During the winter of 2005 I called all the women I had interviewed at least four years previously.1 As many had only been in the beginning stages of family building at the time of the first interview, I asked them how their lives had changed in the intervening years. When we had first talked, most of the women had toddlers and young children, and none of the women had live-in romantic partners. Eagerly they told me about the life changes that had occurred. Somehow over the years I’d begun to feel as if their lives were fixed in time, as if their first interviews were a reflection of their lives in the future. I was surprised to find out just how much their lives had changed.

There were three questions that motivated me to pick up the phone. Prompted by my own curiosity about what had happened in the lives of these families, I wanted to answer the very questions with which people peppered me when asking what my research was about. Had these women succeeded in resequencing the nursery rhythm about love, marriage, and the baby carriage? What had become of the fathers, especially the known donors, as well as other men in their lives? Finally, had single motherhood led directly to financial disaster, or were women still successfully juggling work and family years later?

When I began this study, if I had been asked to predict these women’s futures based on their wishes as expressed in the interview, I would have guessed that single motherhood was a transition on the way to the coupled two-parent family, reversing the sequencing. I might have predicted that those who found partners would have more children. However, I certainly did not imagine that women would have more children on their own. Even if they sometimes wished

for one, they had told me that they could not afford the second alone. As I reopened these women’s stories by picking up the phone, I discovered my predictions would have been inaccurate. Many surprises awaited me on the other end of the line.

One of the biggest surprises was how the women had “completed” their fam­ilies. Despite some women’s objection to the term complete and their preference {or finished to mean that they were content with their family size and did not wish for additional members, most women happily used the term, though it was inter­preted in different ways. By the time of the update, die older women were in their late forties and fifties and most likely finished having children; however, the smaller group who had graduated from college in the late 1980s and 1990s may continue to add more children in the future. Contrary to my predictions, women did not wait for a partner to move on with their lives; instead they had second children on their own. As much as the master narrative of the nuclear family as the ideal continues to be pervasive in our culture, these women’s lives are telling a new story, one in which single motherhood can create a planned family of more than one child. The addition of another child brought closure to the fam­ilies of a smaller group of the older women. This act, the second child, trumped conformity, reluctantly taking the revolutionary act of single motherhood one step further.

As for romance, less than half of the women described themselves as cur­rently romantically involved. However, 23 percent (ten) of the women I spoke with had increased the size of their family through marriage or civil union.2 One woman married the father of her child, while an additional four spouses had adopted their partner’s child. On the surface, these women had achieved the coupled two-parent family. But as I discovered, even among this smaller group, the addition of a second parent often did not translate into the exclusion of other adults tied to the child through blood or social parenting.

Other women found “completion” without marriage or another child. As much as women may have wished for partners in the first interview, for many, that wish for a partner in romance and parenting never became reality. They therefore revised their take on family, bringing closure without a partnership or marriage. They had redefined family completion as feeling embedded in a chosen family and their own maternal kin. As much as a partner might have added a new dimension to their life with a child, they did not feel that they were lacking anything in the absence of a partner/parent. They now staged their families as a whole, no longer waiting for the entrance of a missing member from the wings. By the time of the update, they had revised this projected scenario of marriage, and the mother-child pair in the process was recast as a family finished or one unto itself.

All these women reiterated the great joy their children had brought them. Their children had transformed their lives as parenthood took center stage. This is not to say that 24/7 parenting was not stressful at times, particularly when they had young children. However, women adjusted their personal lives and employment, and often were surprised to discover that having children energized them.

Even though each of the mothers completed her family in a different man­ner, they all found ways to move across the threshold into uncharted terrain and settle comfortably into accomplished lives.