I received an email last month that moved me to tears. It not only solidified my desire to make mater mea a resource to our readers—it inspired a whole new series called “It Takes A Village.”
“It Takes A Village” will offer support to readers in need of advice. If you have any insight on an issue, I encourage you to add your perspective in the comments to help us build a community of women helping women. Sometimes we feel like our problems are unique and like we have to reinvent the wheel to solve them, when there’s already an answer out there. Sharing your hard-earned knowledge can help improve someone else’s life. Take a look at the first entry, and share with someone you know who is going through a similar situation.
This letter has been edited for length and clarity.
Dear It Takes A Village,
I have a 2.5-year-old daughter. I’m 25 years old and I live in Los Angeles. Her father pays a minimal amount of child support in comparison to my bills, and doesn’t relieve me with time to myself. He comes around every other week or so and wants me to be there during that time because he’s not comfortable with her alone. I get annoyed with that, but also feel like I don’t trust him alone to care for her anyways.
I barely make enough money to get by, and I make too much money to get assistance or help for expenses, so I’m always struggling. My pay rate is $16.00 an hour, roughly about $640 gross, $525 after taxes per week. I’ve reached out for assistance with food stamps; I qualify for $10 a month. I have to pay my childcare out of pocket because I’m no longer in the bracket of poverty—I must have missed that though because it sure feels like it. $200 a week in childcare, $175 a week in rent, $100 a week in food and transportation is what my checks cover.
I work from 8 to 5, but leave my house around 6 a.m. because getting on and off the bus to drop her off at daycare first [takes] about 1 hour, 45 minutes to 2 hours a day to travel there and the same amount of time back.
It makes me so angry and depressed that I want to scream.
I rent a room and bathroom in Woodland Hills and don’t even feel like I can parent my daughter the right way because of it. I can’t just let her cry things out or tune out her crying. I also wake up earlier than everybody in the house to catch the bus to work every day and getting her ready is a nightmare. I’m writing this after dropping her off at daycare—before that I was hysterical crying because I was so frustrated. She knocked over her cereal, wouldn’t let me change her clothes or brush her hair. I can’t even be loud or do anything but give her what she wants because of our living circumstances.
It makes me so angry and depressed that I want to scream. I don’t think it’s a healthy way to start my day. I feel miserable and like I want her to grow up and that I will never do this again. The amount of time, money, and energy it takes to raise her makes me feel like it is impossible to get ahead or be happy in life and I can’t even parent her the way I want to because I can’t afford to live by myself. She won’t even eat the food I make for her. Everything is a fight. I don’t have the fight in me anymore and I feel miserable and depressed.
I have friends, but they’re younger and living a different type of life. My brother helped a lot until he joined the military. My mom is super unreliable and on-again, off-again with her health. I’m legit out here trying to survive alone with my baby girl, but she is making it so much harder.
I need to know what to do. I feel like I need mental help. I want to go to school, I want to start a blog. I want to excel in life and get to a point where everything isn’t always so bad, but I don’t know how to get ahead. How do you get ahead alone with a baby? I can’t even work a second overnight job or something because I literally am the only one who has her and she can only be at daycare everyday for so long.
First off, I want to send you a long-distance hug and tell you what an amazing mother and person you are. You are carrying an incredible load on your shoulders, and I can only imagine how physically and emotionally draining that weight must be. But you’re doing it, and your daughter will appreciate it when she’s old enough to understand how fierce your love is.
I’ve compiled a few ideas on ways you can try to lessen your load:
1. Build a new community and use your existing community.
Whether single or partnered, the number one thing all of the women I interview say they need to have to be successful is community. Having people who can either physically or emotionally carry the weight of being a working a mother can’t be overstated. Despite the burden of the strong Black woman narrative, we are not superheroes—and even superheroes have their own teams to support them (hello, Justice League and Avengers).
Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like you have much of a community to help lift you up right now, but that can change. I know you said your mother is unreliable, but does she have access to other resources you can use that could be of help? A car you can borrow to make your commute easier? And what about your friends? Maybe you can’t party with them anymore, but perhaps you can set up child-friendly dates with them. That way, your daughter can be entertained while you get to have some much-needed time with adults.
Even superheroes have their own teams to support them…
Your daughter’s father could also stand to step up more. Does he have a community you can tap into to help, parents who can help watch your daughter? People who can help him raise his parenting IQ? He could help unload some of the stress you’re feeling as being the main parent, but first he needs to figure out and address why he’s so afraid of being alone with the baby. Once he’s more comfortable with your daughter, you may be able to trust him with her more.
You may also want to start building a community as well. Consider asking your child care provider if they know of any other single moms who you and your daughter could have play dates with; if you vibe with the mother, she could become part of your support network, either as someone you can relate to and feel a little less alone, or as someone you can partner with to help each other with the hard work of mothering.
