Mothers in New York are an entirely different breed. To be fair, mothers in every city should be granted the medal of honor just for managing to get through one week. But here in New York, we are faced with a specific challenge. The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in New York is around $3,200 per month, while the average income per household is around $50,000. For the childless New Yorker, these numbers are staggering – but for a parent, they can be crippling.
I decided to talk to some of the working moms of New York. Each of them with different stories and different support structures put in place. I like to think, that if women are capable of this, then we are capable of anything. Whether you have children or not, the hustle of a New York mother is inspiration for us all.
Occupation: Seasonal sales person at high-end department store
Income: Less than $50k
Her Story: I'm a mom to a 7-year-old little boy living in Brooklyn. I went to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and came back to New York after school. I met a guy. We married. Had a baby. Things didn't work out, so I moved to Atlanta as a single mom with my son who was 16 months old at the time. The job market in Atlanta was so rough that I decided to take on a "sugar daddy" to supplement my income. After 2 years of sitting on his lap for money, trying to catch my bearings, and losing my car to the Title Pawn in Atlanta, I decided to come back home to New York. By then, I'd pawned all my valuables: car, jewelry, electronics, cashed savings bonds, depleted CD accounts, and 401k.
I had to get a job – any job. Despite my education, because my child's needs do not cease, that means being underpaid and working schedules that don't agree with my parenting needs. My son is 7-years-old now. He is incredibly smart, he's happy, he's healthy and in a great school and gets good grades. However, in the last three years, we spent 8 months living with my best friend and 20 months at a homeless shelter. I still haven't found gainful employment, so my income is supplemented through food stamps and the $408 a month that the state garnishes from the father.
Before all this, I was an New York socialite on the urban scene. A walking directory for all things lit and fashionable. I had a corporate job and I shopped high end. Shelters, food stamps, and welfare were not a part of the vision I had for our future.
I pray that he never feels the the sacrifice, only the end result, which is fun and love.
Occupation: Executive Assistant
Income: $50k - $75k
Her Story: Being a mother in New York City is extremely hard. Budgeting has become an everyday struggle in itself – choosing between what is more important week by week. I can't afford to move because of the rapid gentrification in Brooklyn. I'm living in a two-bedroom apartment with several other family members after I was evicted for being unable to pay rent.
My children go to separate schools miles away from one another because of the school district policy in place. There's a good quality public school minutes away from my house however, but it's zoned out of my district and my children cannot attend. Instead, I was told to enroll them into our zone school that is failing academically and farther away.
Because my neighborhood is in the process of gentrification, the only quality schools are charter or private. The people moving in can afford private school, so their children are not enrolling in the public schools. Because my children attend separate schools, more money comes out of my household budget to pay a van driver for drop-off services. To make things work, I'm forced to pay the extra $400 monthly for early drop-off and pick-up.
I also pay for tutoring, which is $450 monthly, swimming lessons for $180 per child, and soccer whenever I can afford it, along with the usual bills rent and car payments. All the while, I have student loans in default.
I've worked 16 hours in one day, causing me to miss quality time with my kids – missing homework, missing laughs, missing their little explanations of their day – all so that I can stay afloat in this beast of a life.
This struggle is never-ending, but as a mom, I put my best foot forward and smile whenever I see my kids.
Occupation: Health Care Integrator
Income: Less than $50k
Her Story: We live in a one-bedroom apartment in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. It has been both difficult and somewhat easy raising my child in such an expensive city. It is difficult because there is not much opportunity for working mothers to have assistance. It sometimes seems like I make too much to qualify for anything substantial because programs only see my pre-taxed without considering all of my expenses.
It can be easy because there are a lot of free entertainment programs I can take my daughter to that help expose her to culture. I spend a lot of time on Google looking for free things to do since money always has to go to more pressing things. It's also hard to arrange pick-up and drop-off since babysitters and nannies tend to charge more an hour than I make an hour. I would like to find a bigger apartment that I can afford so she can have her own room but the prices are very high. I continue to put my name on the housing lottery. What helps a lot, though is that I grew up here and I have friends with kids. My daughter receives a lot of hand-me-downs.
Occupation: Account Manager and PR Coordinator
Income: $50k - $75k
Her Story: Ever since moving back to New York in 2009, my sole purpose has been to give my daughter a life that will not only meet, but exceed the lifestyle that my mom - who was also a single parent - provided for me. I would have to say, it's not easy financially, but with faith, it is possible to raise my child in this city.
Like everyone, I have general expenses for everyday survival like rent, food, health care, transportation, etc. My daughter's father is married and lives out of state. I can never predict from one month to the next what type of support financial or otherwise I'll receive from him. So, I'm basically handling all of it on my own. That includes school tuition, after-school activities, childcare, clothes, getting her hair done, and weekend fun. I can't even begin to list all the other little things that come up in between.
I take advantage of sales whenever I can and shop for clothes off-season so we can be frugally fly. My mom is a big help. Sometimes, I food shop at her house and take advantage of her babysitting whenever she's in a good mood. I try to make sure my daughter is as comfortable as possible at home with things she's enjoys so I can save money on outside activities.
