Solo mum's life is 'lonely, scary, sad'
The struggles single parents face
It wasn't my goal in life to be a single mother. My three beautiful children were planned when I had a career, a house, and a husband.
I lost all three of those things just before my youngest child turned 2.
So began my life of being a single mother of three.
At this point I was at rock-bottom. I had to move into a small, unsuitable, freezing cold house. I suddenly had no car. Even with subsidies, I couldn't afford childcare for three kids under 5, so I wasn't able to return to work. I had people like Baycorp chasing me for money I didn't have.
My first encounter with Work and Income was shockingly terrible. I had no idea how the system worked, the paperwork required or how you had to sit there like you have committed some sort of crime because you have found yourself in a position of needing assistance.
I was told I would be under investigation for fraud the second I signed anything. I was given a lecture on how to be a good mother.
The fact that I was in my mid-30s, had been working my entire adult life until two weeks prior, had never been on a benefit before, and was obviously an emotional, financial and mental wreck didn't seem to matter.
Somehow I held it together for the kids. The first few weeks were a blur, but it was my kids that kept me going.
My eldest had always been a worry. Right from birth we had problems with growth and development. But at the age of 4, it became quite apparent that there was something going on, something happening, something that needed sorting.
I kept thinking that if I wasn't a solo mother, maybe she wouldn't have had to go down this path. I know that thought doesn't make sense but it felt better to get angry at myself even though being a solo mother wasn't my choice.
After stamping my feet because I wanted an actual diagnosis with actual help for it, my oldest's specialist sent her to Starship for every test imaginable. The only thing that they could conclude was that she most likely had epilepsy.
That threw me, and as a solo parent it was all on me. There was no one to share this tremendous load with. No one that had to help make decisions. No one to sit up all night with worry, imagining things that could happen.
It was lonely, scary, and sad.
By the age of 8 she was having full on seizures. School became a reward for having a good day, and when she couldn't be at school, I spent the day being a nurse. There was nobody else that could look after her.
I couldn't afford a qualified carer. It was just me.
If I had an appointment, I had to cancel it. If I had plans, I had to cancel them. If I was feeling sick, depressed, moody, tired, too bad - I had an epileptic daughter to look after.
It's only recently with medication that she has started going on short play dates with her friends.
Even though exhausted from years of battling by myself, I still push for more and better for her. It's nearly a full time job. And I have no idea if I'm doing it right.
Then there is my youngest. Just before he started kindy, he stopped talking.
I refused to believe that he had a serious problem. One child with a problem was enough.
There was a year of assessments and school meetings. Again, every decision was mine to make. No one that truly understood him. No one to help me deal with it all.
I finally accepted it the day he was officially diagnosed with high-functioning autism. I bawled and screamed and yelled into my pillow all that night.
It felt like I was running a circus 24 hours a day.
I was exhausted. I am exhausted. There have been numerous times over the last few years that I have wished that I had a partner. But I don't have the time or the energy to even look for one.
I worry constantly. By myself.
There are periods where I am very depressed.
I decided about a year after becoming a solo mother that I would study. It was becoming obvious that getting a job was not an option for me. Back then my oldest and my youngest needed constant attention and care.
My oldest was just about to start school and I thought that would give me some time so I can study from home. So study I did, at odd hours when I could, up all hours of the night, studying while in Starship, while at kids' assessments in waiting rooms.
I worked hard, and got good marks. I wanted to get a qualification that would mean a decent job with decent hours so I could afford to go to work.
I also wanted a life. It sounds selfish to write it out like that, but I wanted to be my own person again. I wanted out of the house. I wanted to go to work and forget out how my oldest had wet her bed during a seizure during the night, and that my youngest locked himself in the bathroom for half an hour because he couldn't stop brushing his teeth.
So I am studying long and hard, in amongst this circus.
But when my youngest turned 5, Work and Income decided I could now go out and get a job.
Thankfully due to a strongly-worded letter from my doctor, I got a short reprieve from job seeking.
A year later my reprieve run out and I was sent an appointment to discuss my work obligations.
Under normal circumstances I would be jumping at this chance to get help to find employment but considering I can't even go to the supermarket without having to abandon my trolley to run to school, or having to organise my days and the other kids around hundreds of appointments and meetings, or holding my daughter in my arms all day after a nasty seizure, finding a job that would let me run off at a second's notice, and not being able to turn up to work 2 to 3 days a week is a bit unrealistic.
The day of my appointment, my oldest had a seizure and knocked herself out on the table. I missed my appointment without even thinking about it.
And my benefit was cut off.
The thought of having to go to Work and Income and beg to have my benefit back was terrifying, but food and medication for my children was important and hard to pay for with no income.
But apparently, if I can study, then I can work. I tried to politely point out that I study at home, in my own time. If I can't study for three days then I will spend three nights catching up.
The reason I study is for my future and the future of my kids. They have no idea how much I would love a job right now, but that is impossible with two special needs kids. They need me far too many hours in the day for me to be able to hold down any job.
But one size fits all.
That is what it feels like to be a solo parent. One size fits all.
I have an acquaintance who was surprised that my car had a rego and warrant because I'm a solo mum on the benefit. Another person assumes I sit around at home all day watching movies. Another assumes that the kids go to their father's every second weekend so I can go out and party.
People are confused that I don't spend my benefit money on drugs and the pokies. People refuse to believe that I study full time to get a degree so I can make a better future for me and my children.
Solo mothers on benefits are stigmatised, labelled, looked down upon. But not one size fits all, and Work and Income need to recognise this.
Being a solo mother is lonely. And hard. And there is more worry because there is only one of you to do the worrying.
And more exhaustion. Only you are responsible for the dishes, putting the rubbish out, the laundry, every meeting and appointment, bathing the kids, administering medication, every single meal of every single day.
Making sure they have shoes that fit, doing budgets, making every single decision.
And the love and attention. There is only one of you to find the time to lavish love and attention on these there beautiful children.
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