is key. I had to get over myself and start getting very comfortable asking for help."
On that note, what does your support system look like?
"Being a single mom, eyes get really wide. You see really quickly who your people are. I have an incredible group of friends. They save me often from the demands of all of the many moving parts of living here, working, mothering, and so forth. And when we all get a chance to slow down for even just a couple hours, they are the best company. I also have my family, of course — they're top notch."
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What are your biggest worries? Is there anything that keeps you up at night?
"I worry about her anxiety level a lot and how much she senses. I'm not really a helicopter kind of mom, but I worry about her heart — and whether she's comfortable and feels like she's being supported. I also worry about keeping a life together in this town."
When you're having those negative thoughts, how do you come out of it?
"In the moments where it gets dark, where I can't see the next thing — whether it's a financial issue or whatever — I try to put everything else down and have a little moment with her. That will usually pull me out of it."
Do you find that you oftentimes compare yourself to other moms? I would think that it would be hard not to.
"Especially in New York, where there's such a vast array of how to do this thing, it's very easy to feel down and hard not to compare your situation. But quite frankly, I don't really have time. I'd say that having to do it by yourself, you don't have time to worry about what everybody else is doing. It's one foot in front of the other."
How do you think this experience has most changed you?
"There is now very little space for self-doubt. There are moments when you entertain it, but all in all there is no time for that. You go down that path and you and your baby suffer. So you put your head down and get it done and do your best to do it with grace. When you pull it off, you give yourself a little knowing smirk and move on to the next. Before all this, self-doubt was an unfortunate luxury."
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Given that, what's your best advice for other single parents?
"Say no when you need to say no. Figure out, even if you can't afford it, how to take a break. Even if it's a 30-minute massage — it will save you. Have a glass of wine. Don't worry about people judging you. It's not a low; it's just about accepting your blank slate and being pumped on it. Oh — and ask for help. That's crucial."
When you're able to find some time for yourself, what's your favorite way to unwind?
"I've been a yoga teacher for 10 years, so a lot of that was filtered into my work. While I'm still doing that, I'm also working on some other things, so the time spent doing that is dwindling. Post playground, pre-dinner, I do a quick 15-minute yoga practice in my house. If I can get her downstairs with me, we'll jump rope. And if I don't have her on the weekend, I will try to get a massage or something."
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How does this "me" time go hand in hand with being a better mom?
"I think understanding when you need to reboot your system and taking the time to do that makes you a more present, less irritable human — to your child and everyone else."
I had so much fun hanging out with Minnie on set. Tell our readers, who didn't get to dance around with her today, how you would describe her personality.
"Minnie is extremely sensitive and intuitive. She takes her time to enter any given situation. When given the time to get comfortable, she has a very smart sense of humor that comes out and captivates. She is equal parts sweet and bossy. And so far her sass doesn't overshadow her inherent kindness."
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In what ways has she changed you and the way you look at the world?
"I think the moment you become a mom, the way you perceive the world flips. For me and much of what I hear from other moms, it happens nearly instantly — and though everyone tells you that it will happen there is no way to prepare or understand the feeling and the sense of responsibility. It hits like a ton of bricks. Like, Oh! This is not all about me anymore! Okay! I wouldn't have ever described myself as a selfish person before Minnie, but even the best of us have our moments. After she arrived, it became very clear that she was the point. She gave me a huge sense of purpose and a restored strength that made me feel like I could move mountains if my child needed me to. It feels really amazing to want to do that for another person."
What kind of woman do you hope Minnie James becomes over the next year, five years, 10 years?
"If I could wish for and work to instill one thing in Minnie as she grows, it would be a fierce strength in communication: an ability to speak up for herself in a way that is clear and notable. So much can be accomplished and prevented with solid communication and genuine kindness."
Do you think growing up with a single mom will make her a stronger, more empowered person?
"I hope so. That's not to say that kids that grow up with parents that stay together are not strong. She's just been through it, for a 4-year-old. Thankfully, she has a lot of love around her. She has been very supported."
Finally, what does your future look like? What are you most looking forward to?
"My life is changing a lot right now, in a lot of ways. I feel like I'm about to hit this mark, where a lot of doors are closing and a lot of new ones are opening up. It's an incredibly exciting but also scary moment. It's taken two years to see the light at the end of the tunnel and where we're headed. Now that I can see that clearly (it was fuzzy for a while), I feel really good about it. We're a good team."
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