Raising children by yourself is no joke. As rewarding as it is to see them grow into the people you dreamed they would be, it can be discouraging to do it without the resources you need. Frustrations, like the lack of federal programs for single parents, or being told you simply don't qualify for help, don't make the job any easier. Fortunately, in many communities, there are programs catered toward single parents—but they are sometimes difficult to find. Awareness of the programs in your community can help improve your parenting experience. Here are 12 community programs for single parents to watch for in your area.
Single-Parent Support Groups
Do an online search or check the community section of your local newspaper to find single-parent support groups that meet in your area. Most groups offer a combination of support and family friendly activities. If you have trouble finding a group, start your own. Chances are, you're not the only single parent in your community, and others will see the value of joining in.
Other Types of Parenting Groups
Outside of support groups, there are many other community-based parenting groups, like Moms of Preschoolers (MOPS), Moms Clubs and smaller community programs. Many parenting groups provide child care during meetings, so moms and dads of young children can catch a much-needed break while talking with other adults.
Mommy and Me (or Daddy and Me) Classes
Instead of watching your child's classes, or only focusing on a parenting group, why not combine the two? Mommy and Me-type classes encourage bonding while teaching your child new skills. And they're available in a range of subject areas—exercise, yoga, music, and cooking are the start of the possibilities. Does your local YMCA, health club or library offer classes for parents and children? Some places also offer scholarships or sliding-scale payment options to help ease the financial burden of taking the class.
Consider signing your children up for your community's Big Brothers and Big Sisters program or other mentoring programs designed for single-parent families. But don't forget adults need mentoring support, too. Find another single parent you respect and ask him or her to meet with you monthly to swap success stories, share your challenges and encourage one another.
Mom's Day Out
Churches and other community organizations often offer events like Mom's Day Out, which can look like anything from free babysitting to free automotive services (like tire rotations and oil changes) or spa and beauty services. Getting pampered is rare as a single parent. Be sure to take advantage of Moms Day Out events if you hear about them in your area.
Most communities offer community classes, which can be a great opportunity to meet new people as a single parent, learn some new parenting skills, or pursue a hobby or passion. Often these classes are administered through local schools or a community education association, and sometimes babysitting and scholarships are available, too.
If you're in a pinch and you need some help putting food on the table, reach out to churches in your area or your town hall for help finding food banks and food pantries near you. Most food banks require referrals through programs like Supplementation Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), but often smaller food banks are more flexible.
If you're in a bind, and it's not a traditional emergency, try dialing 2-1-1. Many states offer assistance through 2-1-1, which operates much like 9-1-1, but provides free referrals to local social service agencies, groups and organizations. Simply dial 2-1-1 from any phone and tell the operator what kind of help you're looking for, and they might be able to connect you to community programs for single parents.
Places of Worship
Contact churches and other faith-based organizations in your area to ask if they have programs for single parents. Some facilities offer classes like DivorceCare, Love and Logic and Financial Peace University, as well as back-to-school backpack and holiday toy drives that could benefit you and your family.
Contact your local town, county and state officials, and let them know the strains facing single parents, like you. The more your officials know about the challenges single parents face, the more willing they'll be to support new initiatives that benefit single-parent families and the community at large.