Ask Tristen Parsons about her 2-year-old son Enzo, and she laughs softly.

“He’s very funny and he knows he’s funny. He loves to make people laugh. He’s a very active child and hard-headed, which I am, too,” said Parsons.

Parsons, who studied several forms of martial arts from childhood, said her training taught her discipline, something she leans on as she navigates parenthood, work and life as a single mother.

Currently, Parsons works as a ride-share driver because it affords her the flexibility she needs to work while Enzo has child care. On a good day, she can earn about $150. The wages and tips she earns help her buy groceries and some other household expenses, but part of her earnings must also go to buying gasoline and maintaining her car, so that pinches her household budget, too.

While Enzo’s father is in his life, his financial help is not consistent, so Parsons, 26, is largely on her own. Her mother helps with child care and an occasional bag of groceries and Enzo’s dad sometimes buys diapers or other things his son needs when he has money.

So Parsons makes most of the decisions on behalf of her son herself and aside from the hours he is at child care or with his grandma, he’s with Parsons, who tends to him when he is ill and in happier times such as playing at the park. But it’s all on her, 24/7.

“Some of us (single moms) don’t even get a break. You know, you don’t get a whole lot of time to yourself. It’s hard, especially when you try to get a routine down with your children, you know, and yourself with work. It’s just nonstop,” she said.

A new report by the Utah Women & Leadership Project at Utah State University details the many challenges single mothers face, such as economic disadvantages, mental health concerns, work instability, and decreased time to devote to their children and their well-being. The report also lists education barriers and possible lower outcomes for their children.

Susan Madsen, the leadership project’s founding director, said in a statement that the heavy burdens single mothers shoulder while attempting to balance work, life and family can leave them feeling “discouraged, overwhelmed and exhausted.”

She continued, “These challenges, especially if faced without appropriate support, can keep single mothers in a place of simply surviving rather than a place where they can grow, excel and thrive.”

Sexism in Utah is ‘prevalent’ and ‘normalized,’ new report reveals
72% of the U.S. public educator workforce is female, but just 13% of superintendents are women. Why?
Tristen Parson feeds her son Enzo, 2, at her home in Ogden on Sunday, Aug. 6, 2023. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

Parsons said she receives a state subsidy for child care and Enzo is enrolled in the Children’s Health Insurance Program. They receive food benefits from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children program, more commonly known as WIC.

Parsons said her income is such that she doesn’t qualify for food stamps and she wishes the federal government would rethink the income guidelines so she and her son had more options.

The assistance helps her small family make ends meet, but Parsons said her goal is to find a better paying full-time job with benefits that gives them more stability. Recently, she’s been considering enrolling in college to study business.

According to the Utah Women & Leadership Project report, three factors specific to Utah contribute to the challenges that many single mothers face — Utah’s wage gap, the cost of child care and the cost of living.

With respect to the latter, people in the Intermountain region are not only coping with high inflation rates, home prices have also risen faster in Utah than other states the past few years.

“Cost-of-living increases are especially challenging for those living at or close to poverty levels, which includes many single mothers. The median income among Utah single mothers with children under 18 has stayed near the same for the last decade, from $33,100 in 2010 to $37,900 in 2020,” according to the report.

The report, which quotes data from the Pew Research Center, notes the rate of children living in single-parent households is higher in the United States than anywhere else in the world. About 23% of U.S. children live with one parent, compared to 7% globally.

View Comments

In Utah, there were 70,647 single-parent families in 2021. Among them, 69.2% were headed by single mothers. 

Emily Darowski, associate director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project, said in a statement that supporting single mothers helps to ensure the successful future of the state and nation. 

“Although many challenges come with being a single mother, resources are in place in Utah to help,” said Darowski, one of the report’s authors.

“But the data still show a need for adjustments and additional programs, services, and policies. Providing intentional and targeted support can bring help and hope for single mothers and their families, which in turn will provide positive impacts in our communities.”

Tristen Parson plays with her son Enzo, 2, at her home in Ogden on Sunday, Aug. 6, 2023. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News
Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.