I had a hard time finding active online communities for Black single mothers to connect (readers, if you know of any, please include a link in the comments!), but I found a few organizations in your area that may provide community and resources for you: Extended Family, Single Mothers Outreach, Titus Single Parent Mentoring, and Generation HER (this is for women ages 13-23, but it could be worth it to see if you can join the community, too).
2. Take care of yourself.
Self-care is of the utmost importance: As the old saying goes, if mama ain’t happy, no one’s happy.
You mentioned feeling angry and depressed, and being in need of services for your mental health. One of our readers suggested Bethany Christian Services for counseling. They accept payment through insurance, and if your insurance doesn’t cover their services, they can work with you on a sliding scale to make the cost of sessions more affordable. They also offer family counseling, which may help you develop some healthy coping mechanisms to deal with your frustration with your daughter’s “terrible twos” tantrums. (Early Childhood Parenting Center in Santa Monica also offers parenting education where counselors can come to you.)
You WILL get on the other side of this.
It sounds like you’re living a very isolated life with just the two of you—you need some time for yourself. That’s where asking your daughter’s father to step in more can help; it could let you carve out a few hours just for yourself.
Exercising can be a great way to ground yourself, while staying healthy for you and your daughter. YMCA offers many exercise classes, and has the added bonus of having free on-site childcare for members.
3. Consider going back to school.
Going back to school could improve your economic standing in the long run, but it can come with immediate sacrifices that may add to the amount of stress you’re already feeling. (mater mea mom Nicole Lynn Lewis describes these difficulties in detail in our profile of how she went from being a homeless single mother to a college graduate and nonprofit founder.)
You want to be sure that you have some support in place for you and your daughter before you return to school. Reach out to the schools you’re interested in applying to in order to get a sense of how they could support you if you were to become a student there. And here is a list of colleges in California that provide daycare to get you started.
And if you have questions about the financial burden, The Simple Dollar has a great, comprehensive overview for single parents considering going back to school.
4. Apply for grants.
There are a number of local and national nonprofit organizations that offer grants for individuals in need, and for parents who are trying to go to school. One that I found in your area is Phillips Charitable Organizations, which was created to provide “timely financial aid for single parents, disadvantaged students interested in engineering, and wounded veterans.”
If you ultimately decide to go back to school, you could be eligible for federal Pell grants—government money that does not need to be repaid—to help you pay for your studies. You could also apply for scholarships for single parents. The Open Education Database lists a few other options, including the Cal Grant Program, which awards grants up to $12,192 “to help pay for college expenses at any qualifying California college, university, or career/technical school.”
One day, you’ll be able to look at this rough time as the start of something great…
5. See what other government benefits are available to you.
Your statement about making too much to be considered impoverished, but still feeling like you’re in poverty really stood out to me. It just speaks to how little our country has done to protect those who need the safety net social programs can provide. It also shows that the powers that be stop caring about “family values” once it comes time to talk about helping subsidize the expense of childcare.
But you don’t need me to preach to the choir, you need help. There is a federal benefits website that asks a series of questions to determine what types of benefits you could be eligible for, including housing, healthcare, education, childcare, and more. You can go through the questionnaire and see if any of those benefits will work for you.
Single Mothers Guide also recommends looking into tax breaks you could be eligible for, which as of 2014 was up to more than $10,000.
6. Find more affordable and convenient childcare.
Your most-important expense after your rent is childcare, and the commuting it takes to get to your childcare provider seems to be taking a lot out of you. Local nonprofit Connections For Children has a guide to subsidized child programs that may be helpful. And Community Child Care Council of Santa Clara County, Inc. seems to offer subsidized child care that you may qualify for, since your monthly income is less than $3,283.
Pathways, a nonprofit that provides child care resources, also offers free child-care referrals—maybe you could find one that’s more affordable and closer to your job to cut down on your commuting. This could help the both of you get a little more sleep every day, and help make your mornings a little less hectic.
There are a number of other child-care subsidy programs available through California’s Child Care Resource Center. Although these programs are based on income, it may be worth it to go through the process and see if you guys would qualify: The site states that people who don’t immediately qualify for a spot can be put on a waiting list to be contacted when spots are available. You can call the San Fernando Valley CCRC at 818-717-1000 for more information. (The same is true for Head Start, you can check their agency referral service and reach out to see if you qualify.)
You Got This, Sis
I hope these suggestions can help you feel a little less overwhelmed and more in control of your life. I’ll be sharing more advice for you from working mothers who have been in your position later this week.
I know it’s hard to see anything other than what’s right in front of you when you’re going through a dark and emotionally draining time, but you will get on the other side of this. One day, you’ll be able to look at this rough time as the start of something great you couldn’t have even imagined.
If you have a question, email email@example.com with the subject line “It Takes A Village.”
More Answers for Overwhelmed
How To Deal With A Do-Nothing Co-Parent
An Update From Overwhelmed
Last Year, I Was Homeless. Today I’m A Full-Time College Student