Struggles and Strengths
by Lori Walton
I once was a single mom. I once was a single mom on welfare. I held a lot of shame and guilt about it, at the time I never recognized why I felt that way.
Once I got myself off of welfare and created a happy and stable home for my daughter, my attitude changed, my outlook changed… and it wasn’t all for the positive. I would describe the person I became as consciously blind and even stuck up.
You see, even though I spent almost 6 years on one form of social assistance or another, even being homeless at one point. I held such personal guilt and shame about it that I no longer was willing to acknowledge the women who were still struggling to overcome it.
The stigma: a single mother. Not only having to worry about what people might say or think about her being a single mother, but the added burden to society of living on social assistance.
I chose to no longer associate with friends who were not trying to get themselves out of the system. I chose to move on and forget about it all, ignore that it was ever a part of me.
One day in November 2006, I was in a WEL-Systems Program at Oceanstone Inn. I began talking about some aspect of my life, when someone pointed out to me that I wasn’t looking at the people in the room as I spoke. I couldn’t bring myself to look them in the eye while I talked about my life on welfare and allowing myself to rely on other people’s charity. Only at this time did I discover all of the shame and guilt I held in my body for being on assistance and for not being “strong” enough to do it on my own.
No wonder I chose to ignore the single mothers who were on assistance, it was a reflection of my past which I did not want to think about. I still held judgment about myself for not being able to provide for my daughter while I was alone; I transferred that judgment to others whom I didn’t even know.
My shame and guilt stemmed from my experiences growing up. Not only in my family but society in general; if you were not part of a 2 parent working family, you were worth less than others… now string that word together and this is how I felt as a single mother on assistance… worthless.
My feeling of worthlessness and being a burden on my family and society led me down a road of deep depression. The amount of money social assistance doles out is a mere pittance. I recently came across my “intake” sheet from 1997 and saw that as a single mother of one I received $697.00 a month. That is an annual income of $8,364.00.
So I had to live in a cheap apartment complex, I paid roughly $550.00 for a 2 bdrm apartment, heat & electricity included. That left just $147.00 dollars for food, phone bill and any other necessity.
Not only did I have to drastically change my lifestyle; I had to rely on the charity of others to actually make it through. Food banks were frequently visited. One year I called the St. Vincent de Paul Society to make Christmas possible. Whenever family would offer to help I’d accept it thankfully.
I hated to have to ask for help… yet each month I would get further and further in debt. When the companies would begin threatening to shut off my services I would have to suck up my courage (no pride here anymore) and ask my mother to once again bail me out,
The shame for having to ask. The shame for relying on others charity to make it by. The guilt for not being able to support myself or my daughter on my own.
Once again, society turns a blind eye to the struggling poor… allotting a mere pittance for a woman and her child, when I look back on it I really don’t think it has changed very much.
And I wonder do they now have programs in place to help a single mother on assistance? Within myself I know I can make an impact. I can choose to no longer ignore this aspect of myself and engage with these women to work on making a difference.
Some things a single mother on assistance must get by or be assaulted with;
- You have to get over people’s misconceptions and judgments of you
as a single mother on assistance.
- "She chose to be a single mother from the start” – this can be true for some single mothers. Some women choose to have a child and not have to worry about the hassle or headache that may come along with a man. Perhaps the right man hasn’t come around yet and they feel the need to be a mother. Perhaps they want to have the freedom to raise their children with their own values, how they feel they want to raise them and not worry about another persons input. This may be true for some single mothers, and my experience is that most woman who choose to be a mother on their own are in a financial position to do so, rarely are they the single mothers you see on social assistance
- "She chose to leave the father… it’s her problem” – in a lot of cases this is true… other than the statement it’s her problem. Society today still turns a blind eye to abuse that may be happening within a family’s home. Society needs to recognize that on top of the physical abuse we still readily ignore; there is emotional abuse, psychological abuse, and yes, sexual abuse can happen between a couple who are in a relationship. This woman may have chosen to leave an abusive relationship… but it most certainly shouldn’t make it “her problem”. So the label “burden to society” is already put upon her as she tries to leave the abuse. I am sure when women return to their abuser it is somehow tied into the feeling of not being able to make it on our own. Why do we as a society chose to ignore the reasons and label the woman?
- "She must be hell to live with” or “the asshole left her” – the father leaves the family home; creating no other option for the mother but to continue to be the primary care giver and find a way to provide for her family. Usually during cases like this the father doesn’t say 3 months ahead of time, “I’m going to be leaving you. Why don’t we start looking for childcare now and I’ll stay until you get a job”. It rarely happens like that.
- "Is she an addict?”, “Does she sleep around?”, or “Are those kids by the same father?” – All horrible judgments labeled on women who are struggling to get up, to get by, or to get out. Not only do we have to live with being looked upon as a less than, as a have not, but we are targeted by ignorant people who want to make it easier for themselves to ignore this glaring part of society they so desperately don’t wan to see.
