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Archive for the ‘Single Parents’ Category

Walking in the Shoes of a Solo Mum

Challenges

 

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.

 

 


Single Parents Appreciation Day

Happy Single Parents Appreciation Day for yesterday March 21st to all those who have been or you are a single/sole parent, you have by deep admiration and respect.

Read this post we wrote on the stress single mothers experience but just want to also acknowledge the hard work of single/sole parenting of fathers – some of whom are doing it alone and without acknowledgement or support.


Stress Single Mums are Under

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In a recent survey conducted by Mothers Helpers online via social media, we asked 100 single mums in New Zealand a series of questions which they responded to anonymously so that we could better understand the challenges that they face.

Clearing Up the Stigma

Contrary to what can be portrayed by media of single mothers, the majority of those that responded to the survey had separated from a committed relationship where they were living together or married and there was only one father in the picture.  Here are the statistics:  74% had one or more children to one father, and 23% had more than one child to two biological fathers.  The remaining 3% had more than two fathers in the picture.  50% of mothers had been in a defacto relationship with the father and 35% were married prior to separating while just 14% said they’d never had a relationship with the father.
In a separate recent survey (again of single mothers with 100 respondents), single mothers gave their reason for leaving the relationship.  85% of the women surveyed were the ones to leave the relationship but the vast majority left for the safety and wellbeing of themselves or their children:  19% left because of physical abuse, 47% left because of psychological abuse (defined as threatening to harm, frequent shouting/name-calling or put downs or damaging property), 8% said they left due to his drug/alcohol abuse, 28% left because he cheated on them, 38% left because of frequent arguing.  Three respondents described situations where they or the children were sexually abused.  Just 26% left because they fell out of love, 6% left because they found someone else.

The majority of women surveyed were either working, preparing to work or looking for work.  59% either worked full time or part-time.   37% of respondents were on a sole purposes benefit and 4% were on another kind of benefit, however 18% of those were studying, 48% said they chose to be on a benefit so that they could be at home with their young children while 34% said they were looking for work  but could not find work that paid more than the benefit, and 34% said they were looking for work but could not find a job.  15% said they have not looked for work due to illness or disability.

The Experiences of Parents on the Benefit

51% of single mums on a benefit experienced disrespectful treatment from the staff at WINZ at some point with 39/51 saying it happened sometimes and the remainder saying they experienced it most or all of the time.  40% of single mums on a benefit received criticism from friends or family for being on a benefit and 38% said they felt ashamed for being on a benefit – 31% sometimes hid being on a benefit from others while 21% hid it most of the time and 4% hid it all of the time because of that shame.

In a previous blog post “Mums on the DPB” we have presented some mothers’ more specific experiences.

Stress Experienced by Single Mothers

In addition to those mothers on a benefit experiencing disrespectful treatment from WINZ staff, criticism from friends or family, shame for being on a benefit to the point that they hid it from others, the vast majority of single mothers had the lion share of the day-to-day care of the children with 39% not seeing their father at all, 29% seeing their father once a month or less, 30% seeing their father once a fortnight and a mere 22% in a shared care arrangement*

 

62% of single mothers agreed that they found the grief/loss of the relationship somewhat, very or extremely difficult while 17% described it as slightly difficult.

87% of single mothers said that they found loneliness somewhat, very or extremely difficult.  Just 8% found it slightly difficult.

89% of single mothers said that they did not get enough of a break from their children and they found this somewhat, very or extremely difficult while 7% said they found it slightly difficult.

71% of single mothers said they found financial hardship very difficult or extremely difficult with 22% saying it’s somewhat difficult – a mere 3% found financial hardship to be slightly difficult and 4% reporting they did not have an issue.

66% of single mothers found it at least somewhat difficult that friends/family chose sides following the separation from their ex.

50% of single mothers did not find the reduced time with their kids to be an issue but 23% found it very difficult or extremely difficult.

60% of single mothers found parenting responsibilities on their own very difficult or extremely difficult and another 16% described it as somewhat difficult.

The vast majority of single mothers found conflict with the ex to be a source of stress with 33% describing it as extremely difficult, 20% describing it as very difficult, 19% describing it as somewhat difficult and 13% as slightly difficult – bearing in mind that conflict with an ex-partner is likely to be more difficult at the beginning and it fluctuates which might influence answers.  It is likely that at some point it is a significant source of stress for single mothers.

