“I had a boyfriend; I thought he was a nice guy. I was in love and we had a little accident. We had an ‘oops’ and I found myself pregnant. I thought he would stand by my side. He didn’t,” Cassie Woods said. The 34-year-old businesswoman lives in Ventura and her baby, her first, was due as this issue went to press. “You are always the responsible one. You are always the one who has to be home. You just don’t have the extra hand to help you with the child,”
Beverly Schaffer said. Schaffer is 53 years old, lives in Oxnard, and has been a single parent for three years. Her ex-husband lives nearby and reliably provides financial help for their 13-year-old son.
“Being a parent has made me who I am. Everything I do goes through that filter,” Alecia Caine said. The 43-year-old Ventura resident has been a single parent for 16 years, raising her two sons alone and without any financial support.
Caine is an expert on single parenthood and is about to face being alone for the first time as both of her boys now attend college.
Three women are coping with very different circumstances of being a single parent. Each is faced with the financial struggle of any single parent who must rely primarily on one income. Although they all have either found secure jobs or work for themselves, they are still vulnerable to the sagging economy like everyone else. But they are all focused on their singular responsibilities as single parents and feel the pressing need to get it right.
Woods is just beginning the journey and, like all new parents, is aware that her life is about to change forever. Just how it will change exactly is not clear and, again like all first-time mothers, she is focused on the birth and coping with a newborn.
“I actually am doing things a little bit differently,” Woods said. “I have a midwife and I am planning on doing a home birth. I do have medical backup. I feel very confident that if there is an emergency, the backup obstetrician will be right there to take care of me. I did not want to go through regular Western medicine.”
Although most single mothers are worried about finances, Woods has that one nailed. She is a physical therapist for children who runs her own business. Woods began her business in 2004 and now has 26 employees. Her success did figure into her decision to continue the pregnancy.
“I was 34 years old, I’d always wanted to have kids, I was stable in a job, and there was really no reason, other than the fact that it was inconvenient timing, to not have a child,” Woods said. “I felt like I had the maturity and I had the means to support a child. And, yes, I did think (my boyfriend) would be there. This was a decision that we made together.”
However, Woods is now single and about to enter the universal club of parenthood. And Woods said she has plenty of worries. “I’m very anxious because, despite all of the support that I have, I know that I will be the one waking up alone at 3 in the morning to feed the baby,” Woods said. “I was left holding the bag, so I really don’t have any other choice.”
Woods said she has always wanted to have a family but it had just never fallen into place. “I have been engaged but that didn’t end in marriage,” Woods said. “I have always wanted to be married and have always wanted to have a family and kids. In fact, my business is all about kids. It was always something I wanted to do, but I wanted to do it within the context of marriage.”
In order to summon up the support she feels she will be needing, Woods contacted all of the women she knows. “I am gathering my proverbial village for support,” she said. “I have a family who loves me. I have friends who love me. You do what you have to do.”
Finding herself in an unplanned and unexpectedly single pregnancy, Woods said she is grateful that she has the financial means to cope and now views other single mothers with more insight. “Now, being a single woman who is about to embark on being a single mother, my perspective is much more enlightened for other mothers who find themselves in the same situation who are not as fortunate as I am,” Woods said. “Women who either don’t have the means or don’t have the support — I honestly don’t know what I would do.”
Having some control over her life during the hectic period of caring for an infant is important to Woods. “I am lucky in the fact that I am the owner of the business,” she said. “Because I don’t have a partner, I will need help for the first six months. I recognize I won’t be able to do all of this by myself.”
Middle age with a preteen
Like Woods, Beverly Schaffer became a de facto single mother, having had very little say in the matter. The situation was determined by the actions of her husband, who announced that he was leaving the marriage after many years. He had found another woman, and that was that.
“When I found out that my ex-husband was going to leave me, when I found out he had the affair, I went to him,” Schaffer said. “He admitted it and told me he wanted to leave to be with her.”
Schaffer said she knew she needed some help to get through the divorce. “I immediately got the name of a counselor therapist,” she said. “She was a great deal of help to me on how to deal with my ex-husband. Although he wouldn’t go to counseling with me, he did go to counseling for eight months separately from me, to the same counselor.”
During this period, Schaffer said they worked out the bulk of the settlement by themselves. But, still, Schaffer did not trust the situation. “I was scared and talked to a couple of lawyers, and they told me I was getting a pretty good deal,” Schaffer said.
And then Schaffer heard the words she certainly did not expect to ever hear from an attorney. “One said he didn’t think I needed a lawyer,” she said. “I’m serious, this honestly happened. He said, ‘You need to try and work this out. I’ve got the name of a mediator up in Thousand Oaks. I really think you’ll get a better deal if you go this way.’ ”
So Schaffer and her estranged husband used a mediator to finish up the settlement. Even the issue of custody, often the most intractable and painful issue for both the parents and the child, was not disputed. “My ex-husband used to travel a lot so I was used to having to take care of everything,” Schaffer said. “Because of that, he said I should have 80 percent custody and he would take 20 percent custody.”
So Schaffer’s ex-husband purchased another house nearby in order to be near his son. “My son gets to see his father whenever he wants,” Schaffer said. “We don’t have any set dates when he has to be at either house. We have a very relaxed type of arrangement. We didn’t want our son to suffer because of the divorce.”
