When I was 10, after my parents divorced, my mother became a single parent, raising four kids practically on her own. I still don’t know how she managed at times, but she wasn’t without help.
The one thing I can say that made a huge difference was the fact that, even before Hillary Clinton spoke about “It takes a village,” we had a village. It seemed as though everyone on our street pitched in to help everyone else out. There were other single-parent households, where at any given moment you could find parents baby-sitting neighborhood kids. There were times when random parents would take us out with their children to give my mother a break, and my mother would do the same in return.
Next month will mark 12 years since I packed up my car, my son and our belongings and left the comfort of our home in New Jersey to see what life would have to offer us in Maryland. I was a 26-year-old single mother, leaving my security blanket of family and friends for the first time.
A job opportunity had arisen in Maryland, and I literally had days after I was hired to move. Was I scared? Of course, but I knew that if I passed on the opportunity, I might regret it for the rest of my life. The pros outweighed the cons, but not by much.
The biggest con was not having a support system in place in Maryland. In New Jersey, I had family and friends at my disposal. After my son’s birth, I hadn’t been afforded the opportunity to take an extended maternity leave, so I was back to work in a matter of weeks. But I didn’t have to worry about having strangers watch my infant, because my village consisted of my sisters, my mother and even my brother. Everyone pitched in.
Would I have that once I moved to Maryland? This is what I constantly asked.
As I settled in, I realized that being in a new place wasn’t easy. Did I pick the right area to live in? Where were the good schools? In 2002, social networking wasn’t at the height it is now. MySpace? Facebook? There was none of that.
But there was BlackPlanet. That site was where I was able to connect with other parents in the Maryland area. I had both mothers and fathers offering me advice about where to live, which areas had the best schools and which support groups I could join. Eventually I had my circle of parents to depend on. Some were single parents, some were not. But we all shared one interest: our children.
For a single parent, the village doesn’t always have to be a family member or close friend. With social networking, your village might be at your fingertips. Currently, one of the best sources out there for single parents is Meetups. Whether you’re a single mother or father, a “meetup” can be a valuable tool when you need to find parents with whom to network.
Meetup is the world’s largest network of local groups. According to the site, “Meetup makes it easy for anyone to organize a local group or find one of the thousands already meeting up face-to-face. More than 9,000 groups get together in local communities each day, each one with the goal of improving themselves or their communities.” With just a simple search, a single mom can find groups in or close to where she lives.
From New York City to the Bay Area, single-parent Meetup groups are as popular as ever. As with any type of social networking activity, you’ll have to feel out the meetup to make sure it’s a right fit for you. Also, it’s wise to make sure you get to know the other parents before making any big leaps into each other’s life.
Carla Rhodes, a single parent and psychologist based out of Maryland, appreciates her network of single parents. “Single parents tend to be more aware of the value of personal time and are willing to exchange child care with other people in the same predicament,” she says.
If venturing out online isn’t your cup of tea, participating in your child’s school activities is another good way to network with parents. Research shows that children whose parents play an active role in their education have better grades and fewer disciplinary problems. So why not join the PTA to network with other parents who are involved in their children’s education? The camaraderie I built with other PTA parents was definitely something I appreciated. After our weekly meetings were over, we always planned activities outside the classroom.
Being a single parent doesn’t mean you’re alone in the game. Your village is out there—you just have to find ways to discover it. To this day, I’m still friends with many of the single parents I associated with when I moved to Maryland. Now, as the mother of a teenager, I realize that networking with other single parents was the best thing I could have done. Not only can you share your own experiences and issues, but you can also learn from others in situations similar to your own.