Monday 24 October 2016

The truth about life as a single mum

There's never a good time to lose your job but when you're a single parent it makes it all the more difficult

Kate Gunn

Published 02/02/2016 | 08:28

Kate Gunn with her children Kaya (11), Marley (9) and Baxter (7) in Greystones Co. Wicklow
Kate Gunn with her children Kaya (11), Marley (9) and Baxter (7) in Greystones Co. Wicklow

Losing your job is never a nice experience. Rejection, depression and fear are all normal reactions to being 'let go', but losing your job when you are a single mother brings that fear to a whole new level. It's not just your career you're talking about - it's your income, your rent, your roof over your family's head, their food on the table. That's fear with a capital F right there.

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When I began working part-time for an online parenting site almost five years ago it was my way of dipping my toe back into working waters after taking time out to raise my family.

It gave me a sense of purpose beyond school runs and toddler tantrums. It gave me a reason to use my brain again and a community of other mothers to meet. And as an extra bonus it also gave me a bit of money to add to the pot of family finances.

However two years ago when I split from my husband it became much more than a nice-to-have side line - it became my lifeline, my main income each month, my safety net. As the primary carer of three children aged 11, 9 and 7, I desperately needed that income.

Belts were tightened. I put my head down and I hung on for dear life.

And then a few weeks ago the unimaginable happened. The phone call came. They were very sorry, it was nothing personal, the role was moving in-house.

Kate Gunn
Kate Gunn

Ironic, I thought to myself as I wondered if I would soon be out of my house.

And so just like that my world turned upside down.

There were tears, and wringing of hands, and ringing of friends. And there was, of course, wine. There was lots of wine. While all that helped, it didn't change anything. I was still out of work, unemployed, broke, broken and scared.

With more than one in four families in Ireland currently being headed by a single parent and one quarter of them in paid employment, I know I'm far from the first or last person to experience this, but that really doesn't take away that fear factor.

Anya, single mum of two boys agrees.

She says "It's devastating when something doesn't come off or chang

es unplanned. You keep so many balls in the air that you need and want to be able to take some of them for granted and when one of the big ones drops it affects all the others."

Collette says that she had a "fear of not being able to find another job that I could fit around the kids. Discovering I wasn't entitled to unemployment benefit as a contract worker, and wondering how I was going to manage took its toll. There was loneliness of sitting at home, missing adult conversation in the workplace. I also missed the status of work and was fearful of being seen as a scrounger - as an out-of-work single parent".

In some ways I'm lucky. I have enough savings to tide me over for a couple of months. The fear of this reality was always there, lurking in the back of my mind, so I made sure that I squirreled away what I could, when I could. I also have a very supportive family network and an ex-husband who is understanding and willing to help out until I get back on my feet again. But I know that most single parents aren't so fortunate. To be facing this without that safety net, to be fearful of literally being put out on the street with your children must be unimaginable.

And yet many families are facing that reality right now. In the first eight months of last year homelessness was up by 76pc, a figure that is both outrageous and deeply frightening, and yet it is continually growing. With single parents being more vulnerable than most, homelessness is a real possibility and a great fear for many.

Fortunately I know I will never be out on the street, but I still need to start earning pretty quickly in order to live our day-to-day lives.

So with my income cut off I have now begun to explore other options. Full-time employment is the most obvious answer as part-time, work-from-home opportunities are so scarce. But with three children to care for the old adage of 'I don't know how she does it' comes to mind. How does she? Especially when 'she' is a single parent? The cost of afterschool clubs, childminders and au pairs is often exorbitant. And that's before school holidays are even explored.

Part-time work would, of course, be far more achievable - but that's seen as the Holy Grail for many mothers, so the demand far outweighs the opportunities available. Though I'm actively on the lookout for anything and everything in that realm.

The ideal of what I had - a part-time, home-working, job that gave me a steady income each month but allowed me to be a full-time mother too seems almost unimaginable now.

However, even with all the obstacles in my way, the initial upset has dissipated and I am no longer crying into my (value brand) cornflakes each morning.

I am picking myself up, dusting myself off, putting myself out there and letting the single mother survival instinct take over.

I will find something, quite simply because I have to.

And in the meantime, there's always wine.


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