The two main challenges I have faced as a solo mother (once the shock and grief and initial adjustment period had subsided) have been inadequate support and financial struggles. I have family but I have very little family support. Even when they moved back to the same city in which I lived, they never offered to take care of my son, never asked me if I needed anything – they waited for me to ask. And on the occasions I asked, sometimes they would say no. Consequently, my family have taken care of my son who is now at school three times – each time it was for a few hours at the most and once was when he was asleep. I don’t think it has ever dawned on them that it might be a struggle for me or that I might need support. Perhaps they thought that since my son’s dad was actively involved or because I only had one child, then it was no big deal. But the first few years of my son’s life, his dad never had him overnight and he only came to visit him – he didn’t take sole responsibility for him for years. And even when he started to take care of him, I still had to manage work or studies – and this was hard to juggle when you are the person with majority custody, managing on your own.
I am lucky, though. For many solo parents they do not have any family support and there is no second parent in the picture. I have met those parents and they never get a break. I can’t even imagine. For the most part, I do feel blessed to have my son’s father co-parenting with me (childcare-wise), but I still feel on the brink of tears when I come across a situation and I have literally no one to help me and I am at a loss and don’t know what to do. It is usually a practical need that requires some DIY skills that I do not possess and I don’t have the money for. It’s times like that I feel helpless and I feel despair and I feel tired of the fight.
Financially, it is a huge struggle. The struggle isn’t the inability to afford new clothes (my son wears second-hand clothing often sizes too small for him because he is growing so fast and my clothing allowance is once a year absolute essentials if I’m given a voucher for Christmas), it isn’t that I can’t afford to go to movies or restaurants, or even that I have to save all year to afford birthday and Christmas presents for my son. No, the struggle is when I am unable to afford a registration on my car, and the local policeman stops me and slaps a $200 fine that I have to pay off in addition to paying for my registration. The struggle is when something on my car needs urgent repairs in order for it to be safe and I have to go and make an application to WINZ and then find I am now paying them back a weekly amount for their loan. The struggle is when the neighbours call the SPCA because they see that my dog doesn’t have a kennel and suddenly I urgently have to pay for one out of my son’s birthday money or else face her being taken away from us and my son’s heart being broken. The struggle is not having childcare available that is OSCAR-approved in the area I live in, and therefore – next to no options for after school care that would enable me to work/study and no one else to call on. The struggle is the nagging thought of “how am I going to pay for this…?” that constantly plays in the back of my mind – worry, worry, worry for our basic needs, for how we’re going to manage, for how I am going to be able to continue to pursue a better life for us.
What Would Help?
It would help if a solo mother didn’t have to carry a stigma around with her that comes with the label. It would help if people didn’t instantly judge me as someone who is “lesser than” because I don’t live with my son’s father. It would help if the community I lived in thought of ways in which they could support me or give me a hand instead of adding stress to my already stressed life – how they might be flexible or helpful. Practical help is something I need desperately – I don’t ask because I’m too proud – I don’t want to be seen as a helpless victim. I want to be seen as someone who is strong and capable. But when I need help, I want to know it’s there, I just have to state my need and there will be people willing to help. Instead of neighbours who refuse to help jumpstart my car when my battery is flat or feed my cat when I am away.
There are people who have stepped forward and offered their help to me. Ironically, they have all been solo parents themselves. Perhaps it’s because they know how hard it can be? I am half way through my degree and once I’ve finished I will be seeking full-time work. My encouragement to anyone reading this is to consider the solo parents in your world and think about how you can find ways in which to support them. Something very simple like “if ever you need to go urgently to an appointment and you need someone to take care of your children for an hour, just call me, and if I can, I will” or – “if ever you want to do some babysitting swaps and take turns so you can get a break – I’m keen!” or – “I notice you’ve got some leaks from your roof, mind if I take a look?” Don’t underestimate just how much that will mean.