After a busy day at work and day care, Stephanie Ostwinkle and her daughter Harper, 3, mix up a batch of brownies in their Marion home. It’s a frequent ritual for the two of them, with Harper enthusiastically helping her mom stir the ingredients. Neither one seemed to mind a little spilled brownie mix or some stolen bites of batter.
“Our lives aren’t really any different from a two-parent family,” Ostwinkle said. “But single parents just don’t have anyone to share the work or the financial burden with.”
That’s one reason she’s a fan of FiredUp for Single Moms, a networking and support group launched in Cedar Rapids in the last year. Founder Starlet Smith started the group to give single parents a place to get together, learn from each other and lean on each other.
Smith lives in Cedar Rapids with her son, 8. It hasn’t been an easy journey, she said, but she wanted to pass on what she’s learned on that journey to other moms.
“A couple of years ago, I thought about everything I’ve been through. You can always find food assistance, housing assistance, help with other things, but what about mom assistance?”
The group started informally in 2016, just Smith and a few others getting together to talk. In the summer of 2017, they launched more formally, with a Facebook page and organized events. Smith runs the group along with her sisters, Emerald and Joi Smith, her mother, Chris Synacek, and friends Betty Nollen and Jiovanni Tapia.
Group members meet about once a month for social activities with a purpose. Each month has a theme; recent gatherings have focused on everything from financial wellness to painting as stress relief. Ostwinkle has the painting she did in her kitchen, near a “Mama bear” sign someone donated to members of the group. Participation is free, and kids are always part of the night and participate alongside their parents.
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She said just the chance to get together with others who understand what single parenthood is like is invaluable. Other “mom” groups she’s tried either have daytime activities for stay-at-home parents or leave the kids at home while the moms go to dinner. Neither of those options work for her.
“The sense of community is the biggest thing for me. It’s the one place in the community where I feel completely comfortable, where I can just be myself,” she said. “People in the group always understand what I’m going through.”
Smith said any parent, not just moms, are welcome to attend. They have a few single dads as parents, at least one grandmother and some parents who used to be single but have since married.
“What we’re trying to do is build relationships between mothers, fathers and children,” she said. “Our ultimate goal is to inspire people.”
Smith said she also wants to challenge the stigma still attached to single parenthood. She tries to bring in single moms as speakers, such as a recent panel of successful women in business who are raising kids on their own.
She also said she wants outsiders to understand the diversity of experiences in the group. Members come from every socio-economic group; some are single by choice, some by circumstance. Some had partners but lost them to tragedies.
That’s what happened to Tchoiya Clayton, who is raising four kids between the ages of 3 and 14. Their father died three years ago.
“Everyone is a single parent for different reasons, but I feel like we all have the same struggles,” she said. “I think the biggest challenge is trying to figure it out on one income. And you don’t have someone who has the same things they care about and worry about for your kids. It’s all on you.”
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She’s a preschool teacher, and she said she knows there is a lot of judgment out there of how people parent. She doesn’t have time for that.
“You’ve got to understand that sometimes life is hectic. Today my son is wearing two different shoes, because that’s what he wanted to do, and I didn’t want to fight him.”
At FiredUp for Single Moms, she finds support and people to lean on.
“It’s just somewhere uplifting and supportive,” she said. “Even just lending an ear can make a difference, without any judgment. That’s a big deal these days.”
What: FiredUp for Single Moms
When: Upcoming meeting 2 p.m. March 25: “Creating Your Future: Vision Board Workshop”
RSVP: Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Meeting location provided after RSVP received.
More information and future meetings: facebook.com/FiredUpforSingleMoms
l Comments: (319) 398-8339; email@example.com