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Archive for July, 2014

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…
iQToys

 


Child Poverty in NZ

Mothers Helpers is concerned about the health and wellbeing of families and the effects these have on children.  If you haven’t seen this documentary, please take the time to watch it now, it’s important.

 

 

 

 


Journalist Bryan Bruce then asked questions of all political parties regarding issues that would reduce child poverty in New Zealand…

CLICK HERE to read their responses

 


Parents Studying Survey Results

Mothers Helpers recently put out an online survey seeking participants randomly, requesting them to give feedback of their experience as a student, the challenges they faced, the consequences of the stress they came under (if any) and what they would suggest might help them to successfully gain their qualification without that stress becoming unmanageable.

About the Respondents:

  • 100 participated in the survey
  • Of those 100, 53% were currently studying and 52% had previously studied whilst being a parent (some had obviously studied more than one time which is reflected in the results)
  • 50% described themselves as a single parent, and 50% had a partner
  • A range of universities, polytechnics and wanangas were represented including (but not limited to) SIT, Otago University, Massey University, Victoria University, Open Polytechnic, Canterbury University, Waikato University, Auckland University, Lincoln University, CPIT, UCOL, AUT, MIT, Unitec, Wintec and BOP Polytechnic.

What Challenges Did These Parents Face?

We asked parents to give a stress score between 1 and 5 – 1 meaning they experienced a low level of stress while 5 indicated a high level of stress.  The following gave a high score of 4 or 5 to the following challenges they faced while studying:

  • 73% said they experienced high stress (4 or a 5) due to insufficient rest from work/kids/study
  • 70% of those it applied to (eg. single parents) said they experienced high stress due to  “parenting alone”
  • 71% said they experienced high stress due to demands on their time
  • 71% said they experienced high stress due to financial strain
  • 43% said they experienced high stress due to childcare challenges (finding suitable/affordable childcare options and factoring in waiting list issues)
  • 35% said they experienced high stress due to no family support

In What Ways Did Stress Impact their Performance as a Student?

  • An overwhelming 89% said they struggled to find time to study – 48% very often, 41% sometimes
  • 81% said they found demands were too overwhelming – 21% very often, 60% sometimes
  • 73% said they turned in assignments that weren’t their best because of demands on their time – 19% very often and 54% sometimes
  • 75% said they struggled to fit placements in on top of childcare, study and work – 34% very often and 41% sometimes
  • 33% of parents were late to class due to parental responsibilies:  6% said this happened very often and 27% said it happened sometimes

What Were the Consequences of that Stress?

  • 73% said it affected the quality of their assignments
  • 58% said it affected their mental health
  • 51% said it affected their physical health
  • 44% said it caused their children distress/anxiety
  • 26% said it placed a strain on their relationship
  • 23% sad it affected their attendance and performance at university/polytech
  • 20% had to repeat some of their course
  • 16% had to give up their part-time job

18% dropped out of university (or polytech) temporarily or permanently.

What Would Help?

We asked parents what would help to support them during their studies at university.

What parents wanted the most was:

  • Empathic approach (from tutors) to parents who are struggling (29% said it would help a little, 56% said it would help a lot)
  • Flexibility wherever possible (27% said it would help a little, 54% said it would help a lot)
  • Better training for tutors on challenges facing adult students that are parents (25% said it would help a little, 47% said it would help a lot)
  • Counsellor or support-person provided to talk through issues/give advice (29% said it would help a little, 34% said it would help a lot)
  • On-site casual, short-term and long-term childcare centre (16% said it would help a little, 57% said it would help a lot)
  • Placements, classes and assignments scheduled around school holidays (19% said it would help a little, 58% said it would help a lot)
  • An 80% expected attendance rate rather than a 100% expected attendance rate (40% said would help a little, 20% said it would help a lot)

 

Are you studying as a parent?  What challenges have you faced and what would help you get through it without some of the consequences of stress we’ve seen above such as the effects on your physical and mental health and the effects on your family?

 

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