Whitney Keyes is the single mom of two small children under five. At just 27-year-old, she’s an inspiration to other single moms through her work as a client services manager at a local pregnancy center and the owner of her own business, Keyes to Class, that offers motivational speaking, peer mentoring, and etiquette to help women become ladies.
Me: How long have you been a single mother? Tell me about your experience as a single mom and anything you’d like to share about your children.
Whitney: I do have 2 children, a 5-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son. I’ve been a single parent for almost 6 years. My experience as a single mom has been both good and bad. I have really good days and I have some days where I’m like “Oh, my goodness what did I do?” Being a single mom is hard at times but I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. When I first had my daughter five years ago it was just her and I for two years and then I had my son. After having my daughter, I dealt with really bad depression to the point where I almost had to seek counseling. I could go from being in a room full of people talking and laughing to the next minute being in my room alone and crying.
I went through a lot with their father. He tried to convince me to abort both of my children and that wasn’t an option. He didn’t want to pay child support for our daughter and then our son came. Both my kids have the same father. When I was pregnant with my daughter he and I were going to the same college. I went to his house and told him I was pregnant with his child and he ignored me my entire pregnancy. He would ignore me if he saw me on campus, never went to any doctor’s appointments, nothing. He finally came around at the very end of my pregnancy and was in the delivery room. To make a long story short 2 years later I get pregnant with our son. He told everyone that our son was not his child and he would not be in our son’s life. He forced me to get a DNA test and as I knew the whole time our son was his. He did not come into our son’s life until he was six months old.
The thing that really, really hurt is when he would come to my house to pick up our daughter for the weekend and walk past my son like he wasn’t even there. That is a pain like I have never experienced before. Wouldn’t hold him, wouldn’t look at him, nothing, until we got the results back from the DNA testing. Instead of calling me and telling me he’d gotten the results back he put them on Facebook. I’m only 27 and I’ve been a mother for 5 years so I was young and I’ve been through and dealt with a lot and it’s been painful but it’s taught me a lot. This is what motivated me to start my business, Keys to Class.
Me: Would you say the depression came about as a result of the relationship with your children’s father?
Whitney: It did and also I grew up in the church, my mom is a minister and felt like I got myself in a bad position. I’m a single parent, I was young, I got pregnant out of wedlock not once but twice. Then being told by my children’s father I could never raise two kids, I didn’t have enough education, I didn’t have a good enough job, how was I going to raise both my kids. Being told all of those things and trying to go to school and now I have these two kids. I honestly got to a point in my life where I thought I was never going to stand on my own two feet again and because I cared so much about him I allowed the things that he said to me to bring me down completely until it was God Himself who had to repair my strength and confidence and peace of mind to get me to the point where I am now. So the depression definitely came from that relationship.
Me: Thank you for sharing that with me because I know that was such a painful experience for you. You did mention that you were in college during this time. Did you have other family members or friends as a support system? How did you manage your college life being pregnant and then becoming a mom?
Whitney: I had some friends I was close with in college, my roommates, but I felt like I couldn’t really share a lot with them. I had a really, really great support system as far as my family: my mom, dad, aunts, and uncles. Honestly the prayers that my parents and family prayed for me and, of course, number one God are what got me through those times. I had to surround myself with family.
I got put on total bed rest with my daughter maybe two months before she came so I ended up having to drop out of college and move back home with my family. Being with my family is what really, really got me through. Then I got pregnant with my son and my parents were disappointed. Like I said I grew up in the church and my mom is a minister, but I grew up in a single parent household so my mom knew some of the things I was going to have to go through and it really hurt her but she is my number one supporter through it all. She has never ever left my side or made me feel like I couldn’t do things in the church or that I was a bad person. So family and God is what got me through.
Me: That’s just beautiful to have a mom here to support you. So you said that having your children is what inspired you to step out and start your business and start really living the life you wanted to live. Kind of talk to me about your business and what you do and how you manage it all with your little ones.
Whitney: Keys to Class is an etiquette and sisterhood organization that I actually started this year. I had a vision for the organization for quite some time but it took me awhile to get to a place where I felt like I could stand up and talk to young girls and motivate young girls. If someone had asked me about this maybe 3 years ago I would have said no absolutely not. I needed someone to motivate me and sometimes I still do but going through all I went through and looking back now it gives me chills. I felt that if God could bring me through all I had to deal with and I can still think for myself and raise my kids then I want other women to know that they can get through it too.
Having two kids slows me down a little bit and I had to alter some things in my life but it really brought me to the place where I am today. I still work a 9 to 5 and I have my kids and trying to run the business is difficult at times. I get to the point where I want to give up sometimes but I look at them and think if no one else deserves for me to be successful I know they do. A lot of the times I stay up late after they go to bed and work on things for the business or I set aside time. What I just started doing is I set aside at least 30 minutes to an hour each day to work on the business in some way.
I do motivational speaking, etiquette classes, peer mentoring, and I just started writing a book My First Steps to Becoming a Momtreprenuer: A Single Parents’ Guide to Starting a Business from Scratch. When I got ready to start the organization I was a single parent I was broke and I didn’t know anything about starting a business. I actually used a portion of my income taxes to get things started. I work Monday through Thursdays and Fridays I’m off. I want to sleep in on Fridays, but I’m up marketing, promoting, connecting with other women and that’s really how I got it going. That is basically what the book is about. I don’t have any deep dark secrets, nobody died and left me hundreds of thousands of dollars to start the business. I had to invest in myself.
