I want to preface this piece with an appeal to lay aside any of your own prejudices you may have about single parents. There are many people who find themselves raising a child or children on their own who believed strongly at one time that they would have a partner to share this experience with. So whether by design or accident, or by choices the other person in the relationship made, someone finds themselves in the situation of raising a child or children alone. That being the premise, let’s look at that person and the attempt to find employment.
Single parents have some added barriers to job searching that other people do not. Most obvious is the issue of child care if the children are not old enough to go to elementary school, and even if there is child care available, it now becomes an issue of finding enough money to pay the provider, and making enough after paying the provider to make a living independently.
I recall many years ago when I worked as a Social Services Caseworker in another jurisdiction than I do now. On my desk landed a file and the composition of the family was one adult and thirteen children. Some were multiple births, some in school full-time, some in pre-school and some not in any school at all. Just imagine the amount of money that person would have to be bringing in to not be on some form of social assistance. Again, refrain from somehow blaming the person for their predicament if you find yourself doing so. Without all the details, you’d only be guessing how anyone could be in this situation, and you might have a great change of opinion were you to know the details which I’m not sharing here.
More common is the situation where a parent of one or two children is looking to be financially independent. This adult; male or female I’ll argue, has unique challenges that people without children, or who have adult children do not face.
First of all many people will advise the job seeker to focus all their energy into their job search. How then does one do that with the responsibilities that come with single parenthood? After all, children need feeding, cleaning, clothing, watching and you can’t really expect most kids to amuse themselves for hours on end. In fact, just trying to keep some children occupied for a few minutes is challenging for some parents. Add to the mix a child with any kind of physical or mental health issue, a parent who themselves had parents with poor parenting skills from which to learn or a combination of the two, and serious job searching becomes problematic.
However, it is possible. It’s not only possible but it happens with regularity. The key as with anyone is to first take care of the basics such as a roof over the head and food on the table. Stabilizing just these two things for some takes years. When you have a place to call home, you’ve got a place to secure and buffer yourself against the pressures of ‘out there’. Once the raw essentials are in place, building a support system is critical.
A support system involves a combination of friends, family, contacts, social service agencies, health and child care providers and more. All of these in various combinations unique to each person’s situation provide the adult with the ability to devote some of their precious time to the job search and accept a job with supports in place. This is often the biggest reservation employers have with single parents. While they may love the work the single parent does, they are fearful of their dependability.
And it’s interesting that a potential interview question such as, “Tell me about an accomplishment of which you are proud”, can’t be answered honestly by many single parents in an interview the way they’d like. Relating the achievement of successfully raising a child, (or several) alone and having them be well-adjusted, especially if another adult left you high and dry to fend for yourselves is a fantastic personal story of resiliency and survival. And wanting more for you kids and a better life for all has great appeal. Unfortunately it’s a red flag from the other side of the desk most of the time however, as it raises the issue of absenteeism, and if you aren’t at work, you’re not productive.
So it’s advisable that the single parent who is job searching keep their children and their marital status out of the interview. Choose to talk of your skills, your ambition, your value and your willingness to work hard. The pride you feel in yourself as a single parent and your children themselves should be left for the future when you’re already receiving those pay cheques.
I can see the employer’s point of view on the matter, and I suspect you can too. But I do wish the single parent who was looking for work would be evaluated on their skills, qualifications, attitude and performance first and their status as a single parent much lower on the list. But take heart single parent, for you have 100% control over what you choose to reveal about yourself in that job interview.
And one last thing. If you are a single parent looking for work, when you get frustrated and ask why even bother, ask yourself what motivated you to start in the first place. They’ll thank you for it.