There is so much about pregnancy to love (assuming you were planning for it). The creative frenzy of scribbling down names, nesting and adorning a nursery waiting for that little spark of life, the regular sonograms and profiles that let you know how strong your baby is. It’s exhausting too – aches, morning sickness, difficulty travelling, the stress of wondering how to be a good parent. It is undoubtedly a lot of work. Which is why the prospect of going it alone is terrifying.
It’s Going To Take a Village
There’s no good way to acknowledge this, so it just needs to be put in the open: The US has the world’s highest rate of children living in single parent households, and the number has been rising. There are various reasons for this, but at the end of the day, this stacks up to about 23% of US children living with one parent. If you’re here, reading this, hopefully you land in that other 77%. Maybe you stumbled here because of a wayward Google search, or maybe you’re here because you know someone who needs help. Maybe you can take something from here and keep it in mind for the future. Maybe you’re struggling to deal with your own pregnancy, as you wonder how you’re going to manage appointments and work and planning. Regardless, we’re glad you found us. If you’re getting ready to go through a pregnancy, looking towards the future as a single parent – we want you to know you’re not alone.
Community is a key component to finding success as you get ready to raise a child, and if you seek it out, you will find it. Consider again the percent of kids in the US that we referenced as living in a single parent household – 23%. That comes out somewhere in the ball park of 20 million kids. If we think an average of 1.5 kids, that gives us something like 13 million other single parents out there. That’s 1 in 28 people facing the same types of struggles, learning the same lessons, and paving the way for you to benefit from their experience. Don’t let that go to waste.
Speaking on community, one of the first challenges for an expectant parent is getting to all the appointments that come with being pregnant. There’s no rule on how many people to include in your journey to parenthood. Diversify that support as much as you can. Other single mothers and fathers, your friends, your family – there are a lot of people that will be eager to link their lives to your and your child’s. If you don’t have any friends or family around – don’t stress. You have an instant in with other single parents. They are going to be looking for people to help them, and if you’re willing to give as much as you receive, you will be able to build a network. Every single family is built around community – regardless of how many parents are involved.
Now, that said, we’re going to discuss some of the details about actually dealing with this.
First and foremost, you need to take stock of your financial situation. This may be the single biggest challenge, but there is a lot of support for you if you know where to find it. Getting your financial ducks in a row will mean:
- Signing up for health insurance. I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, we practically had a wing of the hospital named for my brother and I with how much we were in and out of there. If you are offered insurance through your employer, you will want to review what the policy offers in terms of pregnancy coverage. What is your deductible like? What are your out-of-pocket costs? How much will your premiums increase by adding a child? What are the deadlines to add your child to your coverage? Prenatal services aren’t always covered, or aren’t covered as well as they could be on a different plan.
If your work doesn’t offer insurance, you need to explore insurance marketplace. Massachusetts offers healthcare through MassHealth (Medicaid) for 2 family households making $22,930 or less. You can sign up for MassHealth by visiting or calling an enrollment center located in Tewksbury, in Springfield, in Taunton, or in Chelsea. You can also apply for coverage directly through the Mass Health Connector website, here.
Even if you don’t qualify for Mass Health, plans offer subsidies up to 400% of the poverty level. For 2021, that number looks to be around $60,000 in income for a 2-person household. That number will scale upwards with additional household members.
- Look into any work leave policies available to you. Starting in 2021, Massachusetts has opened Paid Family Medical Leave for every person in the state. In practice, this has expanded the Federal Family Medical Leave act to cover people who otherwise weren’t previously, and, you are now paid for the leave taken. You have to apply for PFMLA when it’s time to take your leave. You can find more details here. Once approved, you have up to 26 weeks of paid leave. This applies to you if you are a W2 employee, self-employed, or a 1099 contractor.
- Update your beneficiaries, write your wills, and get life and disability insurance. If you have anything you want to leave to your child, now is the time. Life and disability insurance are relatively affordable and can provide a safety net for your child if the worst were to happen to you. Our Firm offers drafting of wills, if you were inclined to start that process.
- Take a thorough look at your budget. You’ll need to figure out where your money is coming and going to ensure that you start charting out needs for you and your child. We wrote about budget methods back in July of last year, and debt reduction methods in August. There is never a bad time to take control of your financial future.
If after examining your budget and you’ve squeezed every penny you can, you find a shortfall, there are resources that you can look to for help. The Administration for Children and Families offers grants and funding to help promote economic well-being of families and children. The MA Department of Transitional Assistance offers cash benefits to help families meet basic needs. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can help pay for food. Housing assistance from Housing and Urban Development and Massachusetts Rental Assistance Programs. The Woman, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) is available through the USDA for women who have children under 5. You can be directed to more help through 2-1-1.
Don’t hesitate to figure out if you qualify for any of this. We pay taxes to these programs to take care of one another, and it will not do for you to slip through the cracks if you have nowhere to go. The earlier you get involved in applying for any of these benefits, the better. Some of them can have waiting lists or lengthy application approval processes. Either way, there is so much out there that you can use to help create a stable home for you and your child. Don’t be afraid to use it.
Preparing for baby’s arrival will also mean stocking up on supplies and equipment. Which type of equipment and gear (strollers, cribs, etc.) you get will be up to you. Match items to your lifestyle and need. There are tons of lists out there that provide ideas with a little googling. Don’t be afraid to find things second-hand, but also take a careful eye at what you’re thinking about getting. Check recalls.gov if the need arises to ensure that you’re not getting something unsafe. Be especially skeptical of things like second-hand car seats – if not for the potential of them being filthy (how many diapers exploded in that seat?!), but for the possibility that it has been compromised in a vehicle accident, dropped, or otherwise damaged. Car seats can also have expiration dates, where expected wear and tear on the seat may have ended its safety rating. Remember, car seats often live inside your car more often than not. In the North East, that can subject it to temps over 200F on hot summer days, subzero freezing in the winter, UV Rays, your kids jumping in and out of it, and spills from food. They’re not indestructible.
As a side note, if you live in Berkshire County in Massachusetts, you can get a free baby box stocked with items for new parents.
On a closing note, just focus on being a mom or dad. Don’t try to be the other parent. Don’t let the adjective “single” define the type of parent you will be. You are going to have a tiny person look at you in the very near future, full of trust and love. As long as they’re happy, healthy, and safe, nothing else will matter.