However, at the end of the day, faith is always my saving grace. I definitely have moments when I'm sitting there thinking, 'Damn, the struggle is real.' Right before I start to get frustrated or overwhelmed and sometimes after venting to my best friend, I realize that I've been here before and made it through.
My faith has trained me to start to recognize blessings and to worry less about my life because God got this.
Occupation: Medical Receptionist and student
Income: Less than $50k
Her Story: I moved to Harlem four years ago from Philadelphia after me and my long-time boyfriend broke up. I dropped out of college after I got pregnant with my second child and before moving back to New York, I finished a medical training program and found a job in a clinic. My job can be very stressful, especially because they won't allow me to leave work an hour early to pick my kids up so I have to pay for aftercare, which is a lot for two kids. I do have some help along the way. I have two cousins who also have small children and we take turns babysitting each other's kids to get a break from time to time. Paying for babysitters is not even an option at this point.
I decided to go back to school this year and I'm taking classes at CUNY to complete my degree in Communications. Between raising my kids and school, I hardly have any time for anything else but I've been dating someone for over a year now. He also has a kid, so it helps that he understands my hustle. We try to be supportive towards each other in the ups and downs of parenting.
I have a car, which helps get my kids to school in the mornings and avoid being out in the weather when it's bad. However, I try to use public transportation as much as possible, especially on weekends when we do little activities in the city. It's important to find free things to do so I'm always looking through Groupon or looking up things online.
Honestly, the thing that keeps me focused is that I know raising my kids here in New York will be an asset to their upbringing.
The schools here, the opportunities, the culture – there's no place like it. I'm okay with my hustle because I appreciate the well-rounded life they can have here.
*Names have been changed for anonymity
Are you a New York City mom? Leave us a comment below with your experience raising a child in the Big Apple.
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Ashley Simpo is a writer, mother and advocate for self-care and healthy relationships. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @ashleysimpo. Check out her work and her musings on ashleysimpocreative.com.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Text This Before You Ghost Them, Sis.
We’ve all been there at least once (or a few times) along our dating journey. Maybe you’ve had a date or two with a potential suitor, but the spark just wasn’t there. Perhaps you convinced yourself that just “one more” date would help you overlook a non-negotiable ick. At this point in the dating cycle, you’ve probably reached the point where you must decide to either communicate “why” things won’t be moving forward or simply ghost them.
What Is Ghosting?
“Ghosting” refers to the act of suddenly and unexpectedly cutting off all communication with someone you've been dating or talking to without any explanation or further contact. It typically occurs in the early stages of dating but can also happen after a few dates or even in more established relationships.
The act of ghosting has become quite a common practice in our modern dating culture and can manifest in a number of different ways. From days of ignored text messages and phone calls out of the blue to not showing up for pre-arranged plans and sometimes disappearing from someone's life without any notice or explanation.
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The Problem With Ghosting
Being ghosted may seem like a harmless act of “self-choosing,” but the person on the receiving end of your decision can be left feeling confused, rejected, and even abandoned, wondering what happened and where they went wrong.
And we get it, what explanation do you owe someone for leaving after a few cocktails and a $100 date? While that may seem like the perfect opportunity to cut and run, taking an alternative approach to fizzle out a fling is a great time to practice clear and effective communication that can pay off in the long run.
While there is a time and a place for ghosting (and even blocking) if your boundaries have been crossed or safety has been threatened, if we’re looking to live out our best healed, secure-girl summer, there are ways to date freely without leaving others with damage of their own to recover from.
Being honest and upfront about your feelings while being respectful of the other person's time is the best way to leave a situationship or fling with both parties emotionally unscathed. So if you’re looking for ways to break things off with care and consideration, we’ve provided five text scripts to send instead of ghosting somebody’s son:
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5 Texts To Send Instead of Ghosting Them
1. If you want to take the honest but gentle approach:
"Hey [Name], I've really enjoyed getting to know you, but I've been doing some thinking, and I don't see this going any further. I wanted to be upfront and honest with you rather than leaving you wondering. I wish you all the best."
2. If you want to express gratitude before saying goodbye:
"Hi [Name], I wanted to reach out and say thank you for the time we spent together. You're an amazing person, but I think we're better off as friends. I hope you understand and that we can still maintain a positive connection."
3. If you want to leave a note of appreciation:
"Hi [Name], I wanted to let you know that I've had a great time with you, but I don't think we're compatible for a romantic relationship. I appreciate the moments we shared, and I hope we can both find what we're looking for."
4. If a face-to-face convo is needed:
"Hey [Name], I've been doing some thinking, and I believe it's important for us to have an open conversation about where we stand. Can we find some time to talk about our relationship and how we both feel? I think it's important to address things honestly."
5. If you want to keep things cute and concise:
"Hey [Name], I've realized that we're not on the same page, and it's best if we part ways. Take care."
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