Have you ever jumped up and down on a trampoline? It bounces because of the springs that connect the stretched fabric to the outer frame. If you become a single parent, you could be a bit like that trampoline. With support from friends and family, you will find that you can be flexible, strong and more able to bounce back from challenges. If you try to go it alone or without a proper plan, you may find yourself feeling flimsy and weak. Because a support structure is so important to single parents, you will want to plan to have each “spring” of your support structure in place as you need it. So let’s examine a few of the necessary springs.
Creating a Budget
First, take an honest look at your financial situation. To care for yourself and your baby, you must plan ahead so that you will be ready for expenses. Begin by making a list of one-time expenses (stroller, crib, bottles, car seat, etc.). Then add all the monthly recurring costs, such as diapers, formula, rent, food, transportation, daycare, cell phone and utilities.
Unless you plan on living with family, now is the time to find out the cost of renting an apartment in your area. Usually, you will be required to pay the first month’s rent plus a security deposit. If rent does not include cable and utilities, these costs, plus the initial cost of having them hooked up will be your responsibility.
As you budget, allow for unplanned expenses such as doctor visits and other emergencies. Newborns require doctor visits on the average of six times in the first year. Also, people often forget to budget money for entertainment, eating out, and movies. Anything that you regularly spend money on should be listed in your budget.
Now jot down the amount of money you have coming in every month:
- Do you have income from a job?
- Do you have family or friends who will help support you financially?
- Do you receive federal aid, such as food stamps, WIC, or Welfare/Aid to Families with Dependent Children?
- Does the birth father pay child support?
After totaling all your monthly income, determine whether you will have enough to pay for all of your monthly expenses. If not, you may need to change jobs, look for other financial aid or family assistance or reconsider your available options and solutions.
Your Future and Statistics
Statistics show that many single mothers who do not finish high school before they have their babies never do finish. Most of these same mothers live at or below the poverty level, relying on welfare for extended periods. Statistics also show that many single mothers have another child within the first two years following baby number one, making it even more difficult to finish school. It is easy to see why having a plan for completing your education and using birth control (if you are going to be sexually active) must become a priority for you.
However, working out a way to get your diploma is not always something you can do alone. Let your counselor help. A counselor may also be able to help you find public assistance like food stamps, daycare and financial assistance in the form of welfare, infant formula, medical care or even housing subsidies, if those are needed. You can also call your County Health Department or look up the state government section and call the Department of Social Services or the Department of Human Services.
If you determine that you need to apply for state or federal aid, you should consider using it only on a temporary or short term basis, as it will be only enough to allow you to live just above the poverty level. Your long-term goal should be to continue your education so that you can become qualified for a job that will support a more secure and comfortable lifestyle for both you and your child.
Getting proper prenatal care for both you and your baby is essential because it affects not only the quality of your life but also the health of your baby. You can begin receiving prenatal care from your own physician, or your counselor can help you find a clinic for prenatal care. If finances are a problem, call a pregnancy counseling center or family planning center. You can also call Options Magazine at 1-866-678-6247 or go to www.UnplannedPregnancy.com for a free referral to a qualified counselor in your area. Counselors can help you find a good health care provider that you can afford. If your hospital costs for labor and delivery are not covered by insurance, you may qualify for financial aid (Medicaid) to help cover these costs, so do not forget to ask about this. Receiving good prenatal care allows you to enjoy a safer pregnancy while helping to ensure that you deliver a healthy baby.
Another important factor could be your family and friends. This might be a good time to take stock of your support system:
- Has someone offered to care for your baby while you go to school or work?
- Can anyone help out with the bills if money gets tight?
Both financial and emotional support will be important to you, particularly after the baby arrives. Even if your parents can help you out, they may still need time to adjust to your new role as a mother. Tensions might arise if they try to help or give you unsolicited advice. So try to be patient and flexible (like a trampoline mat). The same goes for how you treat your siblings, if they live at home with you. Be patient and let them adjust to your new role too. You might even involve the family in your experience by sharing your child’s life with them and letting them help with the baby. But be sure you always take primary responsibility for your baby’s needs and let them do the fun things. Keep in mind that your family may be sacrificing a lot of their time and money to help you out. So whether you live at home for a few months or as long as a few years, it should always be seen as a temporary arrangement while you prepare to be on your own.
Finally, be considerate of the stress that a new baby may create for the family, especially if your parents are not in good health. If they help with babysitting or caring for your child, thank them often with kind words and deeds. Do not take them for granted or abuse their generosity. In spite of their love for their children, grandparents often set limits on how much time they will tend grandchildren.
Do Not Forget the Father
Although some fathers disappear when they find out that they are expecting, others choose to remain in the picture in some capacity – even if they don’t marry the mother or actively parent the child. It is important to talk with the father immediately to find out what involvement he wants to have, to learn how he feels about fatherhood and to determine what responsibilities he is willing to assume.
Even if you do not want the father to be involved, you will need to understand that when you give birth to your child, he will have certain legal parental rights that he may exercise. These rights, while dependent on several factors, may include visitation or even joint custody, as many states grant both parents equal parenting rights after the baby is born. Because those rights vary by state, ask your counselor or an attorney what applies in your state. Also, find out ASAP how much financial support the father is planning to give you. Regardless of whether he is willing to help with money, he will have a legal obligation to do so, and you should arrange for legally binding child support from him in case there are problems in the future. Ask your counselor how to arrange for child support.
In coming to a final decision about single parenting, you should ask yourself:
- Have I felt pressure from the father to keep the baby?
- Have my parents and friends pressured me to keep the baby?
- Do they have my best interests at heart?
No matter how you answer those questions, the bottom line is that no one but you should make the decision to single parent, because only you will have the responsibility of raising your child.
Finally, be as resilient as possible. You may “burn out” if you try to make all of the decisions and take on every responsibility at once. Instead, handle each problem as it arises. If you start feeling overwhelmed at any point, ask someone for help. Go to your parents, talk with a counselor, call a support hotline or visit a pregnancy counseling center, family planning center or clergyman. These people can help you objectively find solutions to your problems.
You will also want to be firm in implementing your plans so that you can begin to move on with your life as soon as possible. You will have a lot to do as a single parent, and the sooner you start to prepare, the more organized and confident you will feel.
It is possible to set up the “springs” in your support system to give you both flexibility and strength. If you do, you can bounce back in tough situations and adjust to your new life as a single parent with courage and determination.