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Struggling Single Mother

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"[My mom] worked odd jobs, took night classes to get her high school diploma, and raised me on her own. She never complained or got mad. Not even once. But I know I wasn't an easy kid."
Percy Jackson, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Alice's life is rough. She hasn't had a break since her boyfriend, Charlie, left her while she was pregnant with his child. Now she has a minimum-wage job as a cashier, with annoying customers and a bossy manager yelling at her left and right. Her home is a tiny apartment where the air conditioning only works half the time. Every month when the bills come, it always seems like she has less than she thought she did. The only thing that makes it all bearable is every evening when she comes home to her son Robbie.


This is a common incarnation of the struggling single mother. This trope will usually involve just one child, usually a son. The mother and son usually have a very close relationship, perhaps with occasional bickering. If Mom has multiple kids, it's more likely she'll have a more distant relationship with each, though she'll still try her hardest.

This trope is almost Always Female (at least in fiction), but can occasionally manifest in males.

Often times Truth in Television. Sub-trope to Disappeared Dad. Single Parents Are Undesirable is a similar trope where single parents have difficulties finding love. See Housewife and Good Parents. For an inversion, see Glamorous Single Mother. May well have been divorced from the Disneyland Dad, who has a lot more money due to not needing to raise a kid. May result in Single Mom Stripper.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Even Though I'm a Former Noble and Single Mother, it's even spelled out in the title that poor Shirley has to raise her two young daughters while also being a B-Rank adventurer to make ends meet. The "Struggling" part of the trope, however, is largely self-imposed and thus downplayed, as Shirley is B-rank purely by choice despite the Guild's attempts to convince her to accept a promotion to A-rank (long story short, she values the freedom she has and the time she spends with her daughters too much), and while not living in obvious wealth, her daughters do not appear to want for anything (it probably helps that the trio were taken in by Martha and her husband, a very nice couple who insist on helping Shirley out); Shirley simply has absurdly huge standards regarding her parenting to an almost comical degree, to the point that she seeks out a dragon-slaying quest just so she can get the one ingredient that the local pharmacy is missing for a special medicine that will cure her daughters' illness... which Martha pointed out would most probably run its course in just a few days and even compares it to the common cold.
  • In F, Gunma Akagi's mother was always a single mom who raised him alone. After her death when Gunma was a child, his biological father adopted him finally (after years of not recognized them), but that wasn't a good idea after all.
  • In Fruits Basket, Tohru's deceased mother Kyoko was tragically widowed when Tohru was a toddler. Despite facing problems in earning enough income to maintain herself and Tohru, Kyoko was truly happy with raising her daughter because it gave her someone to love. She never once complained about anything no matter how much she had to work.
  • Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid: When Tohru is forcibly taken back to the other world by her father, Kobayashi suddenly finds herself having to take care of Kanna and do housework on top of her already stressful job as a programmer. The apartment becomes a complete mess and she's shown to be emotionally drained after only a few days.
  • In season 3 of Osomatsu-san, it's revealed that Nyaa Hashimoto, the Cat Girl-themed Idol Singer who Choromatsu is a fan of and has a bitter rivalry with Totoko, is actually a single mother who's working to provide for her baby. She was shown having a fiance in the first season, but she confirms that they've long since divorced by this point.
  • In Trapped in a Dating Sim: The World of Otome Games is Tough for Mobs, Marie was one in her Backstory before dying from Domestic Abuse, and being transmigrated into the world of a dating sim. A deadbeat father and drunkenness had eventually resulted in her parents taking custody; she had worked in a hostess club to get by. In the story proper, she ends up essentially being this again, only for five grown men who, newly cut off from their parents' funds after being Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense, can't really take care of their finances.
  • In Muhyo and Roji, the ghost that Muhyo and Goryo compete to exorcise was a single mother who struggled to make ends meet selling flowers. Unable to afford a doll as a birthday present for her daughter, she ended up making one herself. Her daughter loved the present but ended up being hit by a car when she ran off to show her friend. The mother went insane after her daughter's death and ended up making countless dolls for her, before ending up as a ghost.