Just 28% of mothers found that their childrens’ emotions regarding separation were not an issue.  18% described it as extremely difficult, 20% described it as very difficult, 19% described it as somewhat difficult and 15% as slightly difficult.

While 51% reported that legal battles were not an issue (presumably were not involved in any legal process regarding care or protection), the remaining 49% of respondents had obviously had this experience and most (41 out of the 49%) described it as somewhat, very or extremely difficult.

8% of single mothers had no family support while 23% had just a little and 40% said they were stressed most of the time and 8% that they were stressed all of the time.

 

In Summary

 

It isn’t any wonder that single mothers are at-risk of developing postnatal depression when you consider the amount of stress that they are going through in terms of grief and loss of their relationship, the loneliness they experience, the loss of friends/family who have chosen sides, dealing with the grief of their children, recovering from the trauma of an abusive relationship (47% described psychological abuse and 19% physical abuse, 8% described alcohol/drug abuse and a few described sexual abuse of them or the children).  In addition to that they have the practical implications of parenting alone and how that affects them mentally in terms of financial hardship and not getting enough of a break from the kids – particularly since most of them had the lion share of the day-to-day care of their children.  In addition to this stress, is the ongoing conflict with their ex – 49% going through the court process which can be extremely stressful.

 

Despite all of these challenges, single mothers invariably remain committed to raising their children in a loving and positive environment – 59% working to provide financially for their children, 34% of beneficiaries looking for work and 48% choosing to be on a benefit at great financial sacrifice to be at home for their young children (the remainder unable to work due to disability/illness).  We should be applauding these single mothers for the commitment they show to their children and continuing to fight for the wellbeing of their family despite all of the incredibly stressful challenges they face.  This has to be the most significantly difficult time of their life  – so why is it that there are still WINZ staff that think it’s ok to treat these women with disrespect?  Why is it that after losing their significant other, they now find themselves losing some of their friends or family that have “chosen the other side”?  Why is it that they experience criticism for being on a benefit from friends, family – from the media, from the Government when their reasons for being on one is due to an inability to find work or driven by their belief that their children need them at home?  And why is it that in 2014 (not 1954) more than half of these single mothers find they struggle under the stigma of the label of ‘solo mum’?

At the beginning of this article, Mothers Helpers shared the statistics that oppose the stereotype that has been given to single mothers and single mothers on the benefit.  These statistics show that single mothers are predominantly working, committed to working or choosing to be at home with their young children for the sake of their kids.  They show that mums had mostly left committed relationships with one father of their child/ren for the sake of their own or their childrens’ safety or wellbeing.  Even so, Mothers Helpers wishes all single mothers to know that whatever their circumstance – whether working, studying or staying at home with their children; whether there is one or more than one father in the picture or whatever your reasons for leaving the relationship – we acknowledge that being a single mother is stressful and you deserve support rather than judgment from society.  From our perspective, you have both our admiration and our support.  

 

For all single parents but in particular those who do not have sufficient family support or you feel like you are stressed most of the time,  please request help, we are here to support you.  You do not have to do it all on your own.

Mothers Helpers is conducting an online survey for single fathers so we can understand their stress better.  If you are a single father and you’d like to participate in this survey, you can do so at the link HERE

 

* Please note that in some instances there was more than one father in the picture which is why percentages do not tally to 100% when added together.

 

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The Truth About Single Parents

The Media

I don’t know when I became aware of the media-bashing of single parents on the Domestic Purposes Benefit but with a conservative leaning and a monopoly on media by stuff.co.nz and the NZ Herald, it was probably around about the time of National’s Welfare Reforms.  At that time the cost of the DPB to the current Government was emphasized and how they could cut those costs became a priority and a focus of media attention.  Those welfare reforms meant that Domestic Purpose Beneficiaries (single parents) could no longer study at more than Certificate Level on the Training Incentive Allowance, it meant that single parents were forced back into the workforce when their child turned five (and were expected to attend regular “preparing for work” appointments at least a year before their child did so), and it meant that if they had another child whilst on the DPB, they would be expected to work when that child turned one.  And all this when employment opportunities were and are scarce and women returning to work after caring for children were viewed as having had a significant career break and therefore disadvantaged.  In the meantime, this Government cut funding to relationship counselling (previously six sessions were free through the courts), cut funding to counselling via GP’s for conditions such as depression, and turned their attention to cutting funding of counselling through the WINZ Disability Allowance (for all disabilities including depression and other mental illnesses) which some say will happen if National returns to Government.

