How Single Parents Are Making It Work During The Pandemic
Nearly a quarter of the children under 18 live in a single-parent home in the U.S., according to a Pew Research Center report.
During the pandemic, many single-income homes are facing unemployment without the safety net of older family members, who can’t risk helping with child care. Some are turning to organizations like Texas-based Single Parent Advocate for help.
Single mom Stacie Poythress founded Single Parent Advocate to provide resources and community families like hers. Poythress talks about the ‘five Ds’ that connect single-parent families: the death of a spouse, divorce, disease, disability or a decision
“Those types of situations set us up in an economy that really is not designed for a single head of household raising two or more children on their own,” she says. “And we together have the responsibility to figure out how are we going to make it possible for these families to thrive?”
After the financial crisis in 2008, Poythress was displaced and looking for assistance. She called 211 and was told she was eligible for $14 in food stamps but not health coverage since she wasn’t pregnant.
The experience sparked a “burning desire in my heart to not leave that place without changing it,” she says, and inspired her to start Single Parent Advocate. The organization supports tuition assistance, teaching job skills and flexible work hours for single parents.
One registered nurse and single mom recently said she feels punished for working, for being the last parent to pick up her kids from school, Poythress says. In North Texas, one in three kids are being raised by a single parent, she says, and the cost to raise two kids on your own there is $48,000.
“There’s not enough jobs out there that pay enough for that size of the population to succeed without assistance,” she says.
During the pandemic, single parents are facing job loss, lack of access to food and worries about paying rent and utility bills, she says. Families are asking for assistance with car repair and books to stay in online college. One mother with cancer asked for help paying doctors’ copays, she says.
But single parents who need help often feel like they’re “wearing out their community” by asking for too much, she says.
“I would say to the single parents out there, raise your hand, pick up the phone and call someone,” she says. “We tend to hide our struggle from the counselors and the powers that be at schools because we don’t want to set off any red flags that you’re not the best parent, especially single fathers.”
Single father Chi Mak has recently received help from Single Parent Advocate. Mak is raising quadruplets after their mother died during their birth eight years ago.
As a single parent, he says he’s often looked at as a deadbeat dad because it’s hard to hold a well-paying job with the demands of parenting. He stopped full-time work before the pandemic and has since struggled to find part-time work, now delivering dry cleaning.
At work, employers sometimes assume Mak can work extra hours and unload his children onto his wife. But he doesn’t speak up out of fear of losing the job.
“When I used to be a software coder, they would just be discouraged to let me join the project because they think that I have problems finding child care if they knew that I was a single dad,” he says. “So I don’t dare let people know at work. And so there’s no pictures of my kids. Nothing.”
During the pandemic, Mak says his kids know about the family’s tough financial situation. At the grocery store, the kids see him put back his favorite Ferrero Rocher chocolates because he didn’t make enough money during the month.
It’s difficult to find work with few opportunities for jobs that tend to favor women such as retail, delivery driving, babysitting or cleaning houses, he says. Now with the kids home doing hybrid schooling, he has more stress and less time to sleep.
And while Mak makes deliveries, the kids connect to WiFi in his car and do their schoolwork. With Google Maps on blast to drown out complaints from the kids, he hustles to get his deliveries done within the hour as mandated by his contract.
“There’s no time for myself,” he says. “I know everyone always talks about self-care, so it always seems [to be] what gets sacrificed because it’s the one thing that does give.”
When Mak reaches out to other men for help, he says they tell him to find a good woman to help raise his children, especially when bringing up the “girl problems” his two daughters experience. Asking for help often leads to shame or rejection, he says.
Mak says small things such as immunization forms demonstrate how the single parent world in Texas is set up for women. Single Parent Advocate is one of the few organizations he’s connected with that serves single mothers and fathers.
Single Parent Advocate has helped provide family activities such as a Father’s Day celebration this year where everyone cheered for the single dads, Mak says. And founder Poythress helped Mak with Christmas gifts for his children.
“I had to wrap it,” he says, “but at least there was something under the tree.”
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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