Rebranding the Single Mom℠: Dana Hughes

Dana Hughes and I both worked at ABC News together, although we have never actually met in person. She was working in one of the bureaus when a common friend asked me if it was okay to connect me with a colleague who was newly pregnant and single. We exchanged FaceBook chats and I recall telling her that she needed to let go of the life she imagined for herself in order to fall in love with the one she had.

Here is Dana’s Story:

Name: Dana Hughes
Age: 38
Occupation: Journalist/Media Professional
Bio: I am a former globe-trotting network news producer and reporter who now works as an editor for the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) based in Nairobi Kenya. I love Ethiopian food, hip hop and a good laugh.
Website: UNHCR Tracks: Stories
Twitter: @dana_hughes


Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a former globe-trotting network news producer and reporter who now works as an editor for UNHCR based in Nairobi Kenya. I’ve had a few different careers: actress, legal assistant, investigative producer, foreign correspondent, and now working in the humanitarian field. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

How many children do you have? 1 daughter

What has changed the most since you became a single mom?

I don’t think I ever really realized how much I made everything about me and my career. Nothing was more important, it was honestly how I defined my self-worth. With a child you really can’t be that way anymore. Life becomes about her, but also in a weird way about your health and happiness too. You want her to have the best, but you realize she can only have the best if mommy is happy and healthy. So in a strange way I am being forced to become the best version of myself, kicking and screaming mind you, but it’s the goal. There’s no more room to wallow in low self-esteem or actively make poor choices because you realize that there’s this little person who is dependent on you and you are shaping her world view.

When you have one of those days…you know the kind I am talking about…and you have to dig down deep…what is it exactly that helps you pull through?

I just think about how I am writing my daughter’s childhood. I imagine what she will say about me when she’s sitting with friends (or a therapist) in 25 years. Will she say my mom had her issues but she was present and patient and kind? Will she say I could never get her attention because she was always on her phone? Will she say my mom had expectations but wasn’t unreasonable? When I am close to losing it I really try to take a moment and remember my responsibility as a grown up and how hard it is to be a little kid sometimes. She’s not even two years old yet, so honestly I know that the truly challenging days are still to come, but I’m really trying to keep the same mentality

Who are your role models in life?

My parents are definitely my greatest role models. Whatever little bit I know about parenting came from having almost text book model parents. My grandmother who has overcome so much and worked so hard for everything she has. I’ve also had the privilege to work with some amazing women who managed to be both family oriented and maintained high power careers, Rhonda Schwartz the chief investigative producer for ABC News, Martha Raddatz, and Cynthia McFadden. I’m surrounded by amazing global role models here at the United Nations, as well.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about single mothers?

I don’t like it when people assume that we are down trodden or sad. Sure I have my days, but I generally love life and I certainly am not desperate. I also don’t really like it when people say “ Oh you’re a single mom? How do you do it? It must be so hard? I can’t imagine.”

First of all, I don’t sit back and think about how hard it is, I just do it, I don’t know any other way. People mean well, but there is a difference between pity and sympathy.

And…ugh…what is the worst thing someone has said to you about being an unmarried parent?

For me, being a black woman, the conversations about single motherhood are always laced with being a “baby mama,” that 70% of black children are born out of wed-lock and that this is the reason for black “criminality” I have a conservative friend who always posts things on Facebook about how children and especially minority children born to single mothers are predisposed to unhappiness, and instability. I finally had to ask if her if she realizes when she posts those messages and spouts those statistics that she’s talking about actual women…really she’s talking about me and my daughter, and it hurts my feelings. We are all just doing the best we can, and it doesn’t help anyone, especially single mothers to pass judgment on them.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received about (single) motherhood?

It’s a piece I am still trying to work out: That I need to make sure to take care of myself and that I deserve me time and to do things just for me, to go out and to have fun on occasion. Really this isn’t too different than advice I think all new mothers get, but I feel like it’s especially important to do as a single mom because it’s just you so you have to remain fresh. But because it’s just you, it makes it that much harder to enforce.

What makes your heart sing?

I tear up when I think about how incredibly blessed I am. When I was pregnant, I was scared and lonely and unsure about how this would all work out. Now I look at my daughter, who’s learning Swahili from her nanny, and whose best buddy is a little girl from Belgium upstairs, really becoming a global citizen. I think about the amazing job I currently have working for the UN refugee agency in sunny, gorgeous Kenya and I can’t believe how lucky I am. Because of my daughter my life is different than what I expected, but is actually exactly how I always wanted it to be.

What perspective is missing in the broader single mom narrative that exists in this country?

I think perhaps my perspective, which is that of being a professional older minority single mother. I feel like articles and discussions on single parenting either fall into three categories: that of the career driven white woman who decided to become a single mother by choice; people who are divorced; or of the poor down trodden “baby mama” whose child is destined to be a drug dealer or thug. I would like to see more studies and articles incorporate other aspects of a child’s upbringing in determining success as an adult such as income, education level of the parents, extended family and friends.

And how are you #RebrandingTheSingleMom?

By showing that single motherhood changes some priorities but it’s not a sacrifice of who you are fundamentally. I’m proud of myself for changing jobs and moving countries for a job that is less secure in the short term, but something that was right for me and would make me happy. That’s something I would have done without my daughter. I’m a mom, but I’m still a risk taker, I’m still a hard worker, I’m still joyous, and contrary to what I myself believed when I was pregnant, I still have the capacity to be a rock star in whatever I choose.

What is the single biggest surprise you learned about being a single mom AFTER you became one yourself?

I was surprised at the fact that it was hard, but was not as impossible as I imagined it would be. And that’s mostly because I actually really enjoy motherhood. “Sacrifices” for her, like moving to a place where I can afford help and still be comfortable, haven’t felt like sacrifices at all. My daughter and I are a little team with a special bond. That’s not to say I don’t hope to eventually find someone to share our lives with, or that I don’t have days where I’m scared she will grow up with “daddy issues” But right now, in the present, being her mom is the most exhausting and rewarding job I’ve ever had. I’m so excited to be on this adventure of life with her!