Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Single parents look for outside support to get through day-to-day.
Though it's not the highest paying job, Cooper said, they're flexible in letting her attend school functions or taking her kids to the doctor if needed -- which in her case is a crucial benefit.
For Green that's simply not an option. Her 9-year-old son Christian has Klinefelter's syndrom and needs to attend summer school to keep up with his class, but because school transportation doesn't run during the summer and classes let out while Green's at work he's unable to go.
Even if it's after work, parents said, juggling schedules without a partner to pitch in takes skill and sometimes means having to tell children "no."
Kathy Hagler, who adopted her 7-year-old daughter as a single a few years ago, said she quickly learned the stress of trying to be there for her adoptive teenage son who was working his first job and getting home long after her daughter's 8 p.m. bedtime.
Hagler's daughter attends Washington Elementary where she receives free after-school care during the year, she said, but even with attending one of the lesser expensive childcare centers during the summer costs have still gone up.
"It's a big chunk out of our budget," she said.
The average cost of daycare in Texas in 2008 is estimated between $5,700 to $7,400 per child depending on age, according to the National and Texas Associations of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies.
With the median income of single mothers in Texas at about $20,860 -- nearly $3,000 less than the national average -- those childcare costs often take about 36 percent of a mother's income, according to NACCRRA.
Getting the basics
Next to housing assistance, area social service agencies report requests for utility bill assistance and food supplies are on the rise, as well.
To keep young children healthy, said outreach specialist at West Texas Opportunities Michael Barriga, parents often have to run the air conditioner to some extent. Staff at Catholic Charities said in addition to that summer expense, some families are in need of more food because their children aren't able to get to their public school each day to receive the free and reduced lunches they may have during the schoolyear.
"I think we're just seeing the beginning of it," said Big Brothers Big Sisters' Executive Director Sandra Tisdale. "The full ramifications have yet to be felt."
Of the roughly 25 million workers receiving food stamps -- which translates to about $7.16 per household per day -- more than 50 percent go to single-parent households, according to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group.
Dean said she's been stretching her food budget by cooking everything at home and making a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches, though she said she's noticed her food stamps don't buy quite as much as they used to.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Single parents look for outside support to get through day-to-day
Brandy Dean stopped taking her medication a few weeks ago.
One of her children is being treated by a specialist in Odessa and with gas prices inching closer to $4 a gallon combined with the cost of medication, the single mom had to eliminate spending everywhere she could.
To meet rising food, gas and other costs, Christy Green has spent much of the last few years working for the Department of Public Safety during the day and waiting tables at night.
Even with babysitting help from her mom, childcare funds from West Texas Opportunities and previous stints of food stamps, Green says the day-to-day of single parenting continues to be a struggle.
"I can't just get away," said Green, who said the only indulgence she allows herself is sometimes wearing makeup. "I don't even try."
With the average cost of food increasing about 6 percent from this time last year, coupled with record fuel prices and local rental rates that in some instances have nearly doubled in the last few years, even many nuclear families are feeling the pinch. But for some of the more than 880,000 single-parent families in Texas, the financial squeeze is straining what was already a tight situation.
"Especially in a booming town like this you really start to see the disparity between the haves and the have nots," said Kevin Harrington, who helps organize the St. Vincent de Paul Ministries that offer short-term support to low-income families.
While requests have increased in most social service organizations across the board, Harrington and others agreed the biggest need for single parents locally is assistance with rent as many going to re-sign their lease realize they can't afford the jump in monthly charges.
Dean came to Midland Fair Havens in November after she was cut off from food stamps and struggling to pay rent and daycare costs that exceeded $1,300 a month.
"I don't know how we made it then," she said.
Fair Havens houses single moms who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless while they work to become more self-sufficient. Dean is studying to become a nurse and working at Midland College. She also participates in narcotics anonymous meetings while staff at Fair Havens watch her children.
R'Ev Finley, a single mom whose kids are now in their 20s, said for many of the single pregnant women she sees while teaching at the Life Center, it may come down to living in groups to get by.
