Three years ago, Janelle Hartley, an unmarried college student in Los Angeles, discovered she was pregnant. "The father warned me he would have nothing to do with the baby," she recalls. Hartley, who was 25 at the time, thought about other single mothers who had successfully raised children, and she reasoned that if they could manage, she could too. She arranged to have her mother accompany her to childbirth classes and stay with her during the delivery. After her daughter, Jade, was born, Hartley lived with her mother for several months before moving into her own apartment with money she earned from paid internships. She finished school and landed a job at a public relations agency.
Hartley has plenty of company. In 2004 a record 1.5 million babies were born to unmarried women in the United States. Either by choice or by circumstance, these women take on the roles of both mother and father. Like Hartley, they find that single parenthood brings joys as well as challenges. The latter can sometimes seem overwhelming, but most single mothers find that with the right combination of love, determination, creativity and support, they and their children do just fine.
If you're single and expecting a baby, here are some tips on being prepared and surviving solo parenting.
Be smart about money It can cost up to $184,000 to raise a child from birth to age 17, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Be aware that there are ways to pare down these costs. Housing accounts for the largest portion of child-rearing expenses, so you can save a lot by moving in with family or sharing an apartment with a friend or another single mother. Save on child care by joining a babysitting cooperative or swapping sitting time with friends.
If money is in short supply, government programs can help. A federal program called WIC (Women, Infants and Children) provides food, breastfeeding support and some health services for low-income women and their children up to age 5. In addition, most states have assistance programs that supply food, diapers and child care for eligible mothers and children. Check with your state's department of child protection office to find out what's available in your area.
Even if your child's father is not involved in her life, he is legally required to pay child support. State laws vary. "In California a woman has a legal right to receive child support even when she's pregnant," says Goldie Schon, a Los Angeles attorney specializing in family law.