    Comic Books 
  • Wonder Woman (1987):
    • Diana's manager at Taco Whiz is a single mother struggling to make ends meet, and whose financial situation is made worse since her ex refuses to buy his alimony.
    • While Julia Kapatelis' job as a university professor and archeologist means she is usually quite set for providing for herself and her daughter during the period while she was laid up paralyzed in the hospital, the hospital bills and her inability to leave her bed were wearing on her even before CPS started showing up threatening to take her daughter away since she had no guardians at home.

    Fan Works 
  • bent or broken, it's the family tree: Esmeralda struggles to raise her son as a poor single woman in the 1400s. It's even more trouble than usual because she's a part of persecuted minority.
  • Touched upon in Celadon's New Blossom. Ash's mother Delia had dreams of being a model, but that was pushed aside because her husband abandoned his family when Ash was still a baby. Delia raised Ash on her own, though income wasn't an issue because she owns the only restaurant in their town
  • An essential part of Hawks' backstory in Crimson and Emerald. After his mother Kiyome was widowed, she struggled to support her and her son. People didn't want to hire a single mother with a young child and Kiyome struggled to make ends meet. Something which the Heroics Commission takes advantage of when they approach Kiyome to obtain the future Hawks.
  • The Legend of Genji: Zahra is an overworked single mother living in an urban slum who has to deal with raising two children while also working double shifts everyday just to make ends meet. Her financial situation was so bad that her teenage son had to drop out of school and accept work as a part-time mechanic in order to help pay her bills. By the start of the story, she and her family are on the verge of being evicted from their apartment while a newly-placed government curfew prevents Zahra from working at her night job.
  • In the Mob Psycho 100 fanfic Shigeko Kageyama AKA Mob Reigen's mother was one of those. As a foreigner living in Japan, his mother does not have good job prospects and it was even worse when she divorced Reigen's father in the mid-2000s. The only work that she could, and still can, find is teaching English despite having a university degree in Japanese language and culture. Reigen faced some hard times when he was young and it strained his relationship with his mother.
  • After Frankie adopts Mac in the More than My Friend series, several of the sequels deal with the hardships of raising an eight-year-old boy (especially when she's still in her twenties), on top of her already stressful job taking care of hundreds of imaginary friends. For example, Frankie has trouble dating because men always dump her after she tells them she's raising a kid.
  • My Little Pumpkin: Delia works at a restaurant but that only pays so much. Her estranged husband left money from his well-paying desk job, but it'll only last so long. Delia has enough to get by for now but she worries about the future. She also lacks emotional support when it comes to raising Ash.
  • Much of the drama in the Kill la Kill fic Secret Sunshine comes from this. Though Kiko is her niece, Ryuuko plays this role, her struggles are balancing having to care for Kiko, herself, finances, and doing her job at a daycare, along with having little help, besides checks sent from Satsuki. This is best noted with her weight, as, due to not having much time for herself (between caring for Kiko and job) and not having anything else to do, she just ate and, when funds got low, she practically starved, spending what little she had on Kiko.

