“Every day I wake up and make a decision to take care of my child.”

Keys with her daughter Ayo ("Joy" in Nigerian)

Administrative coordinator, ISC Technology Training Group
Length of service:
6 1/2 years
Other stuff:
She’s also a professional actress and a member of the Screen
Actors Guild. She has recently acted in a play that toured Poland and New York.

Photo by Candace diCarlo

Being a single parent can be tough. There’s work, home and children to juggle, and the responsibility for all three falls on just one person.

On top of that, finding support can be difficult.

That’s no longer the case at Penn, though. Joy Keys — herself a single parent — has started a support group, the Single Parents Association, for people like herself. The group provides a way for single parents and their children to socialize, engage in activities and find support.

She did it, she said, partly to keep her mind busy — “I get bored easily.” But she also did it because she found out that there was a need for such a group on campus.

Q. What led you to start this association?
It was either that or a theater group. And I’m a single parent, and a lot of people have helped me — a lot of resources, things I found out [through] word of mouth. And so I prayed about it, and for some reason other single parents started to come to me with issues, and I was sort of like, This seems to be the greater need.

Q. What were some of the things they asked you about?
Typical parenting things, really, but I guess for single parents harder.

Childcare, trying to get free time, maybe you want to take a class, maybe you just want to go out, relax. It’s very expensive, you know. When I was looking in the area, for an adult, a grad student or something, it could be like $10, $20 an hour, and you don’t want to leave your kid with just anybody.

Q. I note that one of the group’s purposes is to provide a social space for single parents and their kids. What would that be? An evening out at Chuck E. Cheese’s?
[laughs] Going to the Franklin Institute, the Academy of Natural Sciences, Sesame Place. I’d like to go possibly out of the state — Baltimore Aquarium, things like that. It’s hard, because depending on the type of work you do, if you’re full-time, then you’re work, child, work, child, and then to socialize — where society is, you have couples that socialize, and they may or may not have kids, you have single people who can go out any time, any day of the week, at the last minute, and you have these people who are single parents. And so to find other people that can relate to your stresses and that you feel comfortable around, it’s a little difficult sometimes, and so providing this forum, I think, was important.

Q. How many people showed up for the first meeting?
Twenty people. I almost started crying because I was overwhelmed. Four or five people, that’s what I was — I didn’t know who was going to come, and then it was trickle, trickle, trickle, then I said Whoa! That’s a lot. And it was obviously needed because people had so much to say. I mean, I had to cut people off, okay, let’s give so-and-so a chance to speak.

Q. What was the single biggest concern of those in attendance?
Stress. Stress in terms of the multitasking, you being the only one, and most of the people have more than one child. And then people had teenagers, the issue with teenagers was another breaking point in terms of how do you communicate to these weird beings called teenagers? We were all teenagers, but for some reason, when you become a parent, it’s like I forgot I was a teenager, or they don’t want to be around you.

Another issue was judgment from other people who were not single parents, like What’s the problem, Why can’t you do this, or What are you stressed about? Things like that from other people, maybe there are spouses who got remarried and they have two incomes again, because single parenthood is sometimes looked down upon.

Q. Are you a single parent by choice or were you married and then divorced?
I think everybody’s a single parent by choice. Because every day I wake up and make a decision to take care of my child. I don’t have to, there’s no law saying I have to. I can give her up for adoption even now, she’s seven. But I was not married to her father.

I think if you think about it as an active choice, it empowers you that you can have some effect on the situation in a positive way, as opposed to Oh, woe is me.

Q. Did anyone discuss what Penn can do to support single parents?
We haven’t gotten that far yet. But I have talked to Human Resources; they plan to offer a workshop through LifeBalance. I’ve also talked to the Women’s Center, because they have lots of resources in terms of women’s issues, and the African American Resource Center in terms of budgeting and helping sponsor [the group].

Q. Is there anything Penn could do better in this regard?
I don’t know yet. But Penn has a lot of resources. They have pre-tax dependent care. Your kids can go here practically free. And where I work is very relaxed in terms of — say my daughter’s sick. If she gets strep, I take the whole week off. You know, like corporate [workplaces] — they’d probably fire me. I see people don’t go to corporate because it’s too restricting and they have more flexibility [at Penn].

The Single Parents Association meets on the first Tuesday of each month in the Griski Room, Houston Hall, 3417 Spruce St. For more information, visit pobox.upenn.edu/~jkeys on the Web.


Originally published on April 19, 2001