Getting divorced is one of the most expensive hardships of life. Your expenses double (two households), while your income is split in half. Your time is drained as well, with all of those extra trips to your ex's to pick up forgotten homework assignments and trying to take on an extra job.
If this isn't your experience, then count yourself lucky. Single mothers and their children are by far the largest demographic living in poverty. In 2010, 31.6 percent of households headed by single women were poor, while 15.8 percent of households headed by single men and 6.2 percent of married-couple households lived in poverty.
While the statistics are startling and the challenges are daunting, single mothers (and fathers) are finding creative solutions. And "The Mom Network" is a big piece of what works.
Even the famous attorney and women's advocate, Gloria Allred, once used house-sharing as a solution. "As a young and struggling mom," Ms. Allred shared in an email, "I shared a place with another young single mother." CoAbode.org helps single moms find a match, and even provides resources for interviewing potential roomies for compatibility. It's not forever and it's not a replacement for the family, but it does provide more time, support and money for over-worked single moms who desperately need the help. Jennifer and Simone in Minneapolis told CoAbode that they are far better mothers because they are less stressed. House-sharing trims the cost of housing, childcare, and food and gives single parents an extra helping hand in the household. CoAbode is a service for single moms only; however, the solution works for single dads as well. Remember The Odd Couple?
Carpooling to school, to after-school classes and even to soccer tournaments can save a lot of time and money -- especially with today's gas prices. This seems like an obvious solution, however when people are stressed out, it can be difficult to see beyond the problems. If you know a single mom or dad, it's worth a call to let them know that you're available for ride-sharing. And if you are a single mom or dad, make it a point to reach out to fellow soccer moms, troop dads and classroom parents who live local. The world isn't against you (like it feels); others just don't always know how to help.
Sleepovers & Play Dates
When money is tight, it's hard to think about fun. However, the payback on your investment is beyond measure in dollars and cents. The single parent has to be a lot more creative about entertaining the troops, but the other parents appreciate the effort, as do the kids -- even if they tease you about it. As a single mom, I was known for "hell hikes." I took the kids for nature walks, instead of the movies. However, how else would these city kids have learned to skip rocks across a pond, rappel down real cliffs, fish and identify which animal created that scat?
Friends' Night In
Whether it is an investment club, a book club, a cook's club, poker night, or just dinner and drinks, create a monthly Friends' Night In for yourself and your friends. Through these social events, which are fun, you'll find yourself bonding and opening up about some of the issues, challenges and fears that are weighing you down. Your load may be lightened literally, when a friend comes up with a solution that you have never considered. Other times, the load just feels lighter because you shared your problems instead of keeping them in. Be careful, however. A great dinner party includes wine and cheese, not whine and cheese.
Charity is Networking
It's hard to think of being charitable when you feel like you are the one in need of charity. However, if you want to create a better life for yourself, then charity is one of the highest return, lowest cost, simple solutions on that path. Through charitable giving, you showcase your talents, meet people who are on the move and create a new network of friends who can be helpful in creating new income opportunities with you. Many people think they can increase income through high-cost "networking" groups. However, you're more likely to create a bond with others when you are working side by side in a passion project than you are by standing up in a room of a hundred strangers you have little in common with, and throwing out a 30-second elevator pitch to people who don't care what you do and are there mostly to sell you their wares, too.
Far too many single parents are taking on second low-paying jobs to increase income. Others fall for get-rich-quick schemes and/or pie-in-the-sky promises of MLM sales. Get creative and mindful about your path to greater income. Should you get more education? Intern to learn new skills? Reach out to your friends for job referrals? Rethink which profession you are in altogether? In a world where those with PhDs are experiencing less than 2% unemployment, whereas almost 15% of those without high school diplomas are out of work, you cannot overlook the value of new skills and education.
Local community colleges offer low-cost education. There are scholarships and grants available for parents who are returning to school. Some of our most successful CEOs went back to live with the parents or slept on friend's couches in order to invest in a better tomorrow -- and are very happy they did so. (Think Steve Jobs.)
For more information on how "education pays," please read my HuffingtonPost blog of the same name.
There is no doubt that single parents have it a lot tougher than married parents. However, creating partnerships, which I lovingly call "The Mom Network" (even though it includes a few dads, too), is a very rewarding way to ease the burden.
Natalie Pace is the author of You Vs. Wall Street and Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is, and the founder and CEO of the Women's Investment Network, LLC. She is a blogger on HuffingtonPost.com and a repeat guest on national television and radio shows such as Good Morning America, Fox News, CNBC, ABC-TV, Forbes.com, NPR and more. As a philanthropist, she has helped to raise more than two million for Los Angeles public schools and financial literacy. Follow her on Facebook.com/NWPace. For more information please visit NataliePace.com.