Kristin’s Story on Survival and Opportunity

by Kristin Heying

My life changed when my daughter was born, and then again when she was six months old and I became a single parent. That change brought struggle, insecurity and vulnerability that remains a part, but not the whole, of our lives.

Before my daughter was born, I taught elementary school. After she was born, I decided not to return to teaching because the pay did little more than cover the cost for child care. So I chose to move back in with my parents so I could raise my daughter full-time. This was one of the best decisions I made for her. It gave us the chance to have a few years together not struggling for our livelihood on a daily basis.

When my daughter began kindergarten, we were able to find a place of our own after I secured a job. It was a good and necessary transition, but we struggled to find stability as we became more independent. It was tough finding a safe and affordable home to live in, and we moved around a lot. When my income exceeded the eligibility requirements for the Oregon Health Plan, I went without health insurance—only to find myself with a life-threatening health condition and mounting health care bills.

Being a single parent, you live with stress and anxiety every day. You think about everything you spend. You say the phrase in your head and to your daughter on a daily basis, “we can’t afford that,” whether it is clothes, better food, eating out, playing a sport, participating in a camp, taking a vacation and so on.

You keep your eye on the ball at all times—that ball is survival. You never know when things will change, so you plan for the worst. Doing without becomes your way of life. Being resourceful becomes your way of life. Living with stress becomes your way of life. With a great deal of perseverance, I have succeeded in making a more stable life for my daughter and myself. But it is still not easy and the fight continues daily.

I know my story is not unique. Nearly every single mother can tell a variation of this same story.

The question I live with every day is this: why have we set up a system that seems to punish single parents and their children? We should be providing the same basic needs to everyone—affordable child care, health insurance, healthy food, affordable housing, livable wages, and a quality education. We need a safety net that levels the playing field so everyone can live a full and satisfying life. Suffering is not the solution to changing people’s lives. People’s lives are changed by providing resources that create security and open up opportunities.

Join with Kristin in the fight to end hunger! Tell your legislators not to balance the state budget on the backs of the 1 in 6 Oregonians at risk of hunger.

This story is fifth in a series of Hunger-Free Leadership Institute Fellows sharing more about why they are passionate about ending hunger in Oregon. Special portraits of the Fellows have been generously donated for this series by Portland artist Lindsay Gilmore.