Wisdom from Fashion Veteran Pegan Melvin on Single Motherhood

After many years in the fashion industry, Pegan Melvin knows that style is very individual; what looks good on one person may not work so well for another. She feels the same way when it comes to sharing her experiences as a single mom.

While she has established a successful career in the high-end fashion world as she raises daughter Parker Dozier, now 10, she is cautious about being definite about too many dos and don’ts for others attempting the same juggling act.

“A lot of the time, we tend to push out judgment on people based on the way that we live and the way we are,” she tells WayMaker Journal. “And everybody has to give grace… It’s nobody’s business to judge. As a working mom, a stay-at-home mom, a single mom, a mom that’s in the household with the dad, you have to figure out what works for you, and it may not appease everyone.”

There’s no perfect answer, she says. “You just keep going… every day you take it day by day and you get the job done. You make sure they’re fed, they’re happy, they’re thriving, they’re intelligent and you push through.”

Having said that, some of the lessons she has learned from her 10-year journey do offer insight and encouragement to the single-mom community she is part of. And it’s a significant one: around two-thirds of Black mothers are unmarried and, according to the Economic Policy Unit, half of all African American female workers are moms, making them “uniquely central to the economic well-being of their families.”

Ignore the critics, Melvin says. “Do not beat yourself down for being in this role by yourself. Hold your head high with that title because it’s a beautiful role and there are so many successful, thriving adults who come from single-mom households.”

Although you’re responsible for it all, you can’t do it all.

Learning balance

Though she struggled with “so much mom guilt” when she first returned to work (“I was definitely a mess”) when Parker was around 2, she has since found a rhythm and balance that might be said to have two foundational principles—team and time.

Team is the other people needed to help out. Being a single mom means “knowing that although you’re responsible for it all, you can’t do it all,” she says. “So, leaning on family members as much as possible.” Friends are an important part of your support system, too.

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Time has two elements. First, making the most of the hours you have in a day to get everything done: “The schedule and the structure.” Then there is the important aspect of making sure to take time for yourself. “Focus on your own mental health to make sure you can provide and be what you need to be for this child, because if you’re not mentally there, there’s no way for you to be the parent that you need to be.”

Between managing a Canada Goose store in Short Hills, New Jersey, running her nearby West Orange home and parenting, Melvin has learned it is important to “carve out time for yourself.” It has gotten a little easier as Parker has grown, “but there’s definitely still a challenge to this day. Do I go out with my friends for brunch, or do I spend time at the bouncy place with my daughter? It’s still challenging. It’s always going to be hard to know which way to lean.”

Melvin knows how difficult it can be to balance momhood with a working life, especially in a sector like hers that’s “24/7; it’s holidays, it’s weekends.” Explaining what she does to Parker and having her come along on occasions—“she’s pretty much been to all my jobs”—helped her daughter appreciate some of the challenges. “She’s very aware and understanding.”

One Christmas, her boss had Melvin work the holiday. “I was running the store in Soho and we had Christmas, we opened the presents, and then we drove to New York and I literally had her in the stockroom with me,” Melvin recalls. “That day, it was crazy.”

From her experiences she has learned the hard way the importance of emphasizing her priority to Parker with employers. “I needed them to be very clear that my child was first, as I’m the sole provider for her. I just want anyone to know that that’s my priority above everything. So if it’s a school calling [that she is] sick, I’ve got to go. If it’s a play that’s happening, I need to be there. I need that flexibility from anyone I am involved with.”

That’s a conversation she recommends having before starting a new job, though she recognizes some women may be reluctant to say they are a single mom for fear that they may not be given the opportunity. “Knowing as much as I know now, I know that that’s something I have to communicate upfront and if it doesn’t work out, then it’s just not the company for me.” Just be honest and upfront, she advises.

It’s a little easier to do that these days, Melvin believes, because the climate has changed some over the last few years. With more women in executive roles who have children themselves, “they knew the challenges and what was needed as far as balance. They knew the importance of being there for those special moments. You want to find your type of people, your type of company that will understand that for you.”

Paying attention

Melvin’s parents and family are a key part of her support system. Her father “plays a huge role in the pickup, drop-off portion or whatever I need,” she says. “If I’m like, ‘Hey Dad, we need gym clothes,’ he’s the one that’ll move fast for me. I’m blessed and lucky to have that.”

