Local Jewish single parents on homeschooling, need for support and the uncertain future.
Cady Vishniac’s 8-year-old daughter Luta was about to start her Zoom math class.
“She has these Zoom classes that are the bane of my existence,” said Vishniac, a divorced single mom living in West Bloomfield, on the phone to the Jewish News.
“Paper! Paper! Paper!” Luta chanted. “Look at me!”
“I see you, Luta. You’re climbing on the stairs in a way that makes me nervous,” Vishniac said as she ran around trying to find the computer.
Vishniac located the computer and explained to Luta that class would be with the whole group today. Luta, who has behavioral challenges, has mostly been getting individual instruction.
“I can’t!” Luta shouted.
“You’re getting the idea,” Vishniac said to JN.
This is what it’s like to be a single parent in quarantine.
When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued her stay-at-home order in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, parents found themselves in a seemingly impossible situation. Vishniac put it bluntly: “You can’t make a kid focus on school and work 40 hours a week at the same time.”
These challenges were amplified for other single parents as well. At one point during quarantine, Abby Segal, a single mom in Bloomfield Hills, went five days without taking a shower. When she finally got a second to sit her 4-year-old daughter Aliyah down in front of the computer and went to take a shower, she heard Aliyah open the back door and walk outside into the yard.
“You don’t have another set of eyes,” she said. “You don’t have coverage.”
For divorced single parents, the pandemic brought up the added question of how to co-parent during a stay-at-home order. As Vishniac said, “There’s a degree of social distancing that I can’t do. I can’t do it anyway because she’s going back and forth between my house and my ex’s house.”
Erica Gray of Farmington Hills has been divorced for almost two years. When the pandemic began, she didn’t feel comfortable having her 12- and 13-year-old daughters, Chloe and Leah, split time between her house and their dad’s place. Legally, though, she had to continue the custody arrangement she had with her ex-husband.
Gray said she and her ex-husband had a hard time getting along before the pandemic. The need to figure out the questions raised by COVID-19 forced them to become better communicators.
“I think the one good thing about this is that we’ve learned … to be nicer to each other and to talk to each other differently,” she said.
Lack of Support
Segal found out about the Single Parents Alliance and Resource Connection (SPARC), a program run for Jewish single parents out of the JCC, when her daughter was about 2 years old. But late in 2018, the organization’s funding was abruptly cut off. SPARC no longer provides programming, though a Facebook page remains to connect local single parents.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Segal became concerned about the lack of support for Jewish single parents in the community. As a social worker and therapist, “I’m always paying attention to this kind of stuff,” Segal said. “It’s not just personal — it’s my profession, too.”
After posting on the Facebook page and talking back and forth in the comments with a few other single parents, Segal said she finally got a private message from the group’s administrator asking if she was doing OK.
“I said that I was doing fine, but maybe the community needed some attention,” she said. “And that was the last I heard about it.”
With a lack of institutional support from the community, single parents have looked elsewhere for assistance.
In Ann Arbor, widowed dad Steve Kaganove and his son Nathan, who has Asperger’s, have kept their biweekly appointments with a social worker, though those now take place virtually. Still, “I kind of wish I had more parents to talk to,” he said.
Gray and her neighbor Jen Kopnick, who also has two daughters, have found that support in each other and through other single-mom friends.
“We laugh, because it’s like a little team that her and I have become,” Kopnick said.
Kopnick also said the pandemic has started a new culture in her neighborhood of leaving wine and other small gifts on people’s porches to brighten a neighbor’s day.
“All these women have just bonded together to try and make this a little easier for everyone,” she said.
Lauren Cohen, a single mom to 19-month-old daughter Kinneret, decided to expand her quarantine bubble to include her parents after a strict two-week distancing period in mid-March. They’ve helped ease the stress of single parenting for Cohen, who lives in Lathrup Village. And Cohen has been glad to have these months with her daughter — time she wouldn’t have gotten otherwise as a single working mom.
“We’re really thankful for this time,” she said.
But for Vishniac, who moved with her boyfriend to a new house just as quarantine began in March, and Segal, whose brother came to live at her house during the stay-at-home period, having other adults in the house doesn’t make much of a difference when it comes to parenting.
“A parent is really different than another person,” Segal said. “No one else can kiss her booboo when she falls or gets hurt.”
No matter what kind of support they’re receiving, local single parents say there are challenges at every turn of the pandemic.
Gray is a preschool teacher at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township, but teaching swim lessons was another big part of her income. Those were put on hold as indoor pools closed across the state. Although she didn’t qualify for unemployment, she did start getting food stamps for the first time.
“I was getting the free lunches from the school that I never thought I would do,” she said. “It was very humbling.”
Keeping their children up to date with virtual schooling also became a major struggle for some parents when Michigan schools moved online in March. Kaganove’s son Nathan receives extra support at his middle school. It was a struggle to keep him motivated to do schoolwork at home, Kaganove said.
“It’s just not going to work fighting with him, so I don’t,” he said. “I kind of let him do his thing.”
Kaganove said he hopes “with every fiber of my being that we get something a little closer to normal in the fall” in terms of school.
Vishniac, who ran around trying to get her daughter ready for online math class, said her daughter will repeat second grade next year — a decision made before the pandemic began. That made struggling to get her daughter to finish schoolwork even more frustrating, Vishniac said.
“Give me a single parent pass,” she said. “Tell me I’m allowed to disappear for the rest of the school year.”
Now that summer has arrived and Michigan’s stay-at-home order has been lifted, single parents are faced with more options and more uncertainty.
Vishniac has started hiring babysitters again to help keep Luta busy while she works. Kaganove hopes to go camping with his son — staying outdoors is low-risk and he wants to find a way to get the two of them out of the house, he said.
But what happens beyond the summer is still hazy. Vishniac wants to hear from Luta’s school about what the fall will look like and what the future might hold.
“I just want a plan, you know?” she said. “It’s difficult to imagine what I’m going to be doing in another several months. I know that I can’t keep this up … that’s for certain.”
In terms of finding support from the Jewish community, Segal said she hopes a group like SPARC can gain funding once again.
“I’d like [the community] to acknowledge that there are single parents out there and I’d like them to have an organization again,” she said. “I’d like them to have a single Jewish parent, working on whatever they do for single Jewish parents.”