Rebekah Streit poses with her kids, Jeffery, 7, and McKayla, 9, on Halloween 2005.
Listen to Rebekah Streit, a single mother, discuss why she's in school now.
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More women face challenges of raising children alone
By Sara Boyd
Since she was 18, Rebekah Streit has been taking care of her two children by herself. Bouncing from job to job, Streit found it tough to find work that would give her daughter, McKayla, 9, and her son, Jeffrey, 7, everything they needed. The high school graduate worked two, even three jobs at a time just to feed her family. As bills piled up and the need for food stamps grew, Streit found she could no longer live this life. She needed to better herself for her children.
“I was at that point in my job where I just couldn’t advance anymore without an education so it was time for me to (think,) ‘Do I really want to be here for the rest of my life or am I going to go back to school?’” she said. “And that’s why I’m (at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.)”
Streit is just one of a number of single, working mothers returning to school to improve their careers and better support their families. The growing population of single mothers is leading to more and more women seeking their college degrees, experts say. However, going back to school can bring single, working mothers more challenges. The mothers who fall within this growing category have goals of obtaining stable jobs. They must also have the emotional strength to balance work, school and parenting.
In 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau reported there were 2,251 single mothers with children under the age of 18 in Eau Claire County – an increase from 2000 when there were 2,034 single mothers. At UW-Eau Claire alone, there are 430 students who applied for financial aid with dependent children for the 2006-2007 school year, according to the Financial Aid Office.
And it’s not only locally that single mothers are on the rise. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one out of every three American children is born to a single mother.
Although the reasons behind the increase in single mothers can be attributed to a number of factors, experts agree that one cause has been the shift in societal views on the “typical family.”
Shelby Fetting, parent and community manager at Western Dairyland, organizes a support group for single parents in Eau Claire and said simply: couples aren’t staying together anymore.
“We’re seeing a number of people who have never gotten married,” she said. “Commitment just isn’t there anymore.”
Rosanna Hertz, a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wellesley College (Mass.) and author of the book, “Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice: How Women Are Choosing Parenthood Without Marriage and Creating the New American Family,” says the disappearing stigma of being a single mother is another reason.
“I think marriage has become this more idealized version and people aren’t as willing to settle for what they might have in the past,” she said.
Women between the ages of 30 and 40 years old are choosing to be single mothers more and more, Hertz said. For these women, the reasons for entering a single motherhood could be attributed to the idea that they don’t need a man to have a family. Forty percent of these women are becoming single mothers, she said.
“These women feel their biological clock is ticking and it’s now or never,” Hertz said.
Single mothers who choose to raise children alone also fear relationships will fall apart after a baby arrives and so take on the responsibilities from the start, she said. The idea that a partner has to come before a baby is becoming outdated, she said.
“Why invest (in a relationship) … when there was no guarantee that this new partnership would result in a child?” she said. “The risk that another man might reject them or reject having a child with them outweighed the potential benefits of the investment.”
Ruth Sidel, a professor of sociology at Hunter College of the City University of New York and author of the book, “Unsung Heroines: Single Mothers and the American Dream,” said another reason is that more men are leaving now than they have in the past.
“To me, that was astonishing, how quickly and easily so many of the men walk away,” she said.
Streit said for her, age and maturity were two major factors leading to single motherhood.
“We were way too young,” she said. “I mean, I was 15 when I was pregnant. I think age definitely can play a part.”
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