Their relationship has evolved: “My dad is not the same as when I was a kid; him being a granddad, he is completely different.” She appreciates the way he compliments her, and highlights his honesty and willingness to have tough conversations. “He’s going to tell me when I’m out of pocket; he’s going to tell me when I’m overreacting.”

She references one discussion about when Parker should get a cellphone and keys. “He won obviously,” she says with a laugh, “but what he told me is to kind of trust, give her a little more freedom and not really smother her. That’s what I would do; like, when she would do something wrong, it would be instant, ‘That’s wrong,’ instead of allowing her to kind of work through it. My dad definitely taught me, ‘You’ve done a good job. I can see it; I watched her when you’re not there. I watched the mannerisms. So, give her freedom to figure it out, but just stay aware, always.’”

Her father has also been an encouragement as Parker has neared puberty. “I wasn’t prepared for that,” Melvin admits. “They talk to you about the baby stage and the toddler stage, but it was just like, ‘Oh, we’re already here. How do I have these conversations? Is she comfortable with it? How do I ease into it?’”

Melvin realizes that “you can read all the books, but you have to pay attention to your child… When you think you have a stage in their life figured out, there’s something new. It’s like, ‘Hey, Mommy, now I like green. I don’t like pink anymore.’ And ‘I want to do this now.’” It’s about “feeding your kid as much knowledge as possible and letting them be an individual and respecting that they may have a difference of opinion or a different personality than you and working with that.”

If navigating the tween and teen years is daunting, dating is a whole other challenge—especially scary when you’re a single mom with a daughter, Melvin says. The 30-something has had only one serious relationship since breaking up with Parker’s dad when she was a baby. “At this point, I realize that I have to date someone who also has children,” she says. “That’s the only way for them to understand when I’m not available. ‘You want to come out?’ ‘Hey, school night.’”

With all that in mind, Melvin names empathy as an important quality in a potential romantic partner. “They have to like kids,” she says. “A lot of people are like, ‘No, I don’t really like kids.’ I’m like, ‘How can you not like kids? They’re the most pure thing in this world.’”

Stability is important too—someone who is established in their career. “Professionalism,” Melvin goes on. “I want them to be able to teach me, to have the patience to teach me, which translates into teaching my daughter or our future kids.” She is not interested in anything casual. Her first question is always: “What are you looking for?” Answering “I don’t know” ends the conversation. “I want a family at this point,” says Melvin. “I don’t have the time to play with people.”

Give yourself grace; you’re not supposed to know everything.

Having faith

What’s her advice to women who are stepping into single motherhood for the first time? She is reluctant to be too definite, recognizing that situations vary depending on the person’s circumstances. “Give yourself grace; you’re not supposed to know everything,” she offers. “Trust your instinct and your gut and just trust the process.”

If you feel like you haven’t got it all worked out yet, don’t worry; that’s normal, she says. “You’ll figure it out. You just get to a point where you have the schedule and the structure and you understand what’s needed.”

While she notes that not everyone views the title “single mom” positively, Melvin encourages women in that role to be proud. “We never expected to have to play the role of being a provider and being the nurturer and being the cook, the cleaner, to play all these roles, but it’s the cards that we were dealt.”

Parenting is tough, she acknowledges, but she believes there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. “Just know that it’s part of the cycle and all moms have been through it—single or even married—and just give yourself grace. Take your time. You’re going to do a great job.”

For Melvin, faith is an important pillar. During the coronavirus pandemic, like many others, she lost her job—but as the sole provider for her home, the hit was even harder. “COVID almost broke me, honestly,” she admits. But the difficult situation also emphasized the importance of ensuring her own mental health and pressed her “closer to God; it provided some type of comfort for me during that time when it was so tough.”

COVID-19 was testing in some unique ways, though the layoff also meant some additional bonding time with Parker, for which she was grateful. “God bless all the teachers, because homeschooling during COVID was the most challenging thing for me,” she says.

Reluctant though she may be to be too specific in passing on what she has learned, what closing thoughts might she have? “I say trust in God; definitely pray. Lean on family. Talk yourself through it. If you can’t figure it out, google it. Ask advice, have mentors and just keep going.”

From an interview with Louis Carr