top of page

Single Mothers by Choice (SMC)™ | Jane Mattes, Founder

Fempower Health founder, Georgie Kovacs, interviewed the founder of Single Mothers by Choice (SMC)™. Jane Mattes, LCSW, founded SMC in 1981. It has grown into an international organization that has provided over 30,000 women with support and community. Whether you are thinking, trying or mothering, SMC is available to provide answers and guidance in the journey of becoming or being a single mother by choice.


Transcript

Georgie: Why did you decide to start this organization many years ago?

Jane, Single Mothers by Choice (SMC)™: Originally, I didn’t know anybody else who had had a child as an unmarried mother in their late thirties. I wanted to see if I could find other women like me to find support around mothering. It was hard for me to talk to people about it. My married friends didn’t understand, my unmarried friends didn’t understand, it was just a difficult topic. I did manage to find other people who understood. The other reason was my son. I wanted him to grow up knowing that we weren’t the only “mom and son” family in the world, as we called it. My son is now 39.


Georgie: How challenging was it and how receptive were people?

Jane, SMC: At first, this wasn’t an organization, and I didn’t have an intent to make one. I just wanted to get together with some women and talk about how they handle the challenges of being a single mother 24/7. It just was a group of about six of us. We got together once and then we decided to get together once a month.


The reason it became an organization was because someone had a friend who was a reporter for a local newspaper in New York. Her friend wrote a little article about us. The New York Times picked it up and did a big article about us and it got syndicated. So we started getting mail (in those days it was snail mail) and we started putting these women together.


We got three letters from Chicago and put these women in touch with each other. We got four letters from Los Angeles and we put them in touch. So, we decided we had an organization on our hands and we better get ourselves together. It was amazing!


The media coverage really helped because everyone was curious about it. We weren’t the stereotypical teen mothers or the divorced mothers… we were some new kind of mothers.


Georgie: Tell us about what Single Mothers by Choice (SMC)™ offers today for women.

Jane, SMC: It really hasn’t changed that much from the original group of six, in a sense. Some of them were already mothers, some of them were thinking about becoming single mothers and some of them were pregnant or adopting. We were kind of a mixed group from the very beginning and that’s still our population: all those different stages along the way are in our membership.


We offer much more now than we used to. We have local chapters all over the U.S. and Canada and even some in Europe and Australia. In addition to the local chapters, we have a very strong and active online discussion forum which covers every possible subject you can imagine and probably more. That is moderated but it’s really become a home for a lot of people, especially if there’s no local chapter in their area. They can talk about everything related to single motherhood and even things that are not so related to single motherhood.


Georgie: What would you say is the most surprising topic or set of topics these women discuss?

Jane, SMC: I guess I stopped being surprised. They cover any topic that one may deal with in life, even well outside of the realm of being a woman or motherhood.


Georgie: It really is a community: “I’ll bring up whatever’s on my mind.”

Jane, SMC: Right, and we have profound questions, really profound and some serious issues with life and death and safety and developmental issues. It goes from the profound to the light-hearted.


Georgie: When you say there are local chapters, do these women meet face-to-face?

Jane, SMC: Exactly. That’s the idea. If you’re in an area where there are members, it’s their opt-in. They’re not required but if they’ve opted in, then their contact information is viewable by anyone else who wants to make contact with a local member. Sometimes there are local meetings.


In some cities they’re quite organized and large and in other cities they’re quite tiny. They can meet face-to-face and have formal meetings. Or, they can have informal emails where they post “anyone want to go to the zoo next Sunday?” The goal is for them to be able to find other women who are in the same situation.


Georgie: Is there a formal process to creating these chapters?

Jane, SMC: It’s both formal and informal. People who join and say, “oh, there’s nothing happening in my area I’d be happy to be a contact person,” then new people will join and get a chapter going. Or, it can be a chapter where there is already an established presence and their children are getting older. Even a new chapter in the same area when one gets too big. In some areas, we have two or three chapters. It happens in all sorts of ways.


Georgie: I recall seeing that professional support may be available?

Jane, SMC: I offer consultations, separate from membership. It’s basically a consultation on the phone or in-person at my office. They bring in their concerns, often the question is: “can I do this?” “should I do this?” “what do I have to think about to do this?”

It’s a way of processing the decision with someone else as a sounding board. Then, once they’re already mothers, I get another set of consultations once children start asking about “daddy.” That’s a hot topic as you can imagine.


Click here to learn more about personal consultations.


Georgie: What advice would you give to women regarding that tough question children might have: “do I have a dad”?

Jane, SMC: It’s a tough question if you haven’t been preparing for it. What I actually suggest (and our members basically all follow this procedure, if you can call it that) is that the child is entitled to know the truth and it’s easier for the mom to talk about if she begins before the baby understands words, even a very young baby. Practice having this conversation.


The baby doesn’t know what you’re saying, so you get a chance to practice. Somehow, saying it in your head and saying it out loud always turns out very different. You think, “I’m sure I’ll be able to tell them their story and it won’t be a problem” and feel very prepared.


But the moment a child asks, “do I have a daddy?” the mother often freezes and goes blank.

The more preparation, the easier it is. But that first conversation is not easy. It also has to be age appropriate. What you say to a two-year-old is different than what you say to a five-year-old or a nine-year-old. It’s more complicated than it might sound, but it’s simple if you’re comfortable with it.


Georgie: Would you say that women who have fear around the conversation when children might ask about a father. Do you find that, once they say it, it’s not as hard?

Jane, SMC: Yes. They have the chance to think about the language they want to use, the amount of information they want to give. Besides consulting with me, there’s also a lot of discussion about this on our forum. People will say “I just had THE conversation” when the child actually asks and is able to understand what you’re saying, it’s a real conversation.


For example, my son asked me in the mailroom of my apartment building with four people in the room. Can you imagine? I said, “can we talk about that upstairs?” He was four years old.


Georgie: The world as changed quite a bit. For example, ASRM stated that egg-freezing is ethically permissible. This gives women a lot more freedom and options. Have you seen any impact with the availability of egg-freezing on the Single Mothers by Choice™ community?