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Pay It Forward: Be A Game Changer for Single Parents


Single parents often hear the not so glorious sounds of mental exhaustion when they ask for support. They know they ask for too much. Trust me the guilt courses through our veins. Some folks overextend the favors and others don’t ask for support often enough. It’s a delicate balance. Most single parents I know work on finding the balance. But balance, in a system wrought with barriers and systemic flaws, can be almost impossible to achieve.

This year 37% of a single parent’s income went directly to childcare. With state housing and rental market rates sky high and stagnant wages it’s terribly challenging to crawl out of poverty as a single parent. Almost unfeasible. It’s not a matter of sheer will. I can attest most single parents dig into the depths of perseverance to provide stability for their children. It’s just not easy to do. The National Women’s Law Center researched the impacts and strains on low wage workers in America: 2/3 of low wage workers are women. And many of those women are moms, like me, or someone you know. It’s not like many of us aren’t trying to achieve economic security. I promise. “A full-time minimum wage worker cannot afford a two-bedroom rental home in ANY county in the U.S. and can afford a one-bedroom in only 22 counties--- and all those counties have a higher minimum wage than the federal minimum wage.” So while wages have increased they just haven’t caught up to the intense housing/rental market.

Seriously, what’s up with you Colorado? Nation?

Much of society clings to the fable of the American Dream- a white house, picket fence, pet, car, and a job with full benefits is absolutely possible if you work hard enough. I’m here to tell you that’s a sham. It’s a falsehood for many coupled Americans as well. And further, it’s unhealthy to perpetuate such ideals in our culture. We already have a mental health crisis in America--- let’s not keep driving the false narrative if you do not own a home, drive a reliable mode of transportation and contribute to a 401K you’ve failed at adulting. Even worse, let’s not shame folks for having children and struggling. This problem permeates all kinds of families. The practice of adhering to a bias such as this not only punishes the parent, but also the children. They did not choose their circumstance. They inherited it.

Case in point: I lived in a condo by the beach with my husband when I conceived. I never imagined 9 months later I’d be essentially homeless couch surfing and arranging to live with my baby sister and her family. I held down a career, utilized my college degree, and possessed several credit cards with healthy allowances. One incident changed everything. Divorce. I did not intend to skip down poverty lane. Life hurled me on a runaway train and told me to hang on for dear life. And God, it’s been a ride.

To hang on I filed for assistance. WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and food stamps kept me fed while I nursed my infant son; he needed quality nutrition from a mother consuming nutritious foods. People stared at me in the lines as I turned in my vouchers. Whatever. Judge away. These apples will taste awesome and the protein builds my strength for late night nursing sessions. Good Luck with your Hungry Man judgmental dude in line. Mama got no shame.

I thank the universe for allowing me the opportunity to benefit from these programs. Politics aside… my tiny baby thrived because I had these supports. Someone checked on MY health as well as HIS. For that, I am eternally grateful. Divorce took a huge toll on my well-being. Depression kept me from eating. Anxiety robbed me of sleep. Bad things to experience alongside postpartum depression.

I cashed out my retirement to pay attorney fees and bills (so long dream farm—I won’t be livin’ off that fatta’ the lan’ any time soon Of Mice and Men reference-- READ IT).

I constantly felt overwhelmed by how society reminded me in a series of micro-aggressions my value as a person decreased when my financial worth took a blow. I took on a variety of professional jobs. I say this because often it was assumed by others I worked in undesirable fields like fast food or customer service earning low wages (which by the way don’t ever think these are “bad” jobs—if you are employed you are doing your part). Why didn’t I just get a better job?

I had a great job. I taught middle and high school English (a noble profession), accepted every summer school position available, and set up a pack and play in my classroom so I could serve on the after school teaching team. I added a weekend and weeknight position helping watch children at my church. Even now I work in the non-profit sector, teach on the weekends and volunteer for my ministry. I’d hardly contend my poverty status is due to lack of work ethic and education. No matter how many jobs I took on I never could earn the consistent $22.10 to afford costs of living and the debt I acquired in divorcing alongside the high costs of childcare (National Women’s Law Center). In the first year alone, the Bear’s childcare cost was $1800, over half my paycheck. I was always tired, behind on grading, and felt like a failure.