- "She must be lazy” or “She has no motivation” – Do you realize how hard it is to get by living on such a pathetic amount from social assistance. When I decide to do something to better myself I approached my worker for guidance… at the time there was NOTHING in place to help a single mother get off assistance and get an education.
Apply for a student loan I was told. How about child care? You’ll have to pay for that out of your student loan. How about living expenses? You’ll get that with your student loan. How about medical coverage? We will continue to give you that.
So with this magical student loan you have to pay your tuition, supplies, travel costs, babysitter, house, food, bills and any miscellaneous things that will inevitable arise. No… laziness or lack of motivation isn’t there for all single mothers on assistance. I would assume that a lot are faced with the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness, worthlessness and helplessness when faced with the fact that there is little help out there to get off the system.
So the misconceptions and judgments are put upon us. On top of the
stress we already feel, we have to suddenly raise our children
on our own. I feel it is important to point out that although some
of the above statements are true for some women… you cannot generalize.
Society today does too much of that. I also did that far too long.
- Resentment and Depression. These were huge challenges for me. I know this could also be true for other woman out there.
- "Why am I stuck with our child all the time?” – It took 2 of us to make these children why am I the one who is left with all of the responsibility? The stress of being a single parent, added to the stress of living in poverty, added to being the sole caregiver 24 / 7 can equal internal chaos so much of the time. We all need time for ourselves; to be by ourselves; to re-energize ourselves…to be able to go pee by ourselves is a luxury. The resentment grows as the days go by, directed at the father… and because you cannot control that aspect of your life anymore, your resentment, often times, is redirected at your children.
- "Try to get a social life back? Ha! Good luck.” – Too many times when a relationship dissolves the children become pawns, they become tools to try to break to other parent. I can remember many times making plans for a night my daughter would be scheduled to go to her father’s house and then have him find out about my plans and refuse to take her. Or when I have plans with her, he’d show up and demand to take her. In retaliation I would plan events to coincide with his visitation… and the dance would begin. One parent trying to inflict pain on the other… all the while the one who truly suffered was our child. How attractive is that dynamic to a prospective mate? Constant chaos not only leads to frustration and anger, but will often chase people out of your lives so you are even more isolated. Who wants to go out with or be friends with a woman who has that attached to her?
- "How am I going to make this month’s rent?” – As working parents, working single parents, or even just working adults in general I’m sure you have had to go into your overdraft, get a payday loan, borrow money from someone, put something on a credit card or approach your bank for a loan or credit line.
Can you imagine having something happen and not being able to access any of those resources? I can remember one month someone broke into my mail box and stole my welfare cheque. I can remember the feeling of panic, of despair, of fear, of desperation, of helplessness and worry that came over my body. I was not going to be able to make rent… I was not going to be able to buy food… what was I going to do? Again, rely on the charity and compassion of others, to make it through.
- "Why is this happening to me?” – I don’t want to be doing this anymore. I can’t go on living waiting for the 26th of the month to roll around so I can once again have money for a few days. Why is this happening to me… why can’t anyone help me? I can’t do it myself… I don’t have the tools or the resources to change this. What kind of life am I providing for my child(ren)? Wouldn’t they be better off without me?
All of these and more contributed to my deep depression, silent rage,
feelings of worthlessness, helplessness and ultimately self hate.
I had no pride left. I was lonely. I was so depressed and frustrated at
the lack of help out there, I felt like my life was so hopeless, I contemplated
suicide. Prozac quickly became my friend…
- Guilt... the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s my experience that Shame and Guilt are interchangeable when you are talking about it in this context. Shame and Guilt go hand in hand.
- "You are fully capable of working… why aren’t you?” – Even though your situation is dire, maybe you don’t have the education for a job that will pay you enough to actually get off of welfare and be able to live and pay at least $320 / mth (1 child; under the table) for child care. You were brought up that if you were physically able to work you should be working and EARNING a living.
- "Can’t you take care of your own?” – A common phrase that just evokes guilt and shame. You can’t get away from this one in some form or another; it is all over the television, especially Court television shows, where the judge asks a woman how do you pay for that? Do you work? So you mean I’m paying for that. I’m raising your kids... Knowing that eventually when you meet someone new they will ask you what you do for a living… what do you say? I can remember the heat and redness moving up my neck and mumbling that I was a stay at home mom. Something I would have been able to say with pride had I not been living on social assistance. The shame and guilt that I was such a burden on society.
- "Okay I’ll lend you the money, but let this be a lesson to you for next time.” – Asking for help is often humiliating and extremely hard to gather the nerve up to do. My experience has been that I would only ask my family for help when there just wasn’t any other choice. My family has never been in the situation I was in; I perceived they thought that I wouldn’t have money because of mismanaging… like I could really live with my daughter on $697.00 a month. I’d hear things like “You really have to pay all your bills every month so it won’t build up like that”… and I’d bit my tongue, cry tears of humiliation and say I would (even though I know that the bills could never be fully paid with what I received). Guilt of knowing I’d have to ask again.