    Film — Animation 
  • The Iron Giant: Annie Hughes is a single mother who raises Hogarth by herself and works long hours as a waitress to make ends meet. Early on, she also mentions wanting to rent out a room in their house to bring in more money, which gives Kent Mansley the opportunity to move in and keep an eye on Hogarth when he suspects Hogarth knows about the Iron Giant.
  • The Prophet: Besides worrying about having a job and dealing with her husband's death, Kamila is also trying to raise her rambunctious, trouble-making daughter, Almitra.
  • Sarah Hawkins in Treasure Planet. Her husband left her and Jim a few years ago, leading Jim to become disconnected and fall down a path of self-destruction, and Sarah struggling alone to keep her business afloat while attempting to raise Jim better.
  • Hana in Wolf Children. She falls in love with a mysterious man who is actually a Wolf Man, and they have two children who inherited their father's wolf lineage. When the father dies in an accident, Hana is left to take care of the children. The first part of the film shows her struggling to keep her children's wolf lineage a secret from outsiders, particularly from the social services. Eventually, she moves to the remote countryside where she manages to make amends for her family and her children are able to roam freely.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Big Eyes: Margaret is extremely concerned about providing for her daughter by herself, especially since the film takes place during the 1950s/60s. Her first ex-husband uses the fact that she is a single mother to try and take custody of Jane, and Margaret has to marry Walter to avoid this. During the trial, Margaret admits that a big part of the reason Margaret stayed with Walter as long as she did is that she didn't think she could provide for herself and Jane on her own.
  • Played with in The Book of Henry: Henry's mother Susan is by-and-large portrayed as a struggling single mother, working at a diner and driving a shabby car. However, she is explicitly doing fine financially and, after her son's passing, she learns that he made thousands of dollars in stocks under her name. The struggling single mother aspect seems to be The Artifact, given there had been almost two decades between the script being first written and the film finally being made, with constant rewrites in between.
  • A Boy Called Po: After the death of David's wife, he struggles to look after his autistic son Po and work on his revolutionary new airplane design, especially since Po's hyperactivity and insomnia make it hard to focus on his work.
  • Olivia starts out Boyhood struggling to make ends meet and to balance taking care of her two kids while also working. She goes through a string of bad relationships, but eventually goes back to school and turns her life around.
  • A part of Rachel's mother's backstory in Crazy Rich Asians. Her mother immigrated to America after the death of Rachel's father before she was born, and struggled to support her daughter growing up. It's later revealed that Rachel's father is not actually dead, but rather her mother fled to America from her abusive husband after becoming pregnant with another man's child.
  • Dancer in the Dark: The protagonist Selma lives alone with her son in a trailer park and puts all her effort into working a sucky job at a factory for his sake, saving money so he can get the treatment that'll stop him from inheriting her progressive blindness.
  • In Fly Away, Jeanne struggles to balance her job with taking care of her autistic daughter Mandy. She works from home, which helps, but Mandy can be very disruptive, and her ex-husband is rarely around to help.
  • Jasna from the Serbian film Midwinter Night's Dream is a war refugee who lives with her autistic daughter in someone else's house, working as a waitress.
  • When Katya from Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears has her baby, she lives in a cheap hostel, has no degree, and has a low-paying job at a plant. Later, as she finally gets enrolled in college, she is torn between studying, raising her daughter (even though she puts her in daycare), and providing for them both. Twenty years later, she has managed to become a manager of the plant where she used to work and a member of the city administration, but it has been a great deal of hard work for her.
  • The Jet Li tearjerker-drama Ocean Heaven (widely marketed as "Kung-Fu Superstar Jet Li's first drama") has Li playing a single father to an autistic son after his wife's suicide. Things gets progressively worse from there when Li's character is discovered to have terminal cancer, and may not live to the end of the year, to the point where the father and son actually contemplates killing themselves together. This is likely the one Jet Li flick that audiences will need plenty of tissues to sit through.
  • The Sense of Wonder: Since her husband's death in a paragliding accident, Louise has struggled to keep the pear orchard afloat while raising her two kids. It doesn't help that the central buying office refuses to pay back the money it owes Louise, and she doesn't have her husband's knack for getting people to do what she wants.
  • DC Extended Universe:
    • In SHAZAM!, Billy Batson's biological mother apparently struggled to raise him, and eventually deliberately abandoned him so the foster care system could take care of him instead.
    • In Zack Snyder's Justice League, Victor Stone/Cyborg helps a struggling mother who works as a waitress and has trouble making ends meet, by hacking into her bank account and dropping $100,000 in it.