Though she said this communal style is not "the American way" it's going to have to become more accepted if many local young women want to have shelter and food for their children.
"I don't say it's impossible," she said of raising children completely independantly. "But it's a feat."
Alicia Cooper and her two children have already followed this advice to some extent. She moved in with her mother after she and her husband divorced last year so she'd have someone to share basic expenses with.
"If I didn't have my family to help me I'd be broke all the time," said Cooper, who took a job in the Children's Ministry at First Baptist Church after joining their singles group last year.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
How does the cost of raising a family affect your retirement planning?
The answer is good news in a backhanded kind of way.
When we have children we voluntarily reduce our adult standard of living so we can raise the kids. Since our adult standard of living is lower than it would otherwise be, we don't need to replace as much income at retirement.
We could figure this out by using actual estimates - you can get them by Googling "cost of raising a child" or by checking the links with this article on my Web site.
But let's try a simpler method.
I call it the "N" factor. While there is a great deal of research on how the size and age of a household affects its cost of living, a simple algorithm comes pretty close.
Here's the algorithm: The cost of living for a household is the square root of the number of people in the household. So if you are single, your cost of living is the square root of 1 or 1.
But if you are recently married, your cost of living is the square root of 2, or 1.414. Yes, two can't live for the price of one. But they can live for only 42percent more than the price of one. Economists call this "economies of shared living." As economist Laurence J. Kotlikoff and I show in "Spend 'til the End," to be released by Simon and Schuster on Tuesday, the size of your household while working has a major impact on your retirement needs.
You can understand this by figuring out the cost of raising children.
Using the "N" factor, your cost of living with one child is the square root of 3, or 1.73. Have a second child and your cost of living is the square root of 4, or 2.
So how much of your cost of living is accounted for by having two children?
Answer: About 30 percent. You and your spouse account for the other 70 percent of your cost of living.
Now let's consider a more concrete example - a young, single-earner couple with an income of $100,000 a year, two children, and the usual assortment of debts. They'll pay 7.6 percent of their income in employment taxes, about 8 percent in federal income taxes, and they'll save perhaps 4 percent in a company 401(k) plan.
The conventional wisdom of the financial services industry says they might need to replace as much as 85 percent of income in retirement because the usual 70 percent to 85percent rule ignores two of the largest realities of life in America - debt and children.
Talk about major omissions.
About 25 percent of this couple's income will go for debt service - their mortgage, car loans, credit card and education debt. With a bit of attention they can manage to pay off all these debts by the time they retire.
That leaves about 55 percent of their income to pay all their other expenses, including the cost of the kids. But the "N" factor tells us that the kids cost about 30 percent of that - call it 16 percent of their gross income - leaving 39 percent for the parents.
Of course, adding taxes back in might increase the percentage of gross income that must be replaced, but the total is still a ballpark away from the 70 percent to 85 percent used by the financial services industry.
In fact, this household probably won't pay taxes.
Social Security benefits at full retirement age will replace about 24percent of a $100,000-a-year worker's wages. (They will replace a higher percentage for workers who earn less.) The worker's spouse will be entitled to a spousal benefit equal to half the worker's benefit, if he or she is the same age. That's another 12percent, for a total of 36 percent.
Note that 36 percent is pretty close to 39 percent - the income they had to spend on themselves most of their adult lives.
Indeed, under current law they could take $18,000 a year (another 18 percent of replacement rate) from their retirement savings plan and still pay zilch in federal income taxes. That means they can spend 54 percent of their pre-retirement income, well over what they had while raising children!
Maybe our collective futures aren't as dismal as the financial services industry wants us to believe.
Posted in Daily Breeze.com
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
It drives me crazy. How can I get her to back off without hurting her feelings?The question
My mother's driving me crazy with her criticism of my parenting.
She's always saying we spoil our children, going on and on about how she did it in her day, and so on.
