Help build up supports around single parents

Published 9:44 am Friday, April 15, 2016

“I’m not sure how single parents do this,” I told my wife after a long day at work. For the past several weeks my mother-in-law has been visiting us to watch Gracelyn before she begins day care, and she’s been an incredible asset to us during times of need. Though her stay makes three adults living in our household, I’ve often reflected on what particular moments would be like had only I been around while Sera was running errands, at work or just needed to escape for a moment.

Matthew Knutson

Matthew Knutson

One of those moments occurred the other day when Sera had an evening meeting for work. A particularly stressful day at work for me resulted in a migraine, and I came home ready to ignore the world and sleep. That’s not what I get to do anymore as a parent. Sure, Gracelyn might conveniently fall asleep for me from time to time when I feel deserving of a mid-afternoon nap, but that’s pretty rare. Adding in the migraine meant our lovely little girl’s cries were no longer the casual inconvenience we had grown accustomed to. Sera’s mom generously stepped in and let me relax while she cared for Gracelyn’s needs, but that gift won’t always be there.

Another night produced a similar need for my mother-in-law. Because both Sera and I work for nonprofit organizations, we occasionally have community meetings to attend in the evening. Before children this was rarely a problem. Sure, we only have one car, but either one of us is perfectly fine staying late somewhere if needed. This week, however, we both had an evening meeting on the same night. To my recollection, this has not occurred in all of our years of marriage, but less than three months into Gracelyn’s life we found ourselves in this predicament. Well, it would be a predicament had Sera’s mom not been visiting us. She was happy to spend more time with her granddaughter and all was well.

Email newsletter signup

What will we do if this occurs again? I do have other family that lives nearby, and we can always plan our schedule a little bit better to avoid these occurrences, but I suppose it’s a possibility one of us would be showing up with a baby to our meeting. Here’s to hoping that never comes true.

These are struggles all new parents face — I’m certain of it. What I cannot grasp is how people do it alone. In all of my scenarios, both myself and my wife are busy or not feeling well. These situations already require one person to fill-in. If it was just myself taking care of Gracelyn permanently, I’m not sure how we could continue to exist. There’s too much to do — too much planning and preparation with a child to ever succeed as a single parent. Yet somehow, quite miraculously, people do it.

I feel like there should be something more we do for single parents in our communities. Single-parent families being supported on one income don’t often have the luxuries of nearby family to help meet the gap. Single moms or single dads don’t always have the most stable employment, or risk losing their good employment when an occasion arises for them to have to leave work unexpectedly. A reoccurring message that I keep hearing around work is that successful families lead to successful communities. While there are many people in need in both my community and certainly in yours, sometimes solving a small problem can have cascading benefits. I wonder if we built up supports around single parents how our communities might improve, not just for today, but for the future generation.

As our three-person household shrinks to two in this next week, I’m sure I’ll be reminded of these thoughts regularly. If you were a single parent, where would you go for help? What resources are available in your community to ensure they succeed? If you know them, share them. If you don’t know them, learn them. You might find a surprising gap that you can work to fill. I remember being in fifth or sixth grade and singing a song called “It Takes A Village to Raise a Child,” not really knowing what that means. Now charged with raising my own child, I’ve grown to appreciate our village.


Rochester resident Matt Knutson is the communications and events director for United Way of Olmsted County.