As for employment, Schaffer had formerly worked in the banking business but now needed a more flexible job. So a woman in her Bible group who has a mom-and-pop business offered to help out. She trained Schaffer to be their bookkeeper, and that is where she has worked for the past three years. “When I took the job, I told them at the beginning that I can’t work 8 to 5,” Schaffer said. “I work the hours that he is in school.” Schaffer added that she knew her ex-husband would be there for them financially because he loves his son.
So, although the entire process has been extremely difficult for Schaffer, she said she is aware that it could have been much worse. “I think the Lord handed me things; I am amazed,” she said. “At the time, I was devastated and I didn’t see it. Looking back, though, I feel very blessed.”
All by herself
Like Schaffer and Woods, Alecia Caine has always put her children first. However, unlike them, Caine was determined to shoulder the responsibility of raising her sons by herself and without asking for help. She said her biggest concern at the moment, now that both boys are attending college, is facing the empty nest.
Caine became a single parent unwillingly but saw no other way to safely raise her family. Married at a very young age, Caine said she met her ex-husband while they were both attending UCLA. “As soon as we got married, they sent him to Germany,” Caine said. It was during her junior year while majoring in economics. “As soon as I graduated I moved to Germany. I studied German for a year to prepare,” she said.
But Caine was at loose ends in Germany where her ex-husband had been stationed in a remote area. “I had no job,” she said. “So I went there and lived there for a year and came back. I didn’t really pursue much of anything while I was there.”
Once back home, Caine said, she began to build on her degree by taking accounting classes. “Then I got pregnant,” she said. “We were married but I was real young. It wasn’t what I had planned. I was 23, and I had a baby and I never had a career.”
After having another baby the following year, the marriage began to take a dangerous turn. “It was kind of an abusive relationship,” Caine said. “I had really lived a sheltered life; I didn’t know from this. I was young, I had two little kids, he became abusive, and I had to do something quickly.”
Then the marriage became a nightmare. “My husband hit my son, and I could not tolerate something like that,” Caine said. “I was 26 years old, I hadn’t really worked except for part time, and here I was going through having to learn what this (situation) was. Is this child abuse? What does this mean? How do we go forward?”
Caine had her moment of clarity when her ex-husband refused to work on the marriage. “It became evident that I was going to be on my own,” she said. “All this time, I was taking accounting classes, studying for the CPA exam. I took the exam one month before we separated and learned that I had passed all four parts a month after we separated.”
So now it was time for Caine to get a job and figure out how to care for her toddler sons, ages 3 and 1 1/2, by herself. “I had to find work in a CPA firm, put the kids in daycare,” Caine said. “So I felt like they were losing two parents.
That was unacceptable to me.”
Caine tackled the challenge of being a single parent by keeping her focus on her children instead of wherever she happened to be employed at the time. She said so many of the firms had demanded that she put the job first and her children second, a demand she could not accept. So she said she would lie to the employer when asked whether there was someone else to take care of her kids if they got sick. Otherwise, Caine said, she would never have been hired anywhere — a problem which is faced by all single parents.
Eventually, Caine took a job at a local synagogue as a bookkeeper. They allowed her to bring her sons with her. “I got paid partly in cash and partly in free day care,” she said. “I was always able to negotiate what I needed to do to do the best job, to be the best mother, and to be part time. I was barely able to make it.”
Regardless of the difficulties Caine faced, she knew what she had to do as a parent. “I was able to do what I needed to do because I wouldn’t take no for an answer,” she said. “I wouldn’t allow my kids to have less than (they would have had with a father) because of my situation. I just made it work.” Both of her sons attended private school, with the negotiated price of two for one.
At that time, Caine was living in Agoura, working in Santa Monica, and the boys attended school in Woodland Hills. The pressure to be everywhere at the same time was enormous. “If I didn’t get the kids picked up by 6, they charged me a dollar a minute per kid,” Caine said. “I never could feel like I am where I am supposed to be. Whenever I was someplace, I needed to be somewhere else. Whenever I was at work, I felt guilty I wasn’t at home. I did that for one year.”
Caine eventually got her CPA license and has worked on her own since 2000. She is the sole financial provider for the family. Her determination has carried her through. “My children have needs, and I’m going to take care of them,” she said. “Their father is nowhere around, he’s in Costa Rica, so it was me. I didn’t want to involve my parents because they have their own stress. Somehow, I get my bases covered.”
But the pursuit of being the best parent possible has taken a toll on Caine’s personal life. “My whole life has revolved around my children,” she said. “I haven’t even had relationships. Part of it was I didn’t have the time. Then I didn’t want to share my energy with somebody else.”
But now that her house will be empty when her youngest son leaves Ventura College and moves on, hopefully to join his brother at UCLA, Caine has an entirely new world of challenges. “I tried having a relationship, which ended a year ago,” she said. “I saw that I’m still becoming the person that I’m supposed to become. I’m looking forward to reinventing me. Being in a relationship and I don’t even know myself yet? It was too much unknown and I needed to have some time alone before I settle down. Maybe that’s what’s coming up next for me.”
Three women, one each in their 30s, 40s and 50s. Each a single parent coping with a different stage of their children’s lives, each with a different set of circumstances with the fathers of their children. But Woods, Schaffer and Caine all have one thing in common, and that is a single-minded determination to provide for their families and to be the very best parents they can possibly be.