  • Logan from Almost Perfect lives in a trailer with his mom, who works long hours as a waitress to support them. Logan gives most of his lawn mowing money to her because she really needs it.
  • The Brotherhood of the Conch: Since Anand's father disappeared, his family had to move from their apartment into a one-room shack in a bad neighborhood. His mother works tirelessly to feed him and his sister Meera, sometimes going without dinner in order to divide what little she has between the two of them.
  • The Camp Half-Blood Series:
    • Percy Jackson and the Olympians establishes Sally Jackson as one. The reason she's single is that the father of her child is Poseidon, one of the gods who's specifically forbidden from bearing children. She eventually gets a break when she launches her writing career, remarries, and has another child, Estelle.
    • In the Sequel Series, The Heroes of Olympus, Leo's deceased mother was one of these; she'd spend her days working as a mechanic to support Leo while the latter was growing up.
  • Dunk: Chad's mom had her husband walk out on her, leaving her to try and take care of Chad the best she can. This made her work so hard that she could pass off for 40, and she's only 32.
  • In Elliott & Win, Win and Donny's ma works three jobs and still finds time to go to school. Win has to do a lot of housework for himself.
  • Family Skeleton Mysteries: As of the start of the series, Georgia and her daughter Madison have moved around to about seven different towns since Madison was born, sometimes in the middle of the school year; Georgia's worked a series of adjunct positions at various colleges, and occasionally SAT Prep classes at high schools, to make a living.
  • Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation: Mo Dao Zu Shi: Meng Shi is a prostitute raising her son alone in a brothel, having long been abandoned by the father Jin Guangshan. She spends all her money on expensive sword and (fraudulent) cultivation guides for her son's education. In the one flashback we see of Meng Shi, she's attacked by a customer in a dispute about payment.
  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry learns that Dumbledore and his brother and sister were raised mostly by a single mother. It's said by the time she died when the three of them were teenagers, they were struggling financially.
  • In Race to the Sun there is a rare male example. Nizhoni's father is raising his two kids on his own and has to work very long hours to provide them more than bare necessities—even though it means that he's very often not there for his kids when they need him.
  • The Someday Birds has another male example. When Charlie and his siblings were little, after their mom was killed by a drunk driver, their dad worked two jobs while trying to finish his teaching degree and raise them alone. He was so tired that he kept falling asleep during their bedtime story.
  • In the Warrior Cats book Firestar's Quest, Clover starts as this, explaining that her mate left her before her kits were born and that it's hard raising them on her own; it's why she's so eager to join the new Clan after Firestar and Scratch save her and her kits from a fox.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Breaking Bad: Near the end of the show, Skyler becomes one of these as her husband is on the run from the law after his drug empire is exposed. She's forced from their home to a small apartment with two children, a disabled teen and a baby. Things are going to improve however as Walt plans a way to ensure his family gets his remaining money in a way that seems legitimate.
  • Implied with Phoebe's mother Lily in Friends, who "didn't have a lot a money" and according to Phoebe, was a drug dealer.
  • Gilmore Girls: This is part of Lorelai Gilmore's backstory. In the pilot, she is a manager of the Independence Inn and fairly well-off, but when she left her super-rich parents with a baby at 16, she started to work there as a maid and had to work her way up. She and her daughter Rory lived in the inn's potting shed. When the series starts, Rory is a teen and they have an extremely close bond.
  • The Handmaid's Tale: Janine was this before the rise of Gilead. When she got pregnant a second time, she decided to have an abortion since she was barely making enough for herself and her son Caleb, and the father was implied to not be ready for fatherhood. However, after the rise of Gilead, the ultra-conservative government punishes fertile women who have “lived in sin” by their standards by taking away their children and turning them into Breeding Slaves. It’s possible the abortion was the “sin” that got Janine declared a Handmaid.
  • iCarly (2021): Freddie is a Gender Inverted example. He's currently raising his adopted stepdaughter Millicent. But two divorces (With Millicent's mother Gwen being divorce number two. The two share custody, but due to Gwen being a marine biologist, Millicent's with Freddie more often than her mom.) and a failed startup have left him so broke that he had to move back into his mother's apartment and get a job as a tech support assistant. Once he saves up enough money to get his own place, he gets suckered into an MLM, blows all his savings and quit his job to sell the snake oil. Though the experience made him realize that he's an entrepreneur at heart and he starts his next business venture.
  • Teri Scanlon from the Midnight Caller episode "Blood Ties" holds jobs as a secretary and a waitress to support herself and her eleven-year-old son Brian.
  • Raising Dion: Dion's mom Nicole is widowed, and struggles to support both herself and her son. Then her situation gets Up to Eleven when Dion is revealed to have superpowers.
  • Rookie Blue: Traci has difficulty at times juggling her police career and motherhood (especially since it started when she was just seventeen). Her mom helps, but her son's dad is mostly useless.
  • Serengeti: Kali is kicked out of her pride for having cubs with an outsider. She struggles to survive on her own with several young cubs in tow.
  • In Stranger Things, Joyce Byers. She's divorced and has been working at a convenience store for the past ten years to support her sons Jonathan and Will, who she apparently has healthy relationships with.
  • Played straighter than it actually should have been in season three of Supergirl. Sam might be a single mother, but given that her job was acting CEO of L-Corp, she should have easily had more resources available to help her take care of her daughter, Ruby.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "Stranger in Possum Meadows", Danny Wilkins and his mother live in a dilapidated trailer. His father left years ago, as did her subsequent boyfriend. His mother works almost every night in order to provide a meager living for the two of them.

