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Success as a Single Mom

Jennifer Wood and her family.

Jennifer Wood and her family.

Photography by Kelly Ann Shuler

It isn’t easy being a single mom. Anyone who looks at statistics about American families knows that. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, out of about 12 million single-parent households, 80 percent are headed by mothers, and a whopping 40 percent of those families are poor. That’s 6,880,000 kids living below the poverty line today. The reasons are myriad, including the difficulties of raising a family alone while working full-time, and the income disparity single mothers face; women are still paid some 17 cents less than men for the same work.

Single motherhood is an extremely stressful, often difficult life, but there are women who are able to make it work, juggling a career with tending to their children and sometimes even dating. To find out how they do it - and how they feel about it - we recently sat down with four area single moms.

Christina Rodriguez
Christina Rodriguez has a goal. Currently a research coordinator in emergency medicine at Penn State Health, Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, she would eventually like to own her business with Primerica Financial Services, where she also works part-time. Mom to Micah, 9, Rodriguez was diagnosed with kidney disease while pregnant and has lost total function in one kidney and only has about 50 percent of the other. “I don’t want to work myself to the bone and not be there for him in later years,” Rodriguez stresses. “I need to save some money, so I can get out of working in such a stressful atmosphere. I work in the ER - they never sleep. I just don’t want to do that forever.”

It isn’t easy being a single mom. Anyone who looks at statistics about American families knows that. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, out of about 12 million single-parent households, 80 percent are headed by mothers, and a whopping 40 percent of those families are poor. That’s 6,880,000 kids living below the poverty line today. The reasons are myriad, including the difficulties of raising a family alone while working full-time, and the income disparity single mothers face; women are still paid some 17 cents less than men for the same work.

Single motherhood is an extremely stressful, often difficult life, but there are women who are able to make it work, juggling a career with tending to their children and sometimes even dating. To find out how they do it - and how they feel about it - we recently sat down with four area single moms.

Cynthia Beatty


Cynthia Beatty has been down this road before. Almost two decades ago, when her kids Rachel and Ryan were young, she was divorced from their father. Three years later, Beatty wed again, giving birth to her daughter Trinity, now 13. In 2014, that marriage ended. Beatty notes, “Probably the thing I miss most are family dinners. Because now as a single mom - you know, you rush home, it’s late, you throw something quick at them. It’s just not like it was, the family sitting down together and conversing every night. When you’re working so many jobs you don’t have that encounter as much as you did before. And I think that’s an important factor in a family.”


It’s no wonder Beatty, 55, doesn’t have much time to make dinner. She works full-time running the Flagship Rehabilitation office at The Middletown Home, owns an antique shop in Duncannon’s Old Sled Works, is a stained glass artist and fronts a band, Sofeya and the Puffins, which performs all-original music at about 20 gigs a year. The Uptown resident, who lived in South Carolina and Delaware before moving to the area with her first husband, admits it’s not easy making it all work.


“It can be really challenging for a single mom,” Beatty explains. “Because we have to be both parents, and in between that and working two or more jobs- it’s exhausting and respite is very hard to find. Having some good girlfriends that understand and have some empathy for those situations is what gets you through. Because there are a lot of single moms out there, and thank goodness for the connections that they have, because they’re the ones keeping the community together, they’re the ones helping out and watching each other’s kids.”

Sarah Winter


Sarah Winter wasn’t making it. She was working as a residential aide, but had to commute from Reading to far-flung cities like Philadelphia and Pottsville. The $8.00 an hour she earned didn’t cover her bills. Meanwhile, Winter and her two kids, Ryan, now seven and Hayden, who just turned six, were living with her biological mom in a situation she characterizes as “not the best environment.” Desperate, Winter turned to Bridge of Hope, an organization that helps stabilize poor, single mother-led families, providing temporary assistance for housing. Winter benefitted as well from the mentors she connected with through the program, who even helped her study for the exam she needed to get her medical assistant certification.


Winter, who attended Cumberland Valley High School, now lives in Camp Hill with her sons, and works for Holy Spirit - A Geisinger Affiliate as a medical assistant. She’s grateful to Bridge of Hope, calling it “an awesome program” and intends to make her mentors even prouder by going back to school some day to become a nurse practitioner. “That’s definitely one of my goals,” the 27-year-old adds. “I want to be able to put a down payment on a house and save for my kids’ college. One day I can see myself with someone, but I can’t rush into things.”


With the aid of her increased income, Winter was recently able to finalize her divorce from Hayden’s father, ending a painful chapter. “There are definitely ups and downs when you’re a single mother,” she says. “I’ve gotten to the point where I didn’t know how to keep going, but I had people I could talk to about it, which Bridge of Hope provides. One of the great things now is that I can say I’ve done it. I can tell people that I’m a single parent and I have a job and I provide for my kids. That is an accomplishment in itself.”


Jennifer Wood


It’s hard to imagine how Jennifer Wood does it. The 37-year-old, who tops out at about 5’2” and 120 pounds, must be a powerhouse. She has five kids to take care of: Evan, 16; Ethan, 14; Mikayla, 13; Natalie, 11; and Benjamin, 8. Single for about nine years, Wood gets a hand from her mother but says, “Now one of the biggest challenges is getting them to all their school functions, sports games and practices. Two of the boys are in soccer and my girls have done concert and band. So some nights it’s all about trying to figure out which one I’ll go to and which one my mom will, so that somebody’s there with them.”


Wood, who grew up in Hummelstown, is a gastrointestinal tech at Harrisburg Endoscopy and Surgery Center. Previously, she worked at Aa to Zz Childcare and Learning Center, where she could bring her children to work with her. But according to Wood, she always wanted to be a mother first and foremost. “When I was a kid, I always wanted at least three children. I got married when I turned 20 and started having kids...My biggest wish is that my kids go to college before they move out and start their own lives. I missed out on being young because I was in a hurry to grow up. I want them to be successful and not have to struggle in life the way we have. They deserve the world.”


When asked if she has any words of wisdom for other single moms, Wood replies, “My biggest advice is to not worry what other people say about you. Keep your head up and focus on taking care of yourself and your children. They are what’s important. Always put them first.”

Jul 10, 2017 11:30 pm
 Posted by  CindyR

As a child of a divorced mom in the 50s and 60s, I have a lot of empathy for the moms you highlighted in your article. There weren't the resources then that there are now but we had our church friends and that kept my mom and the three of us kids going. Thank you for the article. It was great and Im praying for those moms and kids. Jesus loves them.

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