A Young Mama's Journey From Struggling Alone to Parenting in Community

Monday, May 12, 2014

During this week's Young Parents Week of Action the Strong Families Young Parents Cohort will deliver the Young Parents Dignity Agenda to Congress: 5 critical pieces of legislation in support of what young parents need most to thrive. Gloria Malone shares her story of what education, childcare, housing, and work look like for a young parent. Sign the petition today!

Becoming a mother at 15 made me feel as if I had to prove to the world that I could do "it" on my own. My individualistic approach to parenting intensified until, at the age of 20, I realized I needed help. My daughter and I had just moved to New York City, one of the most unforgiving cites in the world, and I had no one to count on.

Timidly, I began to ask people in the building about childcare options, babysitters outside of the building, and possible after school programs for my daughter so that I could continue going to college full time. In order for me to stay on track for graduation, I had to take at least four classes, some of which were only available after my daughter's school dismissal time. My search for help became a paramount part of my daily routine. Yet every inquiry yielded the same result: the cost was not feasible.. One day I stepped out of my comfort zone and asked a neighbor if she knew of anyone who watched children in our building, "I do" she replied. Just like that I had a sitter who would pick my daughter up from school and watch her until I got home, and all for a very reasonable price.

As time went on, my network of support expanded and deepened. My father began to pick my daughter up from the neighbor when he could. On some Saturdays he would take her with him on his errands or for his evening walk in the park. These unasked gestures of kindness gave me time to relax and allowed them a time to bond.

With the gift of a few moments of time to myself I started coming to a new revelation. With the support of others I had secured the well-being of my child. But the gift of a few moments of time to myself revealed a new reality—my own mental and emotional well-being was still at risk. As an outlet, I began to write my feelings into the ether, also known as the internet. To my surprise people began to respond. They responded with encouragement. They shared stories of similar struggles and my new online friends offered their email addresses telling me that if I ever needed some to talk to, they were there to listen.

As the sense of community both online and off were growing, my heart and self esteem grew with it and my daughter's community grew as well. We discovered other baby sitters who she loved to go with because "they were fun"; she began to be invited to family parties and outings with her friends;, and, she continued to grow and experience the world through a community that I created for her and with her.

New relationships allowed my daughter and me to grow in unexpected ways. When I embraced the learning that parenting is an act of community I also began to tap into my full potential as a parent which allowed me to dream and reach goals I never thought possible.

My professional life blossomed. Online relationships spurred connections with organizations that appreciated and admired my writing and advocacy work. These organizations were family friendly and allowed me to bring my daughter with me to meetings, events, and conferences. Instead of just wanting to work with me, these organizations understood that they were working with my family. And in turn, our presence helped to foster an environment of family support in professional work settings. As a result, she and I have joined a community of powerful and committed people and families working together to make family-friendly work spaces and opportunities a cultural asset in the workforce.

My story and my struggle are not necessarily unique. In fact, many young parents are right now struggling to complete their education, care for their children, find work and safe housing and still prove to the world that they have it all together. Rather than deny this reality, the Strong Families Young Parents cohort lead by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health are delivering the Young Parents Dignity Agenda to Congress this week: five pieces of legislation aimed at supporting young parents in the critical areas of education, jobs, health care, childcare, and housing. Sign the petition today!

Parenting is an act of community because the community acts as a parent by providing space for growth, love, encouragement, and support.

Although I am a single mother who does not have a co-parent parenting with me, I have an expansive community that reaches far beyond state and national boundaries and traditional "lean in" work settings. It reaches beyond me because it includes my daughter as an asset as well. Community parenting builds me up, and I am proud to say that I am not parenting alone. I have a community parenting with me.

Together, we can ensure that young parents and their children struggle less and have equal opportunities to succeed.

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