  • "Rockabye" by Clean Bandit is about a single mother trying to make ends meet at a strip club to support her six-year-old son.
  • "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" by Cher ends with her being a dancer/prostitute single mom at a sleazy carnival.
  • "Rock and Roll Lullaby" by BJ Thomas is about a child raised by a 16-year-old.
  • "Dust Bowl" by 10,000 Maniacs is about a poor single mother worried about being able to care for her children.

  • Dana Brayne from Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues, the single mother to main character Zia. She works as a teacher after recovering from a bout of cancer, takes care of the house, and always frets over her daughter and deceased husband. Despite her tiredness from it all, she powers through.

  • In Fangirls, Edna's mother Catherine is a struggling single mother who works night shifts as a nurse, meaning Edna is left alone most nights which gives her time to perfect her Zany Scheme. Edna has a full scholarship to an expensive private school but often feels deprived compared to her wealthier classmates.
  • Les Misérables: Fantine struggles to earn the money that the Thenardiers demand to care for her daughter, Cosette. Things get even worse after she gets fired, which leads to her selling her necklace and hair, and finally becoming a prostitute. She dies not long after following Jean Valjean promising to adopt Cosette as his own.

    Video Games 
  • A Gender Inverted example appears in The Last of Us. From what little we see of Joel's life before the Cordyceps outbreak, he was a struggling single father (Joel tells Ellie that he was married to Sarah's mom for a while, but he never confirms whether she died or divorced him.) He was a blue-collar carpenter who worked long hours, so much that Sarah rarely got to see him. She had to wait until nearly midnight for Joel to come home so that she could give him his birthday present (a new watch). He's also in financial trouble as evidenced by him joking that Sarah can start helping with the mortgage when Sarah joked that she got the money for the watch by selling hardcore drugs. Then the outbreak happened and let's just say he no longer had to worry about being a father.
  • Lorraine of The Park, who is a single mother to her son Callum after the death of her boyfriend during a construction accident. She's spent Callum's entire life struggling both financially and emotionally.
  • Persona 5:
    • Hanae Oda, the mother of Shinya Oda, the Tower Confidant. As a result of having a difficult time as a single mother, Hanae has turned into a Jerkass who's willing to push others around in order to get what she wants. Shinya wants his mother to turn away from a path that's harmful to herself and others, which is why he asks the Phantom Thieves to steal her heart late in his confidant. After being defeated, Hanae's Shadow realizes that Shinya is most important to her, and the two gradually start to reconcile.
    • Ryuji's mother is also single, something that he got mocked for once it was leaked in the school. He admits that he's made things harder on her than he needed to and tries to do nice things for her to make up for it.
  • Abigail Roberts spends the first half of Red Dead Redemption II as a single mother to Jack Marston. Due to his father John hardly being involved in Jack's life, she has to raise Jack but has to get all the support she can get from some of the other people in camp. It then gets easier when John finally starts being a father to Jack.
  • My Child Lebensborn: The Player Character is a struggling single parent to their adoptive child. Many of the choices involve chosing between extra hours at their factory job to get more money or being present for the child. An extra shift usually means coming back home just in time to put the child to bed without any dinner.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Video 
  • Referenced but thoroughly averted in Dragon Ball Z Abridged. Tien mentions to Bulma that Vegeta left her as a single mother, but she points out that neither she nor Trunks will be struggling because she's a billionaire.

  • Adrian in A&H Club, in the first chapter she and her son Ali are living in her car after being evicted from their apartment, she also mentions she had to keep Ali in a closet because she couldn't afford a crib.

    Western Animation 
  • In Steven Universe, Vidalia is implied to have been one of these when she first gave birth to Sour Cream, as she was shown working at a Soul-Sucking Retail Job when he was little.
  • In Trollhunters, Jim's mother has been raising him alone since his father left the family. In this case, she doesn't really seem to be struggling to make ends meet but is nonetheless extremely overworked.

Alternative Title(s): Struggling Single Father