In warfare there are no actual spoils and that was never truer than in the brutal aftermath of World War I. Its monumental cost thrust the global economy into near collapse, causing rampant unemployment and inflation for decades. Its intense bloodshed and trauma-inducing events led to the deaths of 9.4 million soldiers in addition to the 15 million men who suffered permanent disabilities and emotional duress.
Out of this cruel fallout of loss and desperation, however, emerged a woman who wanted to help the single mothers and children left behind to fend for themselves. In 1918, Lettice Fisher formed the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child in England. This organization provided employment advice and assistance for single mothers and helped abolish workhouses, a bleak alternative for many women and their children.
Because of the evolving dynamic of single parent families, the council changed its name to the National Council for One Parent Families. Well into the 1990s, the council fought tirelessly against the social stigmatization of single parents that public policy seemed to institute or reflect but definitely perpetuated. Among the issues it tackled were affordable housing, income equality and fairness, and child support maintenance.
In the meantime, single mother Tess Fothergill organized a support group in 1970 where single parents could gather to alleviate the isolation, alienation and loneliness they were experiencing. Named for the café where this group met, Gingerbread sparked similar groups throughout the country, leading to its creation as a charity.
In 2007, the council and Gingerbread merged into one charity for single parent families in England and Wales, now known as Gingerbread. This charitable organization has been serving the needs and advancing the priorities of single parent families for more than 100 years.
Sadly, single parent families in the United States do not have a similar organization to represent our particular demands before public officials and society at large. Yes, groups and nonprofits in the US do exist — Single Parent Advocate and Mothers Raising Sons Inc., to name just two — but none exhibit the prominence and influence of Gingerbread. The services and the sense of community these smaller organizations foster are desperately needed and commendable, but having our own voices in the political debate is just as critical.
With our attention so focused on paying bills, working however many jobs for however many hours and caring for our children, when would we even have the time to care, let alone the energy?
But we should care.
We should care a lot.
State bills are being introduced and moving into committees throughout the US that could alter our very lives and livelihoods. Since January 2019, these proposals have been making the rounds among elected officials on the state and local levels. The following states are only a fraction of those addressing single parent family issues:
Arizona: Single parents are among the community members a marshal is recommending for his new committee that would facilitate a transparent relationship between the police department and the City Council in Camp Verde.
Indiana: Two legislators, both single fathers, are pushing a bill to secure funding for schools taking action to address mental health issues. They argue that the school system and its officials are at the forefront of discovering and treating these issues. “When you’re a single parent and you’re working, you’re not spending the most time with your children,” Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, said. “The schools are.”
Maryland: Students who want to pursue higher education may be eligible for a scholarship program. This legislative proposal factors in the income of single parents and married parents and could provide a maximum of $10,000 in aid per student. Depending on the state college and program, the student could attend classes for free.
Montana: A state bill would require applicants for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to be in full compliance with their child support order in order to qualify for SNAP.
Nevada: Lawmakers may reform the state’s childcare reimbursement this year. Currently, the state reimburses 75 percent of childcare based on the 2004 market rate. A proposal would base that reimbursement on the current market rate.
New Jersey: In response to more parents working outside of the home, lawmakers want to limit certain types of school fundraising. The bill would prohibit door-to-door sales by students during the workday unless an adult supervises them.
New Mexico: Legislators are reevaluating the qualifying income of a parent seeking a childcare subsidy. The bill would increase that income level to provide some financial relief, particularly for single parents. Interestingly, the bill’s sponsor owns several childcare centers.
New York: A proposed pilot program would support 400 single parents attending college by providing on-campus childcare, tutoring and counseling. The aim is to address the gender wage gap that disproportionately affects single mothers.
North Dakota: Questions have been raised about the state’s child support guidelines in that some lawmakers believe these payments are excessive. They say the payments are so large that the other parent — not just the child — benefits. A proposal would require the guidelines to be studied to determine their fairness and equity.
Texas: The City Council’s late night meetings have spurred a conversation about childcare in Austin. The council members recently cut funding from its budget to cover this expense even though many meetings adjourn well after 10 p.m.
West Virginia: Legislators may study how to create and finance a paid family and medical leave insurance program for the state’s residents. Officials realized that federal leave and similar employer-sponsored options are unpaid, causing many parents with minor children, particularly single parents, to work rather than care for their family.
With these efforts underway, we need voices — others and our own — to represent us. We need to speak out on food insecurity, financial stability and instability, and fair and equitable tax breaks, among others. We must embrace our own narrative with purpose, rather than allow others to obfuscate us, our children, our choices and our lives.
Perhaps it is time that we realize we are more than a third of the US population and a force to be reckoned with.
Editor’s note: This photo came from VisualHunt.com.
On Thursdays, I will be sharing a blog about a day in the actual life of a single parent. Every fourth Thursday, instead of a personal post, I will put together one where I assemble news on and about single parents nationally and globally.
I would love to hear from you! Feel free to send any comments and questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am also on Twitter @parentsonurown and can be found by searching #singleparentandstrong.