Being a solo mom can be tough. Marika Lindholm, solo mom herself, wanted to help others. So she launched ESME (Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere), a website that aims to redefine single motherhood by providing resources, inspiration, and a point of connection for the underserved community of Solo Moms.
Born in Stockholm, Sweden, Marika moved to New York City with her parents when she was a young child. Always fascinated by civil rights, women’s rights, and global issues, Marika realized when she took a sociology class that she could blend her passion with a profession. This awareness led Marika to take on graduate studies at SUNY, Stony Brook, where she received her Masters and Ph.D. in Sociology. Marika spent the next 13 years at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, teaching classes focused on issues of inequality, diversity, and gender.
During her time at Northwestern, Marika became a Solo Mom. Newly divorced with two young children, she was fortunate to have a stable job as a college professor, but realized many other Solo Moms were working for minimum wage while desperately trying to make a good life for their families. She was also aware that, while finances were a primary issue for many Solo Moms, other challenges united them: co-parenting with an ex, isolation, navigating holidays and finding much needed time for self-care.
She was inspired to build a digital resource that could help women raising kids on their own. Spurred by this new challenge she used her skill set as a sociologist, researching, conducting focus groups, and talking to Solo Moms to gain insight into their lives. The results of her inquiry made clear that women parenting alone wanted and needed support, community, and resources, eventually leading to the creation of ESME.
Marika is now remarried and living in New York’s Hudson Valley. In addition to overseeing ESME, she runs an organic farm with grapes, apples, chickens and 350,000 bees and is the mother of a blended family of five children, including two daughters that she and her husband adopted internationally.
Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
When I was a newly divorced mom juggling work and young children, I became very sick with a curable blood disorder. While doctors were trying to figure out what was wrong with me, I felt scared, weak, and alone. Even though I had a good job and friends, the reality of uncoupling was so much harder than I’d expected. When I got so sick soon after, I vowed that if I ever had the opportunity, I would try to support other women who faced similar struggles parenting without partners. The opportunity came years later, but the seeds were sown during that difficult time in my life.
What about this career choice did you find most appealing?
It’s very gratifying to apply my sociological imagination and expertise to building a company dedicated to supporting women who parent alone. I’m always inspired by hardworking Solo Moms, who do so much for their children. It’s an amazing feeling every time a mom says that she was helped by ESME.
What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
With a sociology PhD in hand and 13 years of teaching at Northwestern University under my belt, I wanted to apply my skills outside the classroom. I really had no idea what I was getting into when I pursued the idea of helping single moms. Fortunately, I’m determined, organized, and energetic. The learning curve has been steep and exciting. I love that at age 50, I’ve acquired a whole new set of skills that complement the work I’ve done as a sociologist.
Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
When I first told my friends and family that I wanted to build a support site for Solo Moms, most of them nodded their heads, said “that sounds nice,” and moved on. But once they saw our effort and the site itself, they’ve been very encouraging.
Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt career change?
I remain passionate about ESME and don’t let doubts overwhelm me. My current work is a wonderful culmination of my skills, experience, and interests. My academic background, especially my research on women and social movements, made it easy to imagine a social platform that empowers single moms. Raising children as a divorced mom and now as a stepmom and adoptive mom puts me in touch with many of the issues that ESME digs into. I’m so fortunate to be able to work in a creative, intellectual space that makes an impact.
When did your career reach a tipping point?
A tipping point was my realization that ESME.com was attracting talented Solo Moms writers, guides, and allies from all over the country. In the beginning, I relied on networks to find freelancers and collaborators, but then one day I realized that we didn’t have to push to find Solo Moms for our team. Instead, they found us!
Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
One of the most challenging aspects of building and running a website was diving into the unknown. At Northwestern, I knew my stuff and had a lot of control over what and how I taught. In my current role, I’ve had to learn so many new skills: marketing, search engine optimization, business systems, social media, content management, editorial decision making, and lots of other intangibles. Even though I’m a quick study, I’ve made a bunch of mistakes as a newbie. I’m glad I was relatively clueless when I started out, or I may have been too intimidated to move forward. My strategy is to gather as much information as I can by talking to people with experience. Regardless of what I’m trying to figure out or learn, I always ask folks who’ve been there before me, “What mistakes did you make?” Then I try very hard not to make the same mistakes. Of course, as I take risks and try to do things differently, I will make my own mistakes.
What single skill has proven to be most useful?
I read fast! Which means I have the opportunity to read widely. I read every article we publish, and I’m able to find writers and cull assignment ideas because I read voraciously. I love fiction, but also read journals and magazines, and keep up with social media on a wide range of topics.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I’m proud that I was able to transform a secret wish from the worst time in my life to a collaboration and passion project to make this the best time in my life.
Any advice for others entering your profession?
Surround yourself with people who share your vision. Start-ups can be excruciatingly demoralizing – lots can and will go wrong. You will need cheerleaders, so pick your team carefully. Team ESME rocks!
Photo credit: Circe Photography