With the etiquette, people think it’s about setting the table with the right napkins and forks but it’s more than that. I do dating etiquette, so how to carry yourself as a lady on a first date. Or how to prepare for a new job or job interview. So I have a lot of ideas and things in my head that I’m trying to start but I’m starting slow.
Me: I see a pattern in my interviews of temporary sacrifice for long term gain. And that’s what you did when you took your income tax check and instead of going shopping you invested it back in yourself. Now you’re also a client services manager at a pregnancy center along with doing all of this work with your business and writing your book. Do you want to kind of talk about your work there?
Whitney: Basically what I do there is I work with a lot of different women from all walks of life, many different ages, races, that are dealing with a crisis pregnancy. I ended up there because when I got pregnant with my son I went there to take a pregnancy test to just confirm that I was pregnant. A year or so after having him I decided I wanted to go back and volunteer my time. I volunteered there for a year and then became a part of the staff and am a manager now. I really enjoy it because I’ve been on both sides of it. I’ve sat on the same couch that some of the women I counsel sit on and when they ask me if I have kids or tell me I don’t know anything about being a single mom I tell them I’m a single mom of two and a lot of the time they’re shocked. I don’t tell them anything that I haven’t dealt with because I’ve been in the position they’ve been in. Sometimes I still find myself thinking this is rough!
Being able to really relate to them is awesome. I love my job. I love what I do. Being able to meet these women and just talking with them and being able to be a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on and letting them know I know how they feel. Being in a crisis pregnancy and thinking what am I going to do how am I going to take care of this child. Having some of them come back and thank me for listening or thank me for giving them advice is such a great feeling. My job and my kids and being able to help and encourage people is really what helps me keep everything balanced. I love what I do so it’s not a big headache.
Me: That’s great that you’re being an inspiration to them and I can tell that you are passionate about what you are doing. With you inspiring others who inspires you and why?
Whitney: I would have to say my mom. The reason I say that is because she raised me as a single mother. I actually just told her this on Sunday but I admire her strength. My dad is a pastor, my mom is first lady of the church and I’ve seen some of the things she’s had to deal with and she does it with such grace and dignity and I really really admire that. She’s my rock through everything and she inspires me and encourages me. She tells me when I’m wrong and how I can handle it better the next time. I’ve been a momma’s girl my whole life and she is my biggest inspiration.
Me: So when you think about your mom as an inspiration to you and how you’re an inspiration to other single mothers, what advice can you give to a single mom who wants to act on something but she’s probably afraid to step out of her comfort zone or she’s not sure what steps to take. It could be building her own business or saving money, buying a home, getting out of debt. What advice could you give to her?
Whitney: I would tell any single mom, if there’s something that you want to do change your mindset. The biggest thing I had to do when I was deciding if I wanted to start my business was change my mindset. It wasn’t that I was trying to be conceited or think that I was something that I wasn’t but I had to learn my worth all over again and once I did that it was almost like there was no stopping me.
A lot of the time I say I’m not doing this for me I’m doing it for my kids. Being a single parent can sometimes slow you down but don’t allow it to stop you. I heard one of my favorite motivational speakers Lisa Nichols say for so many years she talked a good game but she was not doing anything with her gift. That was me for so long because I knew I had something great and that I was put on this earth for a reason I just wasn’t doing anything with it.
So I would encourage any single mom to go after your dreams and start somewhere. The biggest thing that really helped me was connecting with other business-minded women. I have been so encouraged by so many other women and I’m not intimidated by them. I connect with people who are doing what I want to do but are further ahead than I am. I learned from them. I have to remember that everything isn’t going to happen overnight but you have to start somewhere. You’ll never know if you don’t try.
Me: So do you have any type of resource like a book or a CD or a course that you can recommend for a single mom to help her step our of her comfort zone to build her business or what not?
Whitney: The young lady that actually did my website, her name is Natasha Toddy-Westin. She has a book called 10 Steps to Starting a Business with Zero Dollars. She motivates me so much. She’s amazing. She did my website and my business cards and helped me with a professional file. She is wonderful.
Me: With all that you’re doing as a mom and a business woman how do you take time just for Whitney? How do you take time to relieve stress or just have fun?
Whitney: I like to get my nails or toes done. Sometimes it’s getting my hair styled or getting a new outfit. Sometimes I put up everything for the business and just relax. Whether it’s putting my feet up and watching TV or putting on a cute outfit and going out to eat. Sometimes I just have to put away everything and I call it resetting my brain.
Me: The name of my website is NatashaVIP.com and VIP stands for Vision, Inspiration, and Purpose. When you hear those three words what do they mean to you as a woman, as a mother, and as a business owner?
Whitney: To me they’re very powerful. I’ve always known that when women come together and we put different ideas together that they can be so powerful and inspiring. I’ve only been doing this these past couple months or so and it’s an amazing feeling because I’d be encouraged by these people even without starting a business. I’m just encouraged as a mom, a black woman, and an entrepreneur. It’s just very, very powerful and inspiring.
Me: So finally I just want you to be able to tell us what is next for you. Do you have any new projects coming? Anything you’d like to share about the next steps you’re taking with your organization?
Whitney: I’m actually working on two different books at once. The Momtrepreneur book I want to get out first but the second book I started it first and then another idea came to me in the middle of the night. The first project that I was working on was Repairs on a Keyed Heart. You know how when someone keys a car it takes a lot of buffing and working to make it new again and so that one is really just going to be about my story.
What etiquette questions do you have for Whitney?
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