I actually blew up at her on Mother's Day and I feel incredibly guilty. I love her to death, but it makes me crazy when she criticizes me about my kids. I think I'm doing a good job. How can I get her to back off without hurting her feelings?
Well, on the one hand, don't even get me started about how annoying unsolicited parenting advice can be.
For years I was a stay-at-home dad.
Moms complain about all the unsolicited advice they get from random busybodies, sanctimonious babushkas and Nosy Parkers on the street.
But imagine, ladies, when they got a load of me!
A huge, stubbled, confused-looking man pulling a bottle of "express milk" out of the cargo pocket of his army pants and jamming it in the craw of his screaming, tomato-faced kid, trying to shut him up.
The babushka would freeze, her hump tingling with anticipation. Her whole life - all 176 years of it - was a preparation for this moment. Throwing herself in the path of my stroller, she would point an ancient, crooked finger like a gnarly old oak twig at my then-infant son, Nicholas (who's now a brilliant, beautiful, eminently sensible and exquisitely sensitive 11-year-old, by the way, babushkas of the world), and croak out her edict: "Your baby cold! Needs another layer!"
Or - and this one would always kill me - "He needs his mommy!"
That line was like a knife in my heart, would make me want to drop to my knees, clutch the hem of the babushka's traditional mourning garment and sob: "No, babushka, no ... don't say ... that ..."
But all I ever did was smile and say: "Thank you for your input. You've certainly given me something to think about." And roll Nick away with a frozen rictus of faux gratitude affixed to my kisser.
Why? Because, ladies, that became, in time, my policy.
At first, I would bristle and argue; but I came to realize there was no point, it was a fruitless waste of energy. People who love giving free, unsolicited advice are not going to change their ways just because you act haughty and say something frosty. All you do is create friction and bad blood.
And sometimes, horribly, the busybodies actually have a point. If you drop the bristling and listen, from time to time you can get good advice, even in this unsolicited, off-the-street format.
It can be tough to implement this "smile and say thanks" policy, I know - especially, I found, in the face of parenting wisdom from people who don't actually have kids themselves.
And FYI, having "nieces and nephews" does not confer expert parenting status on you, people. Anyone can be an uncle. You come in, distribute a few presents, a toy or two, some loose change, maybe bust a couple of magic tricks, then leave on a high note, bidding adieu, pressing your bunched fingers to your lips.
Trust me, there are times we parents would also like to leave on a high note, bidding adieu, pressing our fingers to our lips. But we don't have that option.
Unlike various aunts and uncles, though, your mother does have a lot of direct parenting experience - from raising you.
And her experience was this: For something like the first 30 years of your life, you were wrong about pretty much everything. So it's automatic for her, it's second nature to correct and reprove you and attempt to steer you in the right direction.
Second, parenting has changed unbelievably since her day. And sometimes (like when I go to a restaurant where someone has brought their kids) I think parents of previous generations have a point when they say our kids are spoiled, undisciplined and obnoxious, and we're too precious with them.
I think of my kids as reasonably well-behaved, but after a weekend in the care of my wife's parents, I'm amazed at the transformation: When we arrive back home, they file out of the kitchen, in single file, hair parted neatly on one side, seen but not heard, practically addressing my wife, Pam, and I as "Sir" and "Madam."
Of course, it only lasts until the grandparents' car disappears down the street, but sometimes one can't help but wonder: What if they were like that all the time?
Now I'm not qualified to say what way of bringing up kids is better or worse. All children are different and so are all parents. Suffice it to say you could probably learn a lot from your mother if you stopped bristling and being defensive.
But you're responsible for how your kids turn out. Therefore you have the final say in how to handle them. There is such a thing as being polite yet firm, of saying something such as: "Thanks, Mom, I appreciate it, but I prefer to do it this way."
Still, you owe her an apology. She gave birth to you in pain and suffering. She had horrible nights and frustrating days with you, as you now know. She compromised her dreams, ideals, figure, social life, rest, independence and so much else to protect you and keep you warm, dry and happy, as you now know.