And to be honest… can I be honest? Nausea sets in when others assume I lack credentials or job skills because I am a single parent. I’m smart, educated, from a two parent household, and meet many statistics that say I should be thriving. But I’m not economically. Statistics don’t do all the speaking for me and they shouldn’t for you. I know many single parents with strong skill sets haunted by the pressures of both parenting and working full-time.

Single parents encounter challenges like work attendance that compromise future raises and promotions. I use all my sick days before Christmas. During his younger years my kiddo constantly leaked boogers and came down with a severe case of the croup a couple times a year. I’ve learned employers can’t stand moms like me—we cost them precious productivity. And so the relationships at work suffer. Not because we can’t get along, but we serve as questionable delegates of the brand due to our constant lack of reliable attendance. In 2016, The National Women’s Law Center stated that “many low-wage working moms are one illness away from getting fired.” But gosh “we admire you” comes up a lot when it’s time to brag about the accepting nature of the joint. Whatever. Here’s my latest time off request for school break I can’t seem to work out with my ex without hiring an attorney.

My tone sounds harsh. I don’t mean it that way. I just build a protective barrier when I share my experience. I also detach from the personal angst by examining the systems and data. I want to help turn the tides of the collective data and enhance the cultural awareness of helping single parent families advance. I see the impact of employee turnover due to lack of affordable childcare or housing (60% could be reduced if better measures were in place) each time a mama sends me a message looking for new work. I see scarcity when I look at the Housing Authority’s sign in my town that basically tells people to not apply because the line for an affordable home is so long.

And so many married or single parent households are also one financial or health emergency away from monetary demise. ONE!

This tells me the complexity of the system needs attention. We have 1 in 6 children in Colorado not knowing where their next meal will come from (Colorado Blueprint To End Hunger). That number isn’t completely accurate though—we know the stats do not align with the full scope of the problem.

But when we meet basic needs we raise thriving children no matter which side of the tracks they live on or how many parents they live with. This is why support matters.

And just like the typical nuclear family, single parents also strive to raise successful and well-adjusted adults. Sadly, research indicates this will be harder (McLanahan and Jencks). And the reality is the construction of defining a family has tremendously changed over the years. We have single parent, adoptive, foster, LBGTQ, two-parent households of all varieties at play now. We ALL have a hard job. Some just start at a different line for the race.

So why do I choose to post THIS post after over a month of essentially being M.I.A? Because in November my car plagued me with repair costs and I have minimal savings and a terrible line of credit. I feel blessed when the person who helped me pay some lawyer fees allowed me to pay a little less so I can take my son somewhere fun for his birthday and buy all those fixins’ for Thanksgiving. I feel lucky a friend watches my son so I can work on the weekends without paying half my wages back to childcare. My heart feels richly blessed through loving supports while I figure out my car fiasco.

Because my only choice is to figure it out.

Small gestures make a tremendous difference in a single parent’s life and can help a parent complete a task they need to actually be able to problem solve. We (single parents) know it sucks to give up a Saturday to watch our kid or replace the exhaust manifold in our junky car. We know that. And we appreciate it. I APPRECIATE IT. These Saturdays invest in our future stability. These Saturdays give us the opportunity to pay a bill off or take our kiddo to the book fair. It doesn’t take much, not even money, to help a parent in need. I’m broke and I help mamas all the time by giving my time, my expertise, and my servant’s heart to the cause.

You can do this too. It’s easy. Sincerely offer to help a friend, co-worker or relative. Join their village of reliable support. Buy her a coffee once for no reason or be like my old boss who handed me $10 bucks and told me to leave early and get a glass of wine so I might do something just for me. Be an employer that offers flexibility or participates in programs to help off-set childcare costs like Family Business Solutions. Send a single parent’s address to five relatives to send a gift card back to her/him throughout the year. Just do something kind. Kindness changes the game. Be a game changer.

Love,

Jessica

Try a little kindness... IT FEELS AHHHHHMAZING!


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