At the same time these reforms were taking place, Paula Bennett (who had herself benefited from a very different Domestic Purposes Benefit and free education) dropped in a comment here and there about Domestic Purpose beneficiaries who took advantage of the system.  And suddenly stuff.co.nz and the NZ Herald were focusing their reporting on single parents who had used the Training Incentive Allowance for studying at Masters Level, cases of DPB fraud and the one or two cases they could find of mothers on the DPB for 30 years or more.  With the media’s help, being a “solo parent” did not only have the stigma hanging off it like a bad smell from the 1950’s, but it now had the added insult of being a “bludger” along with the rest of beneficiaries.  And this attitude began to pervade our society soaking up media reports unquestioningly.

Society’s Attitudes

Of course it always depends on who you talk to, but some of the judgments single parents have faced are spoken and unspoken.  Among them are the following comments:

  • Single parenting is a choice.  You chose your circumstances, now live with the consequences – or simply, “you made your bed now lie in it.”
  • Solo parents have a “victim mentality” and expect everything given to them.
  • Getting pregnant and going on the DPB is convenient for women who simply want an easy income without having to work for it on the back of those who “work hard and pay taxes to the likes of these”
  • Single women seem to be making a career out of being on the DPB
  • Solo parents are costing us hard-working income-earners so that we pay for their mistakes

It’s harsh, but these are some of the attitudes that have been around the last couple of years, often spoken directly to a single parent.

The Reality

“Single Parenting is a Choice”

Research tells us that we are more likely to divorce if our parents have divorced.  Research also tells us that we are more likely to enter into an abusive relationship as a woman if we have been abused as a child – and more likely to be an abuser as a man if we have been abused as a child.  Sometimes despite our best efforts, the odds are stacked against us.  Sometimes single parenting is the best choice out of two very bad options.  It might be the better choice than staying in an abusive relationship or a relationship that is full of conflict – for the sake of both adults and children.  For many single parents, they did not choose to be single at all with their partner leaving the relationship, their boyfriend abandoning them in pregnancy or even separation through death.  People “choose” to be a single parent for a myriad of reasons – whether the “choice” was made for them, or whether they chose to parent separately for the sake of their own health and wellbeing and that of their children.

“Single Parents Have a Victim Mentality”

I laugh when I am accused (as a single parent) of having a “victim mentality”.  The irony of it is not lost on me simply because of the sheer force of the challenges I have faced and overcome on my own.  I left my relationship at 20 weeks pregnant (and a second and final time when my son was 9 months old) due to conflict which was affecting my mental health and my emotional and physical safety and that of my baby.  It took enormous courage to leave.  I was frightened, I had no family support to speak of, no one in my family had divorced or separated, I didn’t have close friends to turn to, I didn’t have a job as I had been made redundant prior to discovering I was pregnant, and all my savings had been spent on our wedding.  I developed Postnatal Depression and I did not get the help I needed till my son was 9 months old – about the time my mother was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo aggressive chemotherapy doctors did not expect her to survive and about the time I developed Glandular Fever.

