The TOPMOM Program: Single Mothers Can Make The Best Employees

The TOP MOM Program The following is a guest post by freelance illustrator, designer, and writer Colleen Kong-Savage. There's nobody more adept at getting things done like a single mother and I'm very pleased to read her point of view.

American society doesn't think very highly of mothers. Only five nations in the whole big fat world do not have a national law mandating paid maternity: Liberia, Lesotho, Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and the United States.

After seven months of tossing my cover letters and résumé into a black void, my boyfriend took a look at my cover letters. “Why do you mention that you're a mother?!” he commented, wondering at my naiveté. I have been freelancing here and there as a graphic artist, and my sentence had been, “Now that my eight-year-old is in school, I am ready to take on more work.” I wanted to let prospective employers know what I've been up to the past eight years since I can't list “parenting” under work experience. Another friend said, “You don't want to say you're a mother because employers wonder how often they will have to accommodate your child care situation.”

Are you kidding me?? What is up with this bias against mothers? Don't American employers realize that all those required skills that they list in their help-wanted postings on Craigslist and LinkedIn have been honed to a lethally fine point as the primary caregiver of a new human being? It's the TOPMOM program: Training Of Professionals, Multidisciplined Officials, & Managers.


1) “Must have strong organizational skills.”

Look at our time management abilities! New mothers: even if we aren't “sleep-training” our baby into a structured schedule, we know that our child will pass out for naps and need feedings at regulars points of the day, and we strategize the day's events around those times—where we will be and what are we doing—so we do not face the penalty of a cranky terror. Veteran mothers, especially those with more than one child: we juggle extracurricular activities, school events, family meals, holiday visits out of town, playdates, birthday parties, doctor appointments, those damn household chores, and we still find time to volunteer for the schools. That entire morass of Stuff flows seamlessly through the calendar because we organized it to be so.

2) “Detail-oriented”

We keep an eye on our kids' video game and TV intake, their homework, piano practice, time on the phones and computers, how they interact with others. Those of us with toddlers, constantly scan the environment for potential threats to keep little ones from electrocuting themselves, choking on small objects, poisoning themselves, running into traffic, falling to their deaths, or being kidnapped by a roaming pack of wolves.

3) “Excellent communication skills”

Your child has a limited vocabulary and your job is to make him understand why it is important to pee in the toilet and not the floor, or that she needs to eat that disgusting spinach and not another tasty cookie, or that even when you scold your son for smacking his sister, you still love him. The playground is boot camp for diplomacy. During every visit there is a fight to be diffused between children battling over equipment. You find ways to appease the warring factions, speak simple clear ideas, direct their attentions elsewhere, negotiate solutions, and divert their anger. If someone's kid has been throwing sand at other kids, you must tell the other parent to watch their kid without making them feel like you are accusing them of not watching their kid. And can you imagine the amount of diplomacy that goes into preventing a knockdown brawl when a caregiver passively watches their brat to kick and shove her way to the front of the line?

4) “Ability to problem-solve”

Problem-solving is the way of the mother. It's always something. Why is the baby crying? Hungry? Cranky? Hot? Tired? Missing daddy? Or the siblings are rivaling over which TV show to watch (Work it out, guys, or nobody watches anything). Or your child tells you the night before that he needs a Mozart costume for his biography report tomorrow (Raid the closet). Or your babysitter is sick and can't pick your child up from school while you are stuck at work (make a playdate). Or how do we transform the Transformer from five constructions vehicles into one mega badass robot (YouTube).

5) “Thrives in a creative environment”

Oh this is the best part of parenthood! Creativity is how we engage our children in the world and teach them how to play. The Fresh Direct boxes used to deliver my groceries have been reincarnated into the Batmobile, Percy the train engine, wings, swords, snowplows, houses, cars, skis. We are reintroduced to storytelling as we look at picture books at bedtime. Getting kids to entertain themselves during long boring restaurant meals with adults and WITHOUT an electronic device calls upon great reserves of imagination: tic-tac-toe to battleship games on paper, napkin origami, variations of I Spy, I have shamelessly nibbled sculptures out of the bread on the table, and god love those restaurants with the crayons and paper table coverings. And making HALLOWEEN COSTUMES!

6) “Must be able to multitask”

I'm not even going to bother with this one.

7) “Must have strong work ethic.”

We are on call 24/7. In the first half-year of motherhood we sleep less than a medical resident and marvel if we get to pass out longer than four hours in a row. We take care of not only our children, we take care of our home. We do it out of love for our families. And if not out of love, then because we are driven by a sense of responsibility, a sense that the buck stops with us–albeit in the US most of us don't get paid.


Two weeks ago I omitted any mention of motherhood in my cover letters and finally got invited to my first interview after seven months of trying. Pathetic. However even with my argument that mothers have exceptional work skills, I wish that the workplace, and even mothers themselves, would remember that we are individuals first, parents second. Our parenting experiences feed who we are, they highlight and teach us about our unique strengths and weaknesses, but they do not define us. They only add to what is already there.

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Colleen Kong-Savage
Illustration & Design
Kong Savage Art House

Note: If you're looking for a terrific illustrator or graphic designer, please consider Colleen's work. I've known her for decades and completely vouch for her work and professionalism. Updated for 2018 and beyond. 

