In the three years that I’ve been wandering this scary single mom track, I have been incredibly fortunate and challenged in so many ways. I’ve had my eyes opened to an entirely different way of life, even though I was a single mom the first four years of my oldest daughter’s life. These past three years have definitely been unique with ups and downs.
I spent 15 years dating and married and a lot changed in that time period, such as divorce rates and single parent household statistics. In my experience, I’ve seen that most people have a stereotypical view of the single parent. This view may not specifically apply to those single parents they actually know. Thanks to the social media infiltration of our lives, these negative views are tossed out there as casually as someone would change their shirt. I’d like to share some thoughts in a Do’s & Don’ts format of interacting with single parents, though more so from a momma’s perspective. I have not experienced all of the Don’ts personally, but I have seen the hurt inflicted on those in my motley network of single friends. Likewise I have not experienced all the Do’s either, but one of my favorite sayings is, “See a need, fill a need.” (quote from the animated movie “Robots.” I’m sure many parents will recognize.) I will start with the Don’ts so we can end on a positive note.
1. Please don’t ask if all the children have the same “baby daddy” or “baby momma.” Do we all know what that means? I’m asking you not to assume that the single parent with two or more kids has been sleeping around from one dysfunctional relationship to another. Single parents are in that situation for a variety of reasons and even if the case involves different biological parents, it should not factor in receiving help in any way. We already feel the loss of the other parent(s) and the effect that has on our children without this rude question.
2. Please don’t assume the reason my child doesn’t have______________ is because the money was spent on drug of choice __________________. Single parents often have to make hard decisions of where their often limited income is spent and if their child has to go without, believe me it is probably already weighing on that single parent without the added suspicion of drug or alcohol abuse. The media has played a huge role in this stereotype by flashing stories of parents fighting a losing battle of addiction while neglecting their children. We see horror stories that go viral on the social media, but it’s not the face of the majority of single parents.
3. Please don’t assume we are “working” the system. This goes hand- in-hand with suspected substance abuse and multiple children in order to reap the benefits of the Welfare system. We hear stories of fraud and deception by parents (and non-parents) manipulating resources that are meant to be a “hand up, not a hand out.” This is one that I’ve felt particularly hurt and put on the defensive by in my single parent journey. The following pictures help to explain:
And my favorite: Taken from http://www.whitehouse.gov/2012-taxreceipt that breaks down where the tax dollars of a typical married couple with 2 kids paying taxes on $80k a year go. (You can enter your tax info or income to get your breakdown)
Job and Family Security (Overall) 17.26% $771.35
Unemployment insurance 0.99% $44.24
Food and nutrition assistance 3.89% $173.84
Housing assistance 1.74% $77.76
Earned income, Making Work Pay, and child tax credits 2.81% $125.58
Supplemental Security Income 1.74% $77.76
Federal military and civilian employee retirement and disability 4.45% $198.87
Child care, foster care, and adoption support 0.57% $25.47
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families 0.61% $27.26
The largest demographic of who benefits from the program are children and others who are not expected to work, such as the elderly and disabled. As the first picture shows, it is shameful to admit needing that help to feed our families. Most single parents wouldn’t use the program, unless it was absolutely needed to free up money they earn (working!) to pay for other necessities, such as utility bills. TANF (commonly called “Welfare”) takes less than $30 from the typical taxpayer, less than the cost of that family to go out to dinner and the SNAP program falls in under $200. Yet, the receivers of this assistance are targeted with a prejudice that is overwhelming in regards to the actual facts. I’ve been brought low by inconsiderate generalized comments online, as well as the case workers who have made me feel like a criminal trying to steal from them. To be fair, not all single parents are on assistance.
