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When the world comes crashing down; single mother's in Duluth

By ASHLEE HARTWIG
DCN Correspondent

It’s a chilly evening, and since it's a school night, it’s time for kids to head home. The park begins to clear out as the sunlight fades. Once home, a cooked meal, warm bed, and a mommy and daddy to hug goodnight awaits them.

Sometimes there isn’t both a mommy and a daddy to hug.

Jill Borgerding remembers breaking the news to her three kids that their father wasn’t going to be around all the time anymore.

“I told them their father was going on an extended vacation, and didn’t know when he would be coming back,? said Borgerding.

Living in a society where marriage has a 50-50 chance of lasting, many women have felt their worlds come crashing down around them. Borgerding now counts herself among them.

“We had been married for 16 years, and I truly loved him,? said Borgerding, “The world was pulled out from beneath my feet.?

At the age of 31, Borgerding was suddenly faced with the prospect of being a single mom with three kids to raise.

Borgerding is not alone in the task of raising children on her own, especially in the East Hillside of Duluth. There are about 280 single mothers who are receiving welfare benefits, according to a study conducted by Tawna Schilling who was a student at UMD in the Department of Social Work. The study was a part of a project titled MSW Plan B Projects and was conducted in 2000-2001.

In the beginning, Borgerding was able to afford to buy herself a car and have her family live comfortably with the child support checks she received. Gas and food were easy to afford because the economy back then was still in good shape, but that stopped when the divorce was finalized.

“I had to start over, and realizing that is the most frightening thing,? said Borgerding.

It wasn’t easy. Borgerding swallowed a lot of pride to ask her father for help. Her parents never liked her husband, but her father bought her a house and allows her to pay him back at a lower rate than is normal for a house payment.

It was difficult for her to find a job as a teacher. Everywhere she interviewed at, they told her she was over-qualified and they couldn’t afford her. Eventually, she found one at a private Catholic school.

Between trying to find a job and caring for her three kids, Borgerding didn’t have time to let the reality of what happened sink in or find friends to run to.

“I stayed at home and tried to cope,? said Borgerding.

Josh, Borgerding’s oldest son, felt the brunt of his mom’s anguish.

“I heard her cry herself to sleep a lot,? he said.

Liz Dunkard felt the same overwhelming sensation when she started raising her two kids on her own. Her husband walked out on her after coming to the quick realization he wasn’t ready to be a father after all.

“I found myself crying at the most random times,? said Dunkard. “I had kids to look after, so I had to push past the tears and move on with my day.?

Unlike Borgerding, Dunkard had no one to turn to when it came to starting her life over. Luckily, in Duluth, there are places single women can turn to when starting over. Establishments like Women’s Transitional Housing and Safe Haven Shelter for Battered Women were founded to help women with abusive relationships. They offer help with psychological or emotional problems said Ed Heisler, the Community Education Advisor for the Duluth Safe Haven Shelter.

There are many women in the community, state and country that don’t find themselves as lucky as Borgerding. Many single mothers find themselves without a car, in need of day care, and lacking the education required to find a financially stable job.

The government offers welfare programs designed to help single mothers. The Marriage Promotion Act is one such program. Instead of aiding single mothers in their current situations, it encourages them to seek out a second income-earner and rewards them if they succeed in finding one. According to an article by Marcella Gemelli, single mothers acknowledge that a second income-earner is helpful, but they feel exasperated at being pushed toward marriage.

“I wanted my kids, but I want to be able to take care of them myself. However I need to do it, but it’s going to be by my independence,? said Dunkard.

Dunkard’s kids are still growing up in her house, but Borgerding’s are now grown and heading out to start lives of their own.

“I did my best with what I had,? Borgerding said with pride. “It was hard, but I survived, and so did my kids. That’s the main thing.?