Archive for the ‘Pressures on Today’s Mums’ Category
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.
WARNING: This post contains generalisations and conclusions based on my own observations and analysis/opinion. I recognise that there are always exceptions and that not all families/experiences are the same.
Don’t get me wrong, I am tremendously grateful for Women’s Liberation and the Feminist movement and the achievements they have made towards gender equality. One of the biggest accomplishments was giving women the opportunity to work – and not only to work, but to work in any field they were interested in pursuing. Womens’ liberation opened up possibilities from the expectation that women would make one choice – and that was to get married, take responsibility for raising children and stay at home with them, taking care of the housework and her husband, to now having many career choices. Experts in health have suspected that there were a large number of women who found that limited choice had an effect on their mental health resulting in undiagnosed postnatal depression. So I’m grateful for progress and the ongoing work towards equal opportunities for women in vocational leadership positions and pay parity between genders. What I think has happened, though is that in addition to working in (often) demanding roles and high-stress jobs, they still maintain the role of main/primary caregiver to their children and take the lion share of responsibility for their childrens’ daily needs. Instead of couples now sharing the financial provision for the household and sharing the raising of the children, women have now added a job/career to her role as housewife and child-carer. In addition to her job, she is the one who still makes the kids’ lunches, takes note of the clothing/shoes that are wearing out and need more of, arranges extra-curricular activities, assists with homework, arranges plunket appointments, doctors’ appointments, dental appointments, haircut appointments, kindy visits…. the list goes on.
My father retired early while my mother continued to teach fulltime. Even then, he did not help with domestic chores or taking care of the children. This was still her role and she was expected to come home from work, cook us our dinner and attend to virtually all the domestic chores. Now, men will usually help occasionally with preparing dinner or a few domestic chores. Also, some men are now taking parental leave so that they can stay at home with their new baby. Some men have opted to be a stay-at-home dad while mum works because he’s more suited to it or because she earns more. But I think more often than not, women are still working (in demanding jobs) and doing the lion share of child raising day-to-day responsibilities and domestic chores. Worse still if she is not working and “because he is”, she takes on all of the responsibilities for the children and domestic chores. Why is this worse? Because taking care of children is not a 9-5 job with breaks. It is a 24hr job, 7 days a week with no time off. It is rewarding and often wonderful – but it is also relentless and draining, exhausting work. Occasionally I hear comments along the lines of “what a wonderful man” or “what a wonderful father” when a man contributes to the same degree that a woman does towards domestic chores and engagement with/responsibility for his children. That is because it is still expected of a woman, but not expected of a man and when it does occur, it is out-of-the-ordinary.
There is increased pressure on women today (I believe) than ever before. We refer to these women as “supermum” and applaud her ability to keep all the balls in the air. For those of us who continue to drop the ball, we feel like a failure for doing so instead of recognising that in fact the expectation on us is too much. It’s unrealistic. It’s unfair.
The expectation that mothers do not share parenting responsibilities and domestic chores equally needs to change. In terms of “Womens’ Liberation” it is one aspect that has lagged in terms of change and equality for women. Society still expects it – applauding “supermums” – and men still expect it from us. It is up to us as mothers to change that expectation. It starts with our own expectation of ourselves. Too often, the mothers I work with who have Postnatal Depression have the expectation that they should be able to “do it all” and feel a considerable amount of guilt and failure when they are unable to do it. It’s imperative that we take a step back and change our thinking and expectations on ourselves. We need to start with a conversation with our partner and re-negotiate so that parenting and domestic responsibilities are more equally shared – not just for the sake of equality, but for the sake of our mental health. And we need to raise boys who understand that when they become an adult and a parent, that they do not expect the “male privilege” of unequal parenting or domestic responsibilities simply because they are a man.