About The Author

18 thoughts on “The TOPMOM Program: Single Mothers Can Make The Best Employees”

  1. Pingback: Spoiled Or Clueless? Try Working Minimum Wage Jobs | Financial Samurai

  2. It is a sad situation, but one that is all too common in most industries. I would rather have the best person for the job despite their marital or parental status. However, I do agree that it is a little strange to put something about being a mother in a resume. Why not simply state in your cover letter that you will be happy to discuss gaps in employment at interview?

  3. I think the potential employer was more turned off by the fact that you mentioned being a mother in your resume than the fact that you are a mother. That would throw up a red flag to me as well. I know plenty of hard working single mothers, but I also have known some that use their single parent status as an excuse for doing lack-luster work and taking many days off. That resume would scream the latter to me.

  4. It’s unfortunate that women are viewed that way in the workforce. I have a great job where family and flexibility come first. I wish it were that way for everyone, men and women.

    Colleen, you definitely noted some great strengths of moms!

  5. Though I cannot really say that there is still a high percentage of prejudice against women, not just on single moms in particular, but some companies would of course still go for people they know will have less reason to take some time off from work. I have to agree though that with single moms despite the need to be absent from work, they will always make it a point not to, because they need the job more than married women who can rely on the support of a spouse.

  6. Colleen,

    You make some very good points about the various attributes of mothers and single mothers in particular. It’s like the elite firms hiring ex military personnel. The firms know folks in the navy understand teamwork, making decisions under pressure, and dealing with adversity.

    I have no doubt single mothers have much more maturity and multitasking ability than someone who has never been through the experience. The one thing I worry about is a mothetr’s ability to let go of things outside their control.

    Thanks for sharing!


  7. “Why do you mention that you’re a mother?!”
    What’s the exact wording here, I’m very curious.
    Yeah, the corporate world is all about squeezing everything out of you. If you are a dedicated parent, you won’t have as much to squeeze out.
    They’d rather hire a single person so they can work the $@!% out of them.

  8. julien @cashsnail

    parental leave in Europe (France & Belgium for those I know) are not paid by employer but by social security. So it doesn’t cost much to company, but it force to hire someone temporary to cover the workload (a bit of inconvenience but not undoable). In my opinion the issue is not so much for hiring but in career progress in small company. Women between 25 & 30 who don’t have child are always suspected of being soon a mom. “what if she get a child in 6 month and stop working for 3/5/6 months”

    1. The silent fear of a manager hiring a woman who might get pregnant is unspoken and real. Losing someone for 3 months is tough if the competition is fierce. One colleague had three kids in 5 years and therefore had 9 months of maternity leave along with 5 weeks off a year. It was tough for the business but she became an MD and succeeded anyway.

  9. This is a tough one. I admit i don’t know the best answer. Some of the programs in other countries definitely make sense, but some times they go totally overboard. For example in France they get an extended paid maternity leave (would have to look up the length), and while it is illegal to discriminate against mothers or women who want to have kids it is not illegal to ask questions about it so basically everyone discriminates because their business could be sunk if they have to pay for too many out of work employees. There is probably a good compromise. Some of the hardest working and best organized people I have met have been moms though (thinking of one lady with 8 kids who was the assistant to the CEO at my company).

    Personally we feel like the most important thing for our family is for my wife to be at home with them the majority of the time (she does some freelancing as well though). This is incredibly valuable to us and to the kids, but I understand not everyone has that luxury.

    1. Sweden has the best package! 480 days of parental leave, either mother or father, before the child is 8 years old. Paid up to 80% by Social Insurance.

  10. It is sad that employers are prejudice against single mothers. As a former employer, I looked at the skills and experience of the person when looking for candidates. It will probably take a couple generations to get rid of many of these biases.

    1. mysticaltyger

      But being a parent, especially a single parent has a HUGE impact on the time and energy you can put into a job (as well as your kids). Raising kids is extremely time intensive and no one can do it all equally well.

      1. I think the time element varies depending on the children’s age. Society says children are important, but there are many obstacles and circumstances that contradict that. You need a network (village) to support a single mother similar to a spouse in a 2 parent household. When our children were young, my wife worked part time, but only when I was home (except for 2 hours per week).

    2. True, mysticaltyger. My dad used to say, you can do one thing well, or everything half-assed (Well, maybe not quite so crassly). I see a lot of mothers in high-level positions burning themselves out by trying to do it all. But a regular 9-5pm job with a child well into school is very do-able, especially when there is access to babysitting. I like to think that krantcents style is how most employers will evolve and have been evolving. However at present I think I feel safer going into the closet about family life.

  11. Mom’s work so hard! I was raised by a single mom and it’s incredible how she managed to do it all. I didn’t realize that maternity leave wasn’t actually required in the U.S. either. That’s pretty shocking, esp in this day and age, wow. Best of luck with your job interviews!

    1. The Family and Medical Leave Act grants American workers up to 12 weeks parental leave, but they do not have to be paid. And to be fair, just because a country has a law mandating paid parental leave, it doesn’t mean they necessarily enforce it. Huffington Post had a cool chart comparing parental leave in different parts of the world:
      Thanks for the good wishes! …Although by this point, I’m so jaded by the job search, I’m thinking I need to start my own business!

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