‘I sit right down to relaxation at 10pm’: the toll on single dad and mom in lockdown | Dad and mom and parenting
TThere are days when Julie wakes up and her heart immediately starts pounding. “And I’m not even awake enough to know what it is.” Then the single mother of two from Melbourne remembers what it’s all about – money.
Julie has a daughter who is finishing 11th grade and a son in 1st grade. She shares care with her son’s father, but her daughter’s father was never really there. As a consultant, Julie started her own business shortly before the Covid success, and the work has been going up and down ever since. She is currently looking for work as her clients have bailed out again with Melbourne’s recent lockdown. She is now eating on her savings but is happy to have them.
Lockdown families are under pressure on all fronts, but the toll is even greater for single parents when there is no partner for financial and emotional support or even another physical presence in the house to give them precious minutes on their own.
Financial and professional stress
Many of Australia’s one million single parents – 80% of them women – were already in dire financial straits before Covid, but according to a study by the Grattan Institute earlier this year, single parent employment fell by more than 10% between December 2019 and September 2020, and around 50,000 single parents left working life during the first lockdown. Many single parents hadn’t recovered from the blows of last year before being plunged into lockdowns again this year.
“Lockdowns hit single parents harder because they are disproportionately employed in sectors that are affected by lockdowns, such as hospitality and retail, and because their caring responsibilities make it difficult for them to maintain paid working hours when schools and childcare are closed and some informal care networks (such as grandparents) are taboo, ”says Danielle Wood, CEO of the Grattan Institute.
And despite the vulnerability of such a large group of people, there is no additional government support.
“There is no longer a coronavirus surcharge for single parents, which means that those without additional income are living below the poverty line again,” says Wood. “Many who supplement parental allowance with income from work will have lost work or hours due to health restrictions from Covid. While they may have access to the $ 200 a week catastrophe allowance, most are unlikely to be able to replace the lost income, so they will make it tough too. “
This lack of financial support hits single mothers hardest. More than a third of single mothers live below the poverty line. “Last year they actually had a respite … the social security net was a livable income,” said Jenny Davidson, CEO of the Council of Single Mothers and their Children. “They knew it wasn’t going to last, so they were very careful, you know, they were trying to put a nest egg aside and doing things they couldn’t afford for years like dental work or getting the car back sufficiently safe. But that’s all gone. And the financial uncertainty is simply overwhelming. “
There are “so many overlapping problems,” says Davidson. “Some of these families have very small living quarters, or not all have internet at home … It could be that financial hardship is causing home instability and mental health problems, or it could be that recovery from domestic violence becomes a mental health problem for them Children and the family, which leads to children refusing to go to school or not being able to keep a job because you or your child have so many appointments. “
“There aren’t many boots on the floor here”
Clare from Sydney, banned since June, who is immunocompromised, usually takes her six-year-old daughter and ten-year-old son with her when they need to get food because she doesn’t like to leave them at home alone. But one day they refused to leave the house. So she went with the agreement that her son would stay on the phone while she walked 50 yards up the street to the gas station for milk. For a precious five minutes I realized that I was alone … for the first time in, I don’t even know. “
The only other significant part of the time Clare had to herself since the lockdown began was when she left her children with a friend while she spent the day moving her elderly mother from one nursing home to another. Before the lockdown, the children stayed with their father about one night every 14 days, but the arrangement was dropped when his LGA was flagged as of concern.
Clare has a neighbor who every now and then cooks a mean ragu for them. “Sometimes the greatest luxury is just having someone cook for dinner.” Her good friend (who is also listed as her closest relative) lives on the coast, they make phone calls a few times a week. She is also on a Facebook group for single mothers. “And that was it. There aren’t many boots on the ground here. “
Clare works from home four days a week as a graphic designer. “I’m really grateful … that my job is always ticking in the background.” She can also save on things like extracurricular fees and fuel. “So there is a little buffer to have something to take away every 14 days or something, which was a great treat and also gives me a bit of peace.”
Clare’s daughter’s iPad is next to her at her desk, “and I literally have an eyeball on my screen and an eyeball on hers the whole time.” A break from the children comes in the form of ten minutes of standing in the garden, which are mostly interrupted will.
“I probably sit down for the first time every day around 10 p.m. to rest. There is simply no mental rest all day – from work, school, to checking the children’s emotional needs, to shopping, I am the power of attorney for my mother, i.e. the admin. So I make myself a cup of tea and just watch me for an hour. And then it’ll be a few more hours and then suddenly it’s 2 a.m. I feel physically exhausted, but mentally refreshed from this alone time, ”she says. “And then it’s time to do it all over again.”
Julie and Clare are aware of other single mothers who have a harder time than they do. Clare feels happy that in some ways she cannot share care. Julie is fortunate to have a good relationship with her son’s father as her son has special needs which means he has very high energy levels. “If he goes to his father, it means I can just have a day to lie on the floor and watch TV.”
Clare had a laugh the other day when her children’s school suggested that when someone has a bad day, they should stop working and “just bake a cake.” It can also feel quite isolating to read other school parents’ comments on social media about sharing the burden with their partner or other women and asking if they can send their children to school for a few days “because you Husband does not help ”. “All of this is so far from my reality,” says Clare. “If I could shower alone it would be great … I taught my son how to make a cup of tea and it feels good.”
In the end, many single parents are forced to make terrible compromises – “either work or education has to give … and then sleep,” says Davidson. There are those who lose sleep because they lose work, and there are those who try to work full-time, “getting up to do extra work, and” either from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. or from 4:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. that is not sustainable. ”
However, Clare believes in the resilience of single parents, she says, “because you know, we’ve done pretty tough.
“We just keep going to make sure our kids can learn and grow emotionally … That’s what our kids need. So that’s exactly what we’re doing. “