By: Waetie Sanaa Cooper Burnette
One of the biggest transitions I have made over the past five years has been integrating who I was before kids with who I am now. As a woman of color, and a child of immigrants, it seemed revolutionary for me to slow down my work schedule to ensure that I could spend some time at home with each of my children. Living in a working class community, I know that the extended time I had with my children to play, go to the beach, or a museum, or simply observe and cheer them on as they mastered a new skill was truly a luxury. While this decision came at great financial cost, I still feel confident that this time was extremely beneficial to their development and their bond with me and our community. Given my experience, I was not surprised to read that pregnancy & childbirth (especially for mothers 18 & under) can lead to a rise in homelessness without adequate financial & familial support in “Pregnancy and Childbirth: Risk Factors for Homelessness?” by Beth C. Weitzman.
Children require ample time and care, and most new families experience a huge increase in responsibilities which can be overwhelming for even the most capable mom. And, for moms who may already be at risk or struggling to stay afloat, anticipating what will be needed financially when planning for a new baby can be really stressful. Since I love to observe and learn from other moms, I have learned many resources and strategies to plan for the financial costs associated with becoming a new family. See below strategies for new families trying to balance everything whether working inside or outside of their homes.
1. Clothes swap: Plan to swap baby clothes with family, friends, or neighbors who have children older and younger than your child. Those who are done having kids are often eager to pass their gently used clothing along and you will be able to pass along the items you are done with to other families who seem interested in saving money.
2. Working: Being able to work (if you choose or need to do so) after your baby is born can assist you to stay on top of all of the many new bills you can expect.
State support: Call 211, our state’s emergency assistance and information hotline for all kinds of resources, but especially to put your child on the waitlist for daycare/ afterschool/ summer camp assistance. You can get on this waitlist as soon as you can confirm that you are pregnant, and, if your family is income eligible at the time your child is born, this voucher can assist your family with the costs of child care from the time they are born until they turn 13. You will be required to work 20 to 30 hours and your family’s income will be used to determine what percentage of the daycare fees you will pay.
3. Delay utility payments: Mail a copy of your birth certificate or verification of your child’s birth from your stay in the hospital to your utility company to delay payments and avoid shut offs for the first year of your child’s life. This way, if you need some time to catch up with those payments, you give yourself some wiggle room as you adapt to the many new expenses of parenting a young child. In addition, if you qualify for any other state benefits, you may also qualify for a reduced rate on some of your utility charges.
4. Food pantries: If you are like many families who are working, and, yet, don’t qualify for many state benefits, one option that can greatly assist you and is open to all families is your local food pantry. The majority of pantries do not have an income guideline, and understand that college costs, mortgage, and other situations can lead families to struggle to put enough food on the table. Each program and its requirements are very specific, and may require participation/ enrollment prior to the very day you need services, so you should consult each program with your questions and plan which programs will be most helpful to your family.
Holidays: Some pantries also assist with gifts for your children during the Christmas holiday, or gift cards to assist with the costs of Thanksgiving.
5. Breastfeed: Besides breastfeeding being free, portable, and always the right temperature, children who are breastfed tend to have less health needs/ interventions over the course of their lives. Making a plan for how you can breastfeed directly or using a pump while you are away will greatly assist you in reducing costs. Also, it will help for you and your child to feel connected.
Breast pumps: Currently, insurance companies will pay for an average size breast pump once your child is born. In addition, you can also get retired models that are hospital grade (so more efficient at pumping) from medical supply companies at greatly reduced rates.
6. Women, Infants, and Children (WIC): Did you know that only about half of all families who are eligible for WIC actually access these benefits which greatly assist pregnant, nursing, and families with children under the age of five? It is believed that lack of information, shame, and pride over accessing state benefits may potentially prevent some families from applying for this valuable resource. Prior to applying, it is possible to get an idea of your likely eligibility here. If you decide to apply, you can do so at any WIC office that is convenient to you, regardless of whether you live in that town or not.
7. Housing: Housing is one of the most expensive items that families pay for on a monthly basis. Sharing your space, whether with family or friends, is one way to reduce those monthly costs. Websites like Co-Abode help single mothers find other single mothers to share living space. If you have extra room in your home, there are also many organizations such as the American Language Programs are always looking for native or proficient English speakers who know their communities well and are willing to rent a room or two on a short term basis to students or professionals learning English during their visits to the US. For hosts who routinely have good reviews, this can be a good source of supplemental income.
8. Domestic Violence and Abusive Situation Leave Act: Many studies show that "women are at an increased risk of experiencing violence from an intimate partner during pregnancy". In addition, "If domestic and family violence already exists, it is likely to increase in severity during pregnancy." At the same time, early parenthood is a time when early interventions are possible with the help of the variety of professionals who are available to assist women as they make healthier choices. Since we know that moms may choose to stay in unhealthy relationships for financial reasons, one great stabilizing resource for moms at any stage of parenting is the Domestic Violence and Abusive Situation Leave Act. This Act allows any employee to take a maximum of 15 days of time off in a 12 month period if either the employee or their family member needs time to address issues related to an abusive situation. Keeping communication open enough with your workplace that you can get the appropriate support to keep your financial life on track is just another way to ensure that you maintain the stability that your child needs during that first year of life. (Your employer is required to publicize and share all of the details related to this act with you, so make sure your human resources manual is updated).
9. Stay connected: Find ways to get connected to or maintain connection with as many family, religious, and community members as you can, as these people and resources are a major preventative factor in your ability to transition well into your role as a parent as you access the communal wisdom of those who have parented before you. Being connected allows you to ask questions and solve problems when they are small instead of remaining isolated and waiting until things are totally out of control. Despite what you may think, there are always others in your community who have walked a similar path to your own in the past. It will always take time and patience to find those companions, guides, and mentors who are meant to share your journey with you.