She's owed at least one day on which she is honoured with unstinting patience and tolerance. Since you ruined that with your outburst, why not make it up with a bunch of flowers, maybe a nice dinner and a card that reads: "Mom, I appreciate everything you've done for me, including and especially bestowing upon me the gift of life."
Because hey: If she hadn't done that, you wouldn't be around to feel irritated, now, would you?
David Eddie is a screenwriter and the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad.
From Friday's Globe and Mail
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
If you're conscious and able to read the English language, you will laugh all the way through Family Outing. But be warned: Sometimes your laughter will be the horrified kind. Funny or not, this book may just piss you off.
Books about gay parenting have been coming fast and furious for years, and so have memoirs about being the child of a gay parent. In her 2005 book Families Like Mine, Minnesota author Abigail Garner gave what might have been the most honest and all-encompassing picture yet of what it's like to grow up in a gay-identified family. Garner interviewed hundreds of teens whose parents were gay, and talked about her own experiences as the child of a gay father and straight mother.
Troy Johnson builds on that tradition. But especially if you're the lesbian parent of a boy, his book might be disturbing to you. This is no "I realized she was just like everyone else and then everything was super" tale. It's the kind of book you really ought to read, but it might feel like a mouthful of tacks covered in hot fudge.
That's because Johnson tells the absolute truth about what having a gay parent was like for him: It was kind of a train wreck. He acknowledges the other factors that made his childhood rough — his mother and father's divorce, learning that his mother was gay from a vengeful ex-partner, and other difficulties helped out. But in describing how he felt about having a gay parent, he pulls no punches. He loved his mom, but he had other, more unruly feelings as well.
A difficult story like this might be best heard from someone like Johnson, whose irreverence is nothing short of hilarious and whose bluntest statements are always tempered with his love for his mother. The first chapter of the book is called "Tattle Dyke and Freckle Spawn." Tattle Dyke is appropriately named, because she's the one who tells Troy and his sister that their mother is gay. Freckle Spawn is Tattle Dyke's daughter, whom Troy and Kim despise almost as much as Tattle Dyke.
"Tattle Dyke was unnaturally gaunt, her metabolism souped up like a stock car from a lifetime of smoking. She had slivers for lips, as if they had been surgically tucked and pinned to her gums. Her helmet of black hair looked like a compressed afro, and her facial expression was always that of someone who has just watched a relative die," Johnson writes of his mother's former partner.
The book begins with Tattle Dyke outing his mom, and Johnson relates everything he remembers feeling about it, and everything that happened after: his blossoming into an unusually creative juvenile delinquent, his rage that he couldn't express, his confusion about what his mother's homosexuality meant for him, and his embarrassment at being the child of a lesbian.
Perhaps the hardest thing for him to discuss, although he does it anyway, is how his relationship with his mother changed because his understanding of her changed. "Kids of straight parents can't relate to this — and for good reason. They don't call them straight parents. They just call them parents. When someone asks, 'what are your parents like? Who are they?' kids of straight parents don't think," 'Well, Dad's a heterosexual.' They think, 'Well, Dad's a plumber, and he likes beer and NASCAR.'"
Because everyone else's reaction made it clear that who his mom had sex with was now the most important thing about her, he explains, he became preoccupied with it — and the way he found out damaged his ability to trust her and to know that she was the same mom she had always been. Hearing the news from someone he hated, instead of his mother, allowed questions to creep in that she could have answered.
"I didn't say that my knowledge of her sexuality had shrunk the comfort zone between us. …I didn't tell her that against my will some demented part of my brain was constantly flashing images of her doing lesbian things," he writes. "I didn't tell her that on at least one occasion I had wondered whether, when cuddling me as a child, an inappropriate part of her had tingled."
There's really no way to summarize what's brilliant about Johnson's memoir. Anyone will enjoy it because it's hilarious, but gay parents and potential parents really ought to read it. His innermost thoughts, fears, and problems might be any child's in the same situation. It's a good read, but it's also a clear warning that coming out to your kids can be traumatic in ways you never dreamed of.