The Single Mums: Struggling with the Stereotype

By Rebekah Andrews

“It’s something people don’t usually think about. It’s just an instinctual way that many of them think.” Says a single mother of two now adults.

For many single parents like Yvonne Smith, this stereotypical perception can be an underlying part of the everyday. There seems to be this image people have of the poor, struggling, helpless single mum.

This could be entirely harmless, until it begins to intrude on these mothers’ opportunities.

At the hardest time of her life, Ms Smith was perceived in such a way that when it came to applying for a flat for her and her twin babies to live in, her application was continuously denied.

“How was I any different to a couple with a baby? I had just the same right to move in as them. My credit history was fine. So why did I constantly miss out on flats and houses we tried to move in to?” she said.

Jess Cooke, a 27-year-old mother of Piper (10) and Deegan (7), too found that most people falsely perceive her. People tended to see her appearance, and base all of their opinions solely on that.

Had people decided to take the time to know her and her story, the outcome might have been entirely different.

“They had stereotyped me with the rest of the feral single mums.” Told Ms Cooke of the local police, when she applied for an AVO against her partner.

She’d been receiving death threats.

“You’re automatically put into a category. Of, just, not desire to better yourself.”

When it came to the police, she said, “they weren’t really interested.”

Ms Cooke’s story began with her partner. When she was pregnant with her youngest, Deegan, he became abusive. Brought on by the catalyst of his father’s death, Ms Cooke found herself stuck in a domestically violent relationship.

“It was very hard. Lonely.’ She says.

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Findings by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that “well over one-third of women (40 per cent) had experienced physical and/or sexual violence.”

The issue is common, increasing and significantly difficult to escape from, but often, it is all up to the women, or the men in some cases, who suffer, to find their own way out.

In most cases, this is the hardest thing to do. Most times, there will always be a consequence for leaving and the woman might lose something – custody, money, a house, a job, friends, even family.

For Ms Cooke, her son Deegan was 18-months-old by the time she had gathered the courage to leave.

“When I look back now, all the warning signs were there.” She said.

According to Dr Deborah Walsh, this is a common incidence.

“Leaving a domestic relationship is really difficult because when a woman leaves the violence is likely to escalate and it is when we have the greatest risk to homicide. Most domestic homicides occur on or around the woman leaving. So leaving is the most dangerous time for women and children, particularly if the guy has threatened the children as well. “

Ultimately, she became a single mum and al

ong with the children, that comes with difficulties such as dealing with Centrelink and child support.

Visitation rights and shared parenting are also a common issue. For the over six years that Ms Cooke has been dealing with this, her ex-partner has been in and out.

“I worry for the kids” she said.

“They haven’t had stability.”

It poses the question, how often is it that both parents, separated, follow the rules with full and on-time child-support payments? How often do two parents willingly and fully work together?

Not always, in Ms Cooke’s opinion.

“(It works) if both are willing to help.”

If not, however, then the system can really fail one or both parents.

“I have no faith in the child support system at all” she said.

“It frustrates me.”

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Today, 28 years after the child support scheme’s inception, approximately 1.2 million children have a parent in receipt of a claim. With a population of roughly 24 million, this is a significant proportion.

Single parents are a large grou

p in this country and yet, in the list of issues of importance for the government, child support appears lower on the list as time goes on.

Whether the problem be with not receiving enough, if any, or that child support requires payments beyond what the other parent can afford, there are many complaints, all of which seem difficult to ignore.

Yet, not much seems to be done to fix its poor operation.

According to the Department of Human Services, improvements were made with child support payments taken from other sources, such as the other parent’s own Centrelink benefits, their wages and more.

However, Ms Smith claims this doesn’t actually fix this problem.

“Before this, I got a couple of dollars here and there. Afterwards, it is true that I got steady payments, probably from his Centrelink payments. But is $30 a month from that enough? That wouldn’t even cover milk for the month.” She said.

As for Ms Cooke, she gets $7.50 per fortnight and that was when her ex-partner wasn’t in jail. Then, she gets nothing.

“And I know for a fact that he was working. On the books. He was flashing it all around yet that’s all I got.” Ms Cooke said.

Despite their issues, both of these mothers have coped. They adapted and found a way, because neither of them were given another choice.

“Everything is mine in this house. I did it myself. It is because of me.” Said Ms Cooke.

“I don’t even want this money.”

Her experiences with her ex-partner, with her struggles to support herself and most importantly, her children – it has shaped her as a person.

Ms Smith’s experiences of false perceptions, of being given no chances to prove herself, has also led to the person she is today.

Both of these women have become somewhat hardened versions of their previous selves.

The things they have had to live through and ultimately overcome are a testimate to their strength and the underestimated hard times which come with the life of a single mother.

From domestic abuse to the strong, independent and somewhat hardened people of today.

Ultimately, single mums aren’t always this breed of sad and struggling women. They are strong, independent and most importantly, happy women. They are overprotective, loving and fun parents who in the end, just want the best for their children and will do whatever they can to get that.

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If you are experiencing domestic violence from your partner, call The Women’s Domestic Violence Helpline on 1800 007 339, or The Men’s Domestic Violence Helpline on 1800 000 599.

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