Public assistance helped this professional single mom get on her feet

single mom assistance

I often struggle with this platform, where I speak primarily to women like me: Educated, professional single moms. The number of unmarried mothers is increasingly affluent and educated, as women gain power in business and earning. But the reality remains that about half of kids raised primarily by a single mom live in poverty (a figure plummets for kids raised by single dads). I don’t pretend that what I write about here speaks to every single one of the 10 million U.S. single moms, or financial challenges that I face as an educated white women are the same as someone who grew up with the challenges of generational poverty. However, I often hear from women facing single motherhood and find themselves in financial straights — very real, scary financial straights — despite having had every perceived advantage, a fact that only adds to the shame and fear around their situation.

A couple years ago I had this Facebook instant message conversation with Jennifer L.W. Fink, a single mom to four boys in Wisconsin. She separated five years ago and has been divorced for two. When she separated, Fink worked part-time as a freelance writer and homeschooled her children. She turned to public assistance.

Today Fink makes a living as a full-time freelance writer. She blogs at Blogging ‘Bout Boys.

EJ:  In launching this blog I started researching the economics of single moms, and it actually depressed me for a few days. I don’t need to tell you that the numbers are dire. When I realized I would become a single mom, I just kind of put my blinders on to the roadblocks in my way and plunged ahead. So far so good. That is what I aim to preach on Wealthy Single Mommy.

But I also try to appreciate that I am a white, educated middle-class woman who had a career before I had kids and got divorced. No ignoring that.

JLWF:  That’s a big point. I’m white and educated and relatively middle class. But I married at 20 and didn’t exactly have a career before that. But I still have a leg up that a lot of other single moms don’t have in that I have a college degree and had some professional experience.

But there’s the thing: raising kids takes at least as much time as it takes money. I don’t think we, as parents, do ourselves any favors by glossing over that fact. Ideally, you have two parents working toward that goal.

Jennifer L.W. Fink single mom welfare

Jennifer L.W. Fink

EJ: I agree 100 percent. But that isn’t our story now. So what do you suggest?

JLWF: I definitely suggest applying for and accepting as much help as you need. There is nothing wrong or shameful about that.

EJ: We’re talking public assistance?

JLWF: Yes. Most of the time, single motherhood is sudden. Even in families with two, educated, professional spouses, one spouse (often the woman) is working less outside the home to facilitate family life. And while many moms— most moms—can and will ramp up their income and earning potential, they can’t always pull that off right away. I would definitely urge these women to look into what’s available in terms of health benefits, food stamps or other benefits. You have nothing to lose.

EJ: Did accept public aid?

JLWF: Yes, I did, and I’m OK talking about it.

I have a nursing degree, but I transitioned into a writing career while I was having and homeschooling my kids. By the time of my divorce, I hadn’t actively practiced nursing in 6 years. I made something like $21,000 writing the year before I divorced — not bad for a part-time job, but it’s not nearly enough to support a family of five.

When I separated I ramped up my writing work, but to fill in that gap I applied for every kind of assistance I could get. Health insurance was a particular worry since my ex had carried me on his policy. I qualified for food assistance for six months, health benefits for a year, and help with heating costs that first winter.

EJ: How did you feel about applying for aid? What went through your mind?

JLWF: I’m from a middle class home. I’m not supposed to be one of “those moms.” I felt angry at a world and a system and circumstances that put my children and me in such a position that makes it easy for one spouse to walk away, while another struggles to figure out how to feed and clothe her kids. But at that time, it truly was survival for me. It was the only way to make the numbers work.

EJ: What would you family’s life have looked like had you not gotten that assistance?

JLWF: I’m lucky and blessed to have good friends and family. No one would have let us starve, or land on the streets, but none of my family or friends could have afforded to subsidize us for long. We would definitely considered selling the house. But it would have been tough to find something more reasonable, and apartment living isn’t exactly a great option for four active boys.

EJ: Not at all! Do you worry that professional women — or at least middle-class women — struggle unduly because they’re too embarrassed to apply for public benefits?

JLWF: Yes. It’s very hard to whip out your state assistance food card at the grocery store when you’re used to using a credit or debit card.

EJ: You said you were angry. Are you still angry, and if so, what do you do with that energy – and how does that affect your financial life?

JLWF: I am angry, but I try to channel that anger into writing and building a better life for my kids and myself. My goal is to earn enough to make it without child support, and to build a life in which my kids and I are comfortable. In many cases (my case), child support comes with strings and resentment, even though it is just supposed to be about the children.

So far, I am on my way. Each year as been better financially than the last.

EJ: That’s fantastic.

JLWF: There is also a chance that if I make too much, it will affect my child support.

EJ: Do you think that has held you back professionally and financially – that fear of losing your child support, and how unfair that might seem?

