Over half a million people live in one parent families in Ireland according to the 2011 census. Those living in lone parent households continue to experience the highest rates of deprivation with almost 60% of individuals from these households experiencing one or more forms of deprivation.
According to One Family; lone parents and their children are four times more likely to be in consistent poverty than families consisting of two parents. The majority of those families are being lone parented by women. This article would like to look behind statistics, policies and cut backs too discover the reality in Irish society today for women trying to rear a family in many cases against all the odds.
Meet Melissa and Sienna, they live in transitional housing so are effectively homeless, Melissa has returned education to get a degree in Social Care while Sienna goes to crèche. Melissa is constantly under pressure to move on from her transitional house as it has a time limit of how long a family can stay, she is trying to find a rented place to live but is finding it hard because of the housing crisis. Their close family live over 200 miles away so day to day they rely on each other for support.This is the average week for this family.
5.30am up with the baby to get ready. Bus at 7am Sienna has been crying from the moment she woke up. She is tired and resisting everything getting dressed, wants to be up in my arms. I feel guilty looking at her and contemplate getting back into bed with her. She ended up crying the whole way into town. Because her crèche is out of the way I have to allow 45 minutes to an hour to walk down to the crèche and back up to school. I’m stressed reaching college and can feel a headache coming on.
First class back after Christmas and get good results back from essay so I am delighted and feel more able as I often have self- doubt around whether I am able for the course and the amount of work given along with the stress of minding a child on top. This is a much needed boost and makes my day.
Get up at 7.30pm to get baby and myself ready for school. The extra two hours in the morning make it a little easier with Sienna however she wants to stay and play with the other kids and I have a little struggle getting her to leave. It is a long day today and I do not finish until 6 I am tired by the time classes finish and have to rush down to collect the baby before the crèche closes at 6.30. As Sienna does not like the bus, we have our usual struggle and I try to placate her with watching frozen or Peppa pig on my phone. We reach home at 7.30 where I cook some dinner put sienna into a bath and then into bed. By the time I finish this, it is 9pm and I am ready for bed myself. Once I have finished my homework it is 11.00pm.
Did not sleep very well last night due to worrying about housing issues and have to drag myself out of the bed at 6.30. I leave sienna sleep on and grab a shower before sorting clothes and breakfast/lunches. I am in work placement today and experience a bit of anxiety around this so am a little stressed. I drop sienna to crèche for 9 and head to placement. I finish at 3.30 pm and head to collect herself. Get home for 5pm. Cook dinner and do a bit of cleaning around the house. I put sienna to bed after her bath at 7.30. I have an assignment to do so i try to get a bit done but I find this difficult as I am sharing a house and to do work I have to stay in the same room as sienna is sleeping. I can only do a small bit before she starts stirring and I finish feeling pissed off and anxious about getting my work in on time.
I set the alarm for 5.30 but am wrecked and sleep in until 6.10. I am in a rush to get ready and for the second time this week debate taking the day off to spend with my daughter but I don’t want to fall behind in lectures or work so I fly around grabbing everything. I wake sienna up and get her dressed quickly. She is grumpy and tired and doesn’t know what she wants. As I run for the bus in the lashing rain I have to keep reminding myself that I am doing this course to not only better my chances in gaining employment but to be a good role model for my daughter and that one day it will pay off.
My alarm goes off at 5.30 and I am so tired I set it again for 6. I stayed up late to study for a test and woke sienna up around 11. She then decided it was playtime and it took me until 2am to get her back to sleep again. We are both wrecked travelling into town. On the plus side she is so tired she falls asleep on the bus giving me a stress free journey but I am late and have to rush to get to college on time for the test. I am finished early today so I leave Sienna in crèche for a couple of hours and go home to rest for a while. I then go in to collect her around 5 and we go into town for a bite to eat. We get home 7pm and after I bathe Sienna I put her to bed for 8pm.
I spoke to members of a grassroots organisation called SPARK through their Facebook page which has over 2,700 members, this page is used as a support system for single parents, people can ask for advice around social welfare payments, housing, access and representing themselves in court for maintenance. It is also a safe space for emotional support for those who need it and want to share. I asked members to comment or share their experience of lone parenting, the general day to day struggle of trying to get by the rewards of lone parenting and also what would make their lives easier.