- Personal longings / life dreams – for me coming from a Catholic upbringing and from a “broken home”, I held the most guilt knowing that a) I had a child out of wedlock and b) I would not be able to give my child the “intact family” I so wanted growing up. I hate the term “broken home” so many times the household is much healthier with parents who no longer are together.
Growing up you are constantly taught life lessons, through modeling,
correcting, or being told, and when your life doesn’t turn out like you
were taught it should, you are often riddled with guilt.
These 3 things are just a few of the struggles a single mother has to face.
In spite of these struggles; single mothers on social assistance are strong. They often have been torn down to almost nothing, no sense of self, to find the strength to say enough.
At times it seems you just can’t go on… yet you do. You know that you have to; you are the sole support of this perfect being you so dearly love. Your child(ren).
If not you, who? You learn to be strong, you learn to sacrifice, you learn where to go, who to ask. You learn how to swallow your pride, to go if necessary with hat in hand, to ask for help.
You learn quickly who is most important in your life… your children.
You learn that not having money isn’t the end of the world.
When you look at your child’s smile, when you hear your child’s laughter, listen to the comforting silence of her sleeping breath. It is reward. It gives you the strength; the drive; the incentive to move ahead.
The love for your child gives you the drive to continue and achieve more. To create a life that is more for you and your child. To climb your way out of poverty in whatever way you can.
Being a single mother is one of the hardest jobs out there. And I’ve experienced it from both ends… as a mother on welfare… and as a struggling working single mother, equally as hard, for different reasons.
As a single mother getting off welfare, I applied for and received a student loan, I worked half days, went to school half days, and didn’t really get to spend anytime with my daughter during the week. I would come home at the end of a long day and crawl into bed with her so I could hold her even though she was sound asleep. I think she sensed I was there.
I can honestly say that if I didn’t ask for help or tell people about my situation I would not have been able (financially) to finish college. It has been my experience that people love to help other people, especially if that person is trying to help themselves.
I found free child care by asking for it. I found friends who would pick up and help out at home with house work or child care or occasionally cooking meals for us when times got really rough.
And again the stigma of asking for someone’s help is humiliating and shameful… and you need to ask yourself, “If a person asks me for help do I think less of them?” Guaranteed the answer is no. Get over that stigma that causes you to stop from asking for help. People are happy to help. I believe with drive, determination and a helping hand you can get off social assistance if you persist.
And it was done… I was officially off assistance; during the final months of my course I began working part time on a work term with a company. They eventually hired me and offered me more hours. I had to travel 1½ - 2 hours by bus to get there, but I was making it on my own. And I still hardly got to see my daughter, but I was much happier with myself now, with my accomplishments, my hard work and perseverance. The time I did spend with my daughter was filled with joy and a happy mommy.
As a working single mom, you are still fighting to prove yourself. If some employers find out you are a single mom they may worry that you will be off all of the time if your child is sick or if you can’t find child care. They may worry that you will be distracted during your work day and won’t devote as much time and energy into your job as other employees.
Strength is the name of the game, proving yourself, spreading your self over all areas of life, being super mom to the rescue of your children, and super employee to the rescue of your boss. Knowing all the time you can not be broken. You are strong and have the ability and capability to take on the world… if only you had the energy.
Looking back with what I know now I would tell myself the following things:
- It’s okay to ask for help – it doesn’t make you weaker or less than
- Don’t feel guilty if you feel you just need to be by yourself – we all need to recharge our batteries once and a while
- Cleaning can wait until the weekend - Don’t sweat the small stuff, enjoy your children, colour, play and laugh. No body ever died from a messy house
- Believe in yourself – even though the situation may suck, remember you are brilliant and fully capable of creating your own future
- Choose it – don’t fall into the victim state of mind, you choose to act or you choose not to act… it is your decision
- Own it – take ownership for the choices you have made and are continuing to make, are they still serving you? If not chose differently
- Engage in it – once you choose to change your life you have to start moving, begin taking steps to make it happen
- Breathe – take the time you need to breathe and remember to do so deeply, with intention. Breath creates space for movement to happen. A breath can cause a stressful situation to dissipate, can cause an emotion to release, it’s all good, it lets us know we are alive.
Over the next few months I am choosing to engage with parents, single mothers, and mothers on assistance in a program I created called “Discovering Authentic Self and Consciously Parenting”. It is an invitation for women to awaken to their authentic selves, full of brilliance and discover their untapped potential. Invite them to engage and co-create with their families in a different way. Consciously parenting with intention, and recognizing when we are not.
Copyright © 2007, Lori Walton - used with permission.
Lori Walton: is a Quantum TLC™ and WEL-Systems® Facilitator, Life coach, mother, spouse, author, workshop guide, and civil servant who is passionate about inviting women to wake up to their own brilliance and potential.
Lori invites you to contact her if you wish to engage at email@example.com or through her blog at www.loriwalton.blogspot.com
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