Single mom balances life

By Rasmieyh Abdelnabi

Tracy Ash is a busy woman. While completing a master’s degree and working up to 40 hours a week, she raises her 3-year-old daughter, Quarey, as a single parent.

At 27 years old, Ash got pregnant while living with her boyfriend of three years in the midst of a breakup.

“It was like ‘Oh my God, we’re breaking up and now I’m pregnant,’” she recalled.

After getting over the initial shock, Ash wasn’t worried because she always wanted children and believed she was ready.

“I was old enough to have been through life and young enough to still be a younger mom,” she said.

Of course that’s not always the case for the 10 million single mothers living in the country. And then family members need to be told.

When Ash told her family of the news, they expected her to get married. It was as if they forgot the last eight months of fights between her and Quarey’s father, she said.

Instead of staying together, they decided it was in the best interest of their future daughter to separate. Recalling her childhood, which was full of arguments between her parents, Ash said she could not do that to her own child.

As a graduate student in applied family and child studies, she learned the intricacies of the trauma children endure when parents fight constantly.

Ash was never worried about raising Quarey on her own.

“It wasn’t a big deal for me, I knew I would be fine,” she said.

Quarey’s father is involved in his daughter’s life, but Ash is the primary caregiver and has full custody.

She laughed as she listed the stereotypes of single mothers: promiscuous, uneducated and living off the government. She doesn’t understand how the image of the stereotypical single mother developed. Ash said she does not fit that description, nor do any of the single mothers she knows.

Political science professor Lynn Kamenitsa said the idea single mothers are promiscuous comes from a previous era in Western culture when the church and law prohibited sex outside marriage.

There was a strong sentiment only good girls saved themselvesfor marriage. This is changing, but at a very slow pace, Kamenitsa said.

Besides, living day-to-day keeps Ash too occupied to pay any attention to stereotypes. She said her friends who do not have children wonder when she’s going to have a nervous breakdown because she is so busy.

Setting aside her all-important personal time is an issue Ash suddenly needed to deal with after having Quarey. But as Quarey gets older, Ash gets more personal time because Quarey is becoming independent and enjoys playing or watching a movie on her own.

For the last year Quarey’s father has taken her for weekend visits, allowing Ash two days to regroup and reenergize.

“You have to take care of yourself in order to take care of your child,” she said.

As a single mother, attending school full-time presents its own set of issues – Ash’s two jobs do not fully support her and her daughter. Without school loans and child support, Ash said she would otherwise not be able to perform the financial juggling act.

Quarey attends the Campus Child Care Center at NIU, and Ash qualifies for a governmental subsidy. Since Quarey attends the day care full-time from 9 a.m. to about 4 p.m., the monthly bill comes out to $730 before the subsidy. With the subsidy, however, she pays only $170 a month.

There is no way she could afford $730 a month, but without it she wouldn’t be able go to school and work, Ash said. By putting her in day care during these younger years, Ash is able to go to school, which presumably will better the lives of both.

Like Ash, many parents rely on day care services. Forty-one out of 82 families receive government subsidies at the Campus Child Care Center. Almost all are student families, said center director Chris Herrmann.

Subsidy eligibility depends on income and family size. An undergraduate student who works 10 hours a week and goes to school full-time qualifies for the subsidies. Graduate students do not qualify for subsidies based on their student status. Since Ash works, but meets the income qualification, she is allowed subsidized day care.

When applying for subsidized day care, dealing with government agencies presents yet more hurdles to maneuver.

“They treat you like you’re uneducated and you’re looking for a handout,” she said.

Besides the subsidy, Ash receives Medicaid for Quarey – her insurance does not cover everything.

Ash said she qualifies for food stamps and cash, but doesn’t take it because she does not believe she needs it.

The idea single mothers are always asking for handouts is prevalent, Ash said.

“I’m not looking for a handout, I don’t take anything I don’t need,” she said.

Despite all the hardships she endures as a single parent, Ash doesn’t know what she would do without her daughter.

“Quarey is the drive of my life, she is very securely attached to me,” she said.