Single Stay-at-Home Mom

by Gary Foreman

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Do you think it is realistically possible for a single Mom of a 15, 12, and 6-year-old to stay home with her children? I do not have a profitable skill, a degree or money in the bank. All I know is that a tired, stressed-out mother is not what I want for my kids. They deserve more of me.

I currently hold a temporary job that has lasted over a year so far. It covers the monthly expenses, including car payments for a pre-owned car I just purchased this past November. Their Dad kicks in his share, but not enough for us to live on alone. Any suggestions?

Sue has plenty of company. Over one million couples get divorced each year and roughly one third of all families are headed by a single parent. According to Raise the Nation, an advocacy group, there are over 13 million single parent households raising 20 million children. They also estimate that only 1/4 receive full child-support.

So is it possible for Sue to get by financially without working? Probably not. Studies indicate that financial problems are one of the biggest hurdles for single parents. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly one half of all single mothers have more than one job. Talk about stress!

With a little work, Sue can determine whether it's possible to survive without a job. If she doesn't already have a budget, she'll need to create one. Having a budget is a good idea whether she tries to stay at home or not. It's important to know how much income you have and where it's going. And Sue's stress level will go down once she knows that her expenses don't exceed her income.

The next step is to adjust her budget as if she wasn't working any more. How much income would she lose? And, how many of her expenses could she reduce if she were staying at home? The exercise isn't exact, but it will give her a pretty good idea of whether there's any possibility of staying home. Chances are that she'll find that staying home isn't financially feasible.

But Sue shouldn't give up if she can't stay home. There are other ways to reduce stress.

The first step is to guard against depression. A divorced person is three times more likely to suffer from depression. Fortunately, doctors are better at identifying and treating depression than in previous generations.

A single parent must stay organized. There simply isn't time to look for lost keys. There are many resources that can show you how to get things under control. Organization can bring a sense of serenity to a home.

Train your children to help. Even preschoolers can learn their colors by helping to sort laundry. You're not cheating them by teaching them to cook and clean. In fact, you're preparing them for adulthood. And, sharing tasks is often the real quality time that they'll remember years later.

Also, remember that children aren't damaged because they don't have everything that their friends have, despite what the advertisers or your kids say.

Sue will be well served by spending time with other adults. A lack of adult friends breeds depression, fatigue and fear. A mentor could be valuable to Sue. Someone who has been a single parent and knows the challenges.

Same thing with a good friend. Knowing someone in similar circumstances puts your own situation into perspective. Being able to help them, and be helped by them can be beneficial, too. And don't limit the friendship to talking. Cooking an extra meatloaf to share with your friend will relieve their mealtime stress one day!

If Sue finds that she's still overwhelmed, she might want to consider sharing housing with another single mother and her children. By sharing cooking, cleaning and shopping chores, the two mothers regain some of the advantages of a two-parent home.

Finally an editorial comment. In recent decades, people have laughed at the notion of "staying together for the children." After hearing of the struggles of single parents like Sue, maybe it's time to reconsider the idea. That isn't to say that people should stay in an abusive relationship. But perhaps trying to tolerate a troubled marriage is less painful and takes less effort than trying to raise children alone after a divorce.

Hopefully, Sue will find the resources to live comfortably and enjoy the years she spends raising her children.

Gary Foreman

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar website and newsletters in 1996. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and he's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, and Gary shares his philosophy of money here. Gary is available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

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