Despite all of these challenges, I left that relationship and faced pregnancy, childbirth and raising my child on my own without the support of another person.  Some days that task seemed overwhelming to me when I was so heavily pregnant and so swollen with retained fluid that lugging groceries up the stairs from the car had me in tears as there was no one else to do it, overwhelmed by the plight of being alone and less capable with the enormous task of being a mother to a very dependent child.  I worried about who would support me in the delivery room, I grieved for my relationship – but I faced it.  I attended counselling for myself, I went to the GP to get help for my depression, I saw a marriage counsellor in an effort to restore our relationship, I worked on my health and being a good mum to my baby, I went on the DPB to provide for my child which was humbling at the time, I worked on my own business so that I could bring in some part-time income and then took up some part-time work.  I found ways to get a break since my son’s father did not have our son overnight till he was about two years old – coming up with providing free accommodation to an au pair in exchange for some childcare hours or making using of the 9hrs childcare subsidy.  I napped in the afternoon to help my recovery from Glandular Fever.  I set up this charity (Mothers Helpers) to give back to other mothers who were experiencing the same gaps and lack of support as I did and I volunteered hours and hours of my time to it – through incredible challenges I remained committed to the work because I had lived it and because I heard the stories of other mothers personally and felt I had to respond.  I returned to study, working on a Post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters Degree, and when the opportunity to work continued to be closed to me, I continued to look for answers to my cashflow problem through work applications, the pursuit of learning and education and persisting with business endeavors.  I dug deep and supported my mother as best I could throughout her chemotherapy and recovery from her treatment.  For the most part, I did all of this without any real support but through sheer determination.

Because I’m a single mother, I have literally spoken to hundreds of single parents.  Each situation is unique – some have more support than others but invariably, the majority significantly struggle financially, they are having to deal with ongoing conflict with their ex if they should be fortunate enough to have some childcare arrangement – or they have an absent father and never get a break.  Many have no family support.  The practicalities of studying or working with a child in care is extremely challenging not just in terms of cost but also in terms of time.  This is why single parents are so at-risk of developing postnatal depression.  The long-term and ongoing stress they carry inevitably affects their health.

The majority of these single parents I have got to know, face all of these challenges along with their feelings of anxiety, fear, confusion and loneliness with absolute courage.  Invariably they don’t share these struggles except with one another – and “just get on with it” – intuitively knowing that others would not understand.  They get on with it and they work hard at creating a better life for themselves and for their children – knowing that this will cost them and that there will be significant sacrifices to do so – and doing all of this alone and without the support of another.  Victim mentality?  Absolutely not.

“Getting Pregnant and Going on the DPB is an Option for Women Who Don’t Want to Work & Single Women Seem to Be Making a Career Out of Going on the DPB”

Firstly, there are women who have grown up where benefit-dependency has been inter-generational, that is true.  But with all the women I have known, it is most certainly a minority.  The majority of single mothers that I have spoken to, do not want to be on the DPB long-term.

The DPB is hard to live on.  Let’s say that you have been given $500 in the hand from WINZ including Family Tax and Accommodation Benefit and so on for you and your child.  $350 of that goes on rent, $100 goes on groceries and the remaining $50 is shared between power, phone and petrol costs.  There is no extras for things like clothing for your child or yourself, childcare (to get a break if dad is not in the picture), glasses, car repairs, dental, GP visits, car registration.  When things go wrong like your car fails its warrant and it needs $2000 of repairs or you have to find a new place to rent and your child has ruined the carpet and the landlord only returns some of your bond or you need a root canal or wisdom teeth removal, WINZ will loan you the amount you need (unless you’ve maxed out your entitlements) but you have to pay this back so it’s taken out of your benefit automatically on a weekly basis.  Then because you can’t afford your car registration, the police ticket you and you have growing infringements that have you paying the Ministry of Justice a weekly amount.

The DPB drives you further and further into poverty.  It gets to the point where paying rent and owning a car becomes virtually impossible and if you continue to stay on the DPB, your options reduce till you concede that you’ll have to sell your unwarranted, unregistered car needing car repairs, will have to put yourself on the list for a Housing NZ house and live in poverty-stricken areas and all the social issues that are associated with that, and send your child to a low decile school.  Most of us don’t want that for ourselves or for our kids, so most of us find ways to get ourselves out of it through work or study if we possibly can, and find creative ways to stretch the budget as far as it can go in the meantime.  Living on the DPB is no picnic.

Acknowledgement

Single parents and mothers with postnatal depression are my heroes.  Their courage to care for their children no matter what the cost despite the personal sacrifice and lack of support is admirable.  We should be applauding single parents in our community and asking how we can support them better as they seek to fight for a better life for themselves and their children.  They are my inspiration.

 

Kristina Paterson

Founder of Mothers Helpers

 

If you are a single parent and would like to share the challenges you’ve faced and how you’ve overcome them (or working on a better life for you and your family), please share it in the comments below…
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