Lorraine said: “Hardest thing is waking up in the morning knowing I’ve four kids, three with special needs, to prepare for their day ahead and how it’ll be my words or gestures that may influence their day … then get to work, complete an overdue assignment for college, tend to one of the kids many appointments ….then I remember the daily wind down in the evening full of hugs and chats about their day and I smile knowing I’ve done it alone and I’ve not allowed myself become a statistic for the sake of my family !”
Nat commented: “What I find really tough is the isolation. Since I’m a mother I haven’t been in any social event that isn’t specifically designed for families or kids. My almost 4 yr old is not welcome to any activity as a friend kindly told me when she was given a party at her place “I’m not banning children but I don’t encourage it either “.
Maggie expressed; “Being on rent allowance and in college is a struggle not being able to access grants or hold onto earnings and increasing your child’s hardship in the short term while hoping for benefits in the long term is tough. Also not having a secure home has meant moving in the middle of college and falling far behind. Not being able to achieve the quality of work I am capable of because of the struggle of our low income insecure reality.”
Maria said: “The hardest part is knowing that even a full time job with a good wage is not enough to pay for everything unless you have a council house. Paying the crazy rent prices by yourself as a single parent is almost impossible. Therefore I’m stuck on social welfare whether I like it not. But there is good help with education and for that I am grateful. In time I hope I can earn enough to say goodbye to state assistance. I have not felt stigma, I am proud I did what I needed to do and I am proud that my kids and I are happy and healthy
Suzie shares: “Hardest- the never ending walks of shame, collecting the kids from school alone, dropping to parties, parent teacher meetings. Isolation and not being able to take 5 minutes out in the middle of a big tantrum to just gather your thoughts. Your children thinking you are invincible and you going along with it.
Most rewarding is knowing you could have gone under but found the strength to carry on.
Better childcare and more assistance for lone parents to get work during school hours that doesn’t affect their rent/FIS entitlement/medical cards. And socially something should be done but not quite sure what”
Samantha explains “I suffered economic eviction in May 2015. I had to return home to my mother’s house, my fourth move in three years. It took me 4 months to find a landlord who would accept rent allowance, but I had to move to Dublin from Meath. In the same week my son and i moved into our current home I also registered as a master’s student at Maynooth. I went along to the local post office to collect the rent allowance due to find that it wasn’t there… found out from the local rent supplement office that I wasn’t entitled to rent supplement as a full-time student. I was devastated? Terrified that I would have to choose between a home and my education. It’s awful to feel trapped in such a way, to feel further oppressed by policies which are so disconnected from the people they are designed to aid that these policies actually perpetuate poverty.”
Marese shares: “You get to make all the parenting decisions without having to have rows or compromises with someone who disagrees with you.
You build a really unique relationship and no matter how exhausting or challenging the love just keeps renewing itself and your child knows that in the marrow of his bones.
You show your child that independence, self-sufficiency and responsibility are normal, that poverty is no shame and brand names are a capitalist con that charity shops are treasure troves and bargains are trophies. But I suppose the last few are not exclusive to single parents, just the poor in general.
Maggie said: “Hardest part knowing with all my qualifications I can never return to full time employment as I would need full time childcare that I couldn’t afford meaning I will be living in poverty. Most rewarding hearing my kid’s chuckle and smile knowing that they are happy safe and ok xxx
Listening to lone parents who are predominantly women it would seem that many are stuck in poverty traps of which most are desperate to leave but the current system does not allow this to happen. Rising rents, severe lack of public housing, high childcare costs and the lack of secure employment means many are left to survive on benefits and state supports through no fault or choice of their own. Unless the system begins to listen to those affected and creates progressive polices that will truly lift people out of the poverty trap, many lone parent families will continue to struggle to survive.
What was also apparent from these women was their sense of devotion to their children and their futures. They acknowledge that life is a struggle, but this melts away when they see their child’s smile, when they receive a hug, when they here “I love you mammy”. These parents have learned how to survive and have a positive approach their children; they have learned how to adapt against all the odds.
SPARK is a unique space of peer support for single parents from all walks of life to share their struggles, their joy, their frustrations and at times their loss. It appears to be a huge support to so many and it is a positive and unifying space that also campaigns so these voices that desperately need to be heard may have that opportunity.
I would like to thank everyone from SPARK that shared their experience with me and I am sorry I could not fit in everybody’s story. I will be doing a follow up piece and I will be able to use all of those wonderful and honest experiences.
You can contact SPARK at: firstname.lastname@example.org