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Tue, July 16

Tough but simple rules for being a single parent

Being a parent is rough, but being a single parent is often hopeless. It requires you to do the job of two while also making enough money to put food on the table, clothes on your child's back and a roof over her head.

But there are things you can do to make life better for you and your child. They're not easy, but they'll make you a better parent and give your child a chance to not repeat the mistakes you made.

I was raised by a single mother who didn't qualify for public assistance despite making roughly $5 an hour. She struggled to feed and clothe me, and I spent a lot of time alone. We learned a lot of lessons together, but by the time she had the skills to be a really good parent, I was out of the house. Don't let that be your story.

Stop searching for a savior

No man or woman is going to save you and your child's life unless you get lucky. So instead of betting against the odds, find the power within yourself to change your situation.

As a single parent, searching for a new man or woman to call your own should be as far away from your mind as possible. Of course, if you continue the search, there's a slim chance you'll find a person who wants to be part of your life and your child's, but there's an even greater chance you'll meet people who want romance without responsibility - and that's simply something you and your child can't afford.

Additionally, your child should not have to compete for attention with the flavor of the month.

My mother dated extensively when I was young. It seemed like I was meeting a new boyfriend every month. I became attached to several of them and was forced to relive the misery of losing my father when the relationships - as they most always do - ended.

My mother stopped dating when I was 11, and though she dealt with recurring bouts of extreme loneliness, she stuck to it. When I was 17 she met the man of her dreams - at a Laundromat. They've been married for 15 years, and if she hadn't stopped dating when I was younger she probably would've never met him.

During the process, though, she continued to be swamped by work and bills, but at least she quit playing fast and loose with our emotional well-being.

Irresponsible dating most likely put you in this position, and guess what? It won't get you out of it. You are your child's savior - not some man or woman you met at the bar.

If you're not capable of slowing your social life down to a crawl, at least refrain from introducing the people you meet to your child.

Improve your financial situation

Now that you've gotten your love life under control by doing away with it, it's time to tackle your financial situation.

That minimum wage job you're working isn't enough, even if you're getting public assistance to offset some of the costs of living. Social programs that help people pay for necessities, such as food, are supposed to be temporary.

That's why they're called safety nets.

Pick a realistic career, using research, that needs workers and pays a livable wage, such as nursing or welding, and then get yourself into college or a trade school. Take out loans, apply for scholarships and get all the financial assistance you can get your hands on - you're going to need it.

Combine what you can get for going to college with what you can get for being an impoverished single parent, and that should be enough to supplement your income while you pursue an education.

Things will be tight, but they already are, so what do you have to lose?

Remember that these financial assistance programs are taxpayer investments in you. The way you pay back these willing and unwilling taxpayers is to be realistic, put your nose to the grindstone and graduate from college ready to work and say goodbye to public assistance.

During winter and summer breaks you may need to find part-time jobs in order to get through the months financial aid does not cover.

During the school year, though, you'll find that you actually get more time with your child. Sure, you're going to be stressed and busy, but what matters is that you're working toward a goal and your child is there to see you do it.

It's much better than working more than 40 hours a week at a dead-end job that neither pays the bills nor allows you to advance.

My mother didn't go to college until she was in her late 40s and I was out of the house - a decision she still regrets.

No matter how tired you are, pay attention

Whether you just got off from a 10-hour shift at Taco Bell or you're in the middle of finals week, I don't care. You must pay attention to every aspect of your child's life, no matter how tired you are.

Single parents must help their children with their homework every night, develop working relationships with their teachers, speak to them about sex and drugs, and listen to them about their feelings, fears, dreams and daily drama.

I had minimal supervision. From the time I turned 6 to the day I left home, I was left alone while my mother worked. She rarely had the time or energy to actually help me with my schoolwork, and when I simply stopped going to school she was clueless.

I got in trouble with the law when I was 15 and dropped out of school when I was 16. My mother could've gotten me off the path I was on, but she was just too tired to pay attention.

Don't let that be your excuse. Even though I was able to gain control of my life in my early 20s, most kids who grew up the way I did never do.


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