4. Please don’t judge the single parent on the actions and behavior of his or her child. Single parents are already more than aware of how our children behave and many times feel self-conscious as it is. Many things feed into a child’s behavior. I will say upfront that many parents agree consistency is the key for discipline, and I’ll apologize if I speak out of line here, but consistency is a very hard for a single parent to accomplish. If the child spends time split between two homes, that child is typically exposed to two sets of rules, consequences, and parental buttons to push. If the child is with one parent 24/7, then that parent is facing exhaustion, no breaks and an infinite number of times that require direction or correction. Consistency can be a death march. In either situation, single parents lack serious quality time with our children and sometimes that results in guilt- purchases, free passes “this once”, or just not knowing how to handle a situation on our own. Not asking anyone to overlook something that is inappropriate, or would cause harm, but hold the judgement because parenting is a tough job even when you have a partner. This isn’t even touching on the complex combinations of a child’s development and personality.
5. Don’t offer advice along the lines of “If I were in your place I’d ____________________” “You should really __________”. or “Why can’t you_______________” (my personal favorite “Why can’t you….come workout at the 5am class, get that done before you start your day?!” Um, because I can’t leave my kids in bed while my non-existent partner sleeps in the other room. Yes, this person was aware of details of my situation. THE hardest thing I have found about being on my own (even if there’s a dating partner or best friend) is the fact that NO ONE walks this same walk, fully invested day- in-and-day-out in my little crazy family.
Which leads directly to the first “DO”S……
1. Do be honest if you want to help. Ask if they would like suggestions or if they just need someone to listen to them. Sometimes we do need advice from those not in the trench with us, but from a clearer perspective the outside provides, just temper that advice with kindness.
2. Do remember the single parent’s birthday, special days, and holidays like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, or Father’s Day. If you are close enough to the family then offer to take the kids out. Even if it’s just to the dollar store to purchase a surprise for their parent, or maybe making a special craft. It is so magical for a child to pull off a surprise! And that is very hard to do when the child’s only source of income & travel is the parent they want to surprise.
3. Do offer practical help. Oh, this can cover so, so much! Think outside the box, if you have a talent or business that is a common service such as auto repair (minor like oil changes, etc.), sewing, yard work, financial planning, photography, carpentry, plumbing, or electrical. Ask the single parent if there is a way for you to help. If you can be brave, step up and offer child care. We just lived through the worst winter that most can remember, my kids had 13 full snow days not counting 1 or 2 hour delays. I finally worked something out with a mom friend after the first 3-4 panic filled days of trying to find someone. But a rare evening out or a special time with only one of my children? Those are almost completely unheard of for a single parent. As a mom that works about 20 hrs a week cleaning houses, 16 hrs in school, 10-15 hrs with a small business…not counting homework x 4, some of the greatest gifts I have received (especially Finals Week) has been in the form of BBQ, pizza & casseroles. Pass the dish and share the love!!
4. Do think of single parents you know before throwing something away or donating it to large, unappreciative donation center. Especially if it’s resulting from a “luxury” purchase. For example, your husband had to have that new grill, but the old one works perfectly fine. You updated the throw pillows, bedding, or curtains, but they are still in good shape. Even if they are older, “vintage” is trendy! I haven’t met a single parent yet that will turn down new or gently used clothing. My personal favorite (and yes, this happened to me!) “You need to update appliances in order to sell your house.”
5. Do share good deals you find. Maybe you are a coupon saver and you get a few freebies like toothpaste, shampoo, body wash, and deodorant. Make a little basket and surprise them. For something extra special, pick up an extra soap or lotion at the good Bath & Body sales. Around Christmas, if you purchase gift cards many places will throw in bonus cards, nothing out of pocket for you and certain to be appreciated by that single parent!! There are also many deals like BOGO memberships to museums, play places, and attractions. Offer to share, making each ½ price, or donate if you would willingly pay full price.
6. Do ask what the single parent’s greatest concerns are. For example his or her greatest concern may be utilities, a vehicle that is running on prayers, gas money, childcare, housing maintenance…or it could be a million things. You may not be able to help with a drop of it. That’s ok. Even the concern and thoughtfulness will be appreciated. You may end up running across a possible solution (maybe a great car in their budget) once you know what that single parent needs. Even if you can’t provide a tangible fix, then you can pray for this family.