April 24, 2014

The Redundant Mother

"I was twenty. A mother of three, married and divorced." 

That was how my Mother's justified leaving her three young kids back in the 60's. At the time, my father was a violent drunk - which made her decision to leave him, a good one but leaving her kids with him? Deplorable.

A lot of women were in the same position as my mother and most of them remained in violent marriages because, quite frankly, there was no alternative. For that reason alone, the Domestic Purpose Benefit (DPB) was literally a life saver and the only requirement (at that stage) was proof of parenting - kids. 

My how things have changed. 

Today, there is no DPB. For a parent of a child over the age of 14, there is what's called a Job-Seeker Allowance. In effect, it's the same as an unemployment benefit whereby you have to be up and ready, looking for those jobs (that magically produce out of thin air), and you have to provide confirmation of interviews, personal statements or lists of vacancies applied for, and written correspondence to verify unsuccessful applications. 

You get NO money until you have satisfied these requirements.

In reality, it means a single parent, probably still smarting from a painful separation and having to put up with the angst of their children shooting off 'blame bullets,' now needs to put on a happy face and risk rejection on the job hunting front - over qualified, under qualified, and more recently - too old.

I count myself as one of the lucky ones. I have a job. I have a home. The only money I get is what I earn. What I don't have is a backup plan should anything go wrong cause then, it would mean a move back to New Zealand and probably a place in that infamously demoralizing job-seeking queue - Kiwis are not eligible for ANY benefits in Australia. What I also don't have is a partner. I am a true-blue single parent. No other parent in my child's life. The downsides are obvious - loneliness, a feeling of isolation, and no accountability - which can sometimes, be a great thing. More importantly, I don't have to have my child return from her father's house where he gifts everything to her, shows off his new life (which is so much more affordable when you don't have kids full time), and returns with an attitude that just eats away at what little self esteem is left from a daily dose of job seeking. 

However, what I do have in common with my single parenting sisters is an overwhelming sense of being overwhelmed. If I want to go out to dinner, it's twice the price. If I need a hair cut, it's twice the price. I earn a single wage and yet everything costs twice the amount cause typically, whatever you need so does your kid. Kids in a family with two parents generally have two wages and so, everything is halved. You want to go on holiday and the parents (2 people) chip in for the child's costs. As a single parent - well, you just don't go on holidays. My rent is not halved cause I am a single wage earner nor is my electricity or gas. 

I do not and never will EVER regret having my child. She has repaid me a thousand times more for things money can't buy. But here comes the clincher - she's getting to the age where she will fly the coop and then what? 

I saw an Oprah Winfrey show once about mothers that grieve when their child goes off to college - in the States, that generally means they leave home. At the time, I couldn't fathom grieving over being childless - I could very well have been buried under a tonne of nappies at the time. But now, I feel the time is coming. I think that's why kids go to school camps - it gives the parents practice time for the day they leave for longer than a week.

When my kid went on camp I cried for three days. Later, she went to New Zealand for nearly a month. I didn't cry but I practically stalked her on the Internet and one night, I called her just to yell at her for not calling me. I was completely irrational, driven by panic that I couldn't reach her, she couldn't reach me, that I couldn't do what I had done all her life and that was to be there for her. 

I think one of the hardest parts of being a parent is letting go. Like most parents, I want my child to go off and explore the world but I'm haunted by visions of me clinging to her ankles at the airport. Letting go is a parenting skill and like most parenting skills, it's learned on the job and with no manuals - you just make the shit up as you go along.

And if you're a single Mum going through all this  - job seeking, getting rejected, having your kids look at your different (maybe even resentfully), struggling financially - then pat yourself on the back. It ain't easy. 

Being a true super hero never is.

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