JLWF: It was a huge step for me to get over that, yes. Now my goal is to make enough so that if that were to happen, it wouldn’t eat into our comfort. I also made the conscious decision that nothing can stop me from succeeding – especially not my ex-husband.

EJ: I love that. What you are really saying is, “I will not stop myself from being successful.”

JLWF: Right. It’s recognizing and overcoming my own mental hurdles.

EJ: But it is easier, I think, to build a career and wealth and success — no matter how you define success — if you do it from a place of happiness and not from being pissed off — even if we deserve to be pissed!

JLWF: I think you’re right. It’s just hard to get there sometimes! That’s why I think assistance works best when viewed as a temporary bridge while you work through the professional and personal challenges of divorce.

EJ: And what do you have to say to women in similar situations who refuse to apply for assistance, and instead spend their energy trying to get their ex to fork over more money?

JLWF:  I’d say:

1) You’re going to spend more in legal bills than you’d probably get; you’re not going to come out ahead.

2) You’re feeding the negative energy instead of trying to work through it.

3) See what you can do to improve your financial situation.

EJ: I like #3 because we can’t totally control how much the ex gives us, or how much we can get from the state. But we can control ourselves and our finances and our careers.

JLWF: We can’t totally control anything!


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Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.

Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

14 thoughts on “Public assistance helped this professional single mom get on her feet

  1. Loved this. I received assistance the first year. Now, we still get help with a few local organizations for small things, but are mainly on our feet. One of the organizations is giving us a turkey for Thanksgiving. I was happy that the community had something to make our day.

  2. >>I was happy that the community had something to make our day.

    Gina – this is an interesting perspective. Of course most of us appreciate being cared for during difficult times by people we know and love. But there is something perhaps equally fulfilling when it comes from strangers or acquaintances. Thanks for sharing.

  3. It makes me sick to see how women will always defend their choice for taking other people’s money to live on. She has 5 kids and wants to home school them but, wants to get paid for the privilege. She had no right to have 5 kids and then put the responsibility for their financial needs on society. Now that she is on her feet again, I wonder if she will pay back what she took. You know the answer to that already.
    She couldn’t stay married; didn’t concern herself about the children when she ended her marriage so nonchalantly; then felt ENTITLED for working people to support her!!!!!!!!!
    This is the “new” advanced, LIBERAL breed of woman who does whatever she feels like doing, then makes excuses and defends her behavior. This is surely NOT the breed of women who helped their men tame America during the 1800’s. Those women worked on the farms, supporting their husbands, taking care of house and children…who really worked hard and honest. They were REAL WOMEN….Today, you have these losers with their high “educated” communication techniques but, who say crap, always expecting…always making excuses for themselves, taking advantage of anyone they can….
    They are weak minded lib feminists who feel the world owes them.

    1. @Rick – Her husband left her. This was not a scenario she choose. Then she quickly got on her feet and supports her children on her own with very little financial support from her ex- and none from the state. Before and after that period she DOES contribute to the funds that helped her in the form of taxes. Jennifer is a perfect example of why we have social programs – to help families in dire situations become independent. Why all the hate?

      1. Wow! I would not be surprised if Rick was an abuser. So much blame and anger there, ridiculing an entire generation plus of women. He obviously did not read the post in full or read it with an agenda. His comment has so many red flags for an abuser….wow!

  4. Thank you so much for this article. I’m a single mom of 2 children. I divorced my ex because he started going through a series of mental illnesses and it was starting to be a bad environment. It was very hard for me to apply for for assistance especially after hearing Ann Coulter demonize single mothers a few years back. Fortunately I was able to say get passed it and continued on with the steps I was and am taking to get ahead in life. I just discovered this site as I was browsing the internet trying to find single mothers that HAVE made it to success. I married and had my children young but I refuse to believe what people say about single mothers and their children. I’m glad that this site exists because I in no way believe that I am a failure. I refuse to believe that success is not for me. If there are no other successful single mom’s than I will be the first. Now that I’ve found you though, I’m looking forward to having you there as a mentor to look up to.
    Thank you.

  5. I love this post and find no shame in the hustle of getting on with two kids, a house and all the bills that come with it and going back to school.

    I’m starting my own blog 2 years after my separation and love the single mom community thus far!

  6. Great post! I am a single mom of two who has never been married, never received a penny of child support from their father, has a BA, and I make a pretty good living to support the three of us. We want for nothing at this point, but that wasn’t always the case. There were periods where I was laid off and my first instinct, as a mom, was to ensure we kept a roof over our heads, food in our stomachs, and the utilities stay on. With that said, I have absolutely had to utilize the same public assistance programs that my hard-earned taxes have paid into. That’s what it’s there for and there should be no shame associated with that.

    Thank you, EJ, for bringing this to the light and creating dialogue around it.

    1. Kristina, kudos to you! This is exactly how the system is supposed to work. It’s temporary,just to get a person back on their feet,.and.then you pay back in in order to help others. This is not shameful at all!

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