It’s no secret that we love women helping women. Girl bosses unite! That’s why Dr. Marika Lindholm is so easy to love. Two years ago, she founded ESME.com (Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere), a diverse community that aims to redefine single motherhood by providing resources, inspiration, and a point of connection for the under-served community of solo moms out there. Single mothers currently parent 23 million children nationwide, so this group has some serious support! ESME now has more than 50,000 members, and will soon have an app as well as local meetups. Mamas, Marika has your back…and we are so happy to feature her and her success!
How did you transition from being a professor to starting ESME?
Halfway throughout my tenure at Northwestern, I went through a challenging divorce when my children were three and five. It was one of the hardest times in my life, not only because of I felt plagued with guilt, was always worried about money, and demoralized by the legal process, but I became dangerously sick. I fell ill shortly after my divorce with a curable blood disorder, and while doctors were trying to determine what was wrong with me, I felt scared, weak, and alone. I was a strong independent woman yet felt unsupported and confused by the whole process; the reality of uncoupling sunk in hard.
It was then that I realized that I was in the midst of living what I had been teaching for so many years. As a sociologist, I was always giving lectures on issues like poverty and divorce, and the negative impact separation could have on someone’s economic situation. I had studied women’s issues for over a decade and was aware of the negative financial impact of divorce, but I wasn’t prepared for overwhelming sense of responsibility and loneliness that followed. In other words, I was always teaching about single moms but it wasn’t until I became a divorced single mom myself that I realized emotionally what women went through and how unbelievably hard it was. […]
So, amidst my struggle, I’d come to a powerful realization and made a secret vow that one day if I could, I’d like to make it easier for other women in the same situation. It took fifteen years but ESME.com was born out of that difficult, but ultimately empowering, experience. Along with my all-star team and utilizing my sociology background, I began researching, conducting focus groups, and talking to Solo Moms across the country to gain insights into their lives. We turned two years old summer of 2017, are at over 50,000 members, and reach over a million Solo Moms nationwide.
ESME really came out of my own personal passion—you can look at mountains of data and statistics on single moms, but until you’re IN that situation and until you’re feeling alienated and alone… it’s not until then that you realize how necessary it is to have a resource and support network of other Solo Moms to talk to who have been through it and “get it.” I’m thrilled that ESME continues to grow, and that countless inspiring women across the country are forming sisterhoods to encourage one another and let each other know that they’re not alone.
Why is this group so vital?
American moms parent over 23 million children by themselves. Day in a day out they put their needs behind the needs of their children. Common themes among Solo Moms are loneliness, financial insecurity, guilt and exhaustion. ESME acknowledges their hard work, dedication and self-sacrifice. We provide a safe space to ask questions, get support and find community. Our community is there for Solo Moms in their most difficult moments and to celebrate their triumphs. We provide a touchstone for moms regardless of what circumstance brought them to single motherhood.
What is your typical day?
Once the kids are off to school, I check the site and various social media outlets to make sure everything is as it should be. I usually have a list of projects and goals to discuss with my team. After our team meeting, I’m free to work on whatever is most pressing. Sometimes its reading submissions, figuring out the best writer for a particular interview or reaching out to potential collaborators. I’m very fortunate to have the ESME office on our family farm so during lunch I might go pick apples or berries or just take a walk with my Swiss Mountain dogs. I usually work until my kids get home and then focus on homework and dinner. Too often I go back to ESME related work after everyone is asleep especially if I cut out during the day to exercise or if I attend a school event for one of my five kids. Just yesterday I attended 10 parent-teacher conferences!
How are you providing support to single mothers?
At ESME we have a data base of over 5,000 non-profits that help single moms. We also have 20 Resource Guides that have professional and personal experience with a particular challenge or situation such as, raising kids with special needs, divorce or bereavement. We also provide chat rooms specifically geared to Solo Moms with similar situations such as a cancer diagnosis, depression or addiction. It’s a fairly large site with hundreds of informative and encouraging articles. But we also try to inspire and entertain.
Why do we, as all women, need to stick together?
Now more than ever, women need to support each other. I feel that the fate of our planet, our nation and each individual community rests in the hands of women coming to together to say enough is enough. As a collective we are powerful. As mothers, sisters and daughters we are more likely to come up with peaceful, collaborative solutions that assert the importance of family. ESME links diverse communities around the common theme of parenting alone. Whether a woman is a widow, divorced or her partner is deployed, she has something to teach, and learn from, other Solo Moms. Historically women have been divided by class, race and culture such that coalition building across these divides was rocky at best. Today women from all different backgrounds are witness to: a significant pay gap, the retrenchment of health benefits, ongoing sexual harassment and the threat of sexual violence in every community. Only by coming together can women ensure that future generations of girls and women won’t face the same insecurity and threat that women endure today.
Do you think we really can “have it all”?
It depends on how you define “have it all”. If “have it all” means that you seamlessly flow between a smoothly functioning family and a job that offers both satisfaction with upward mobility while finding time for romance and self-care, then no you can’t have it all! But if you define having it all as a series of compromises and negotiations that allow for maximum fulfillment at work and home, then yes its possible. Over the years I’ve learned that, no matter how perfect someone else’s life looks, most moms are scrambling to make it work.
We still have a culture that doesn’t make it easy for women, or men for that matter, to combine work and family with ease. The daily demands of productivity, ridiculous work hours and the time that kids require makes it a constant juggling routine. Just make sure you have some fun and take care of yourself amidst the circus act!