kids

"No one really understands what it is like to be a single mother. I've never been so alone."

I’ve woken up at 4.45am with a feeling of dread. I’ve got a $20,000 dollar credit card debt and a messy house.

I’ve got another incredibly busy day ahead as a single mother of two little ones on a low income. I haven’t slept much this week because the kids have had croupy night coughs.

I spent my early adult life traveling and working overseas after completing an arts degree. When I came back to Australia I knew a lot about working in bars and restaurants and nothing about the superannuation plan that had commenced or the technology revolution.

I was educated but seemingly skill-less. I finally got out of the restaurant scene after a man I worked for in the high end restaurant scene was declared a crook. Not only had he failed to pay any of his bills but he’d also been keeping the tax and super of his staff in his own pocket. We never got our super back. I later realised we’d never been paid proper penalty rates or anything like that. No wonder I went through so much of my savings while I was working for him.

"I worked in the restaurant scene but was cheated on my pay." Image via iStock.

When I met the children’s father I’d just found my way into a bottom level corporate job. I’d started to put feelers out about career advancement when I was suddenly pregnant. The next several years became about me raising our beautiful children and my partner making a career change from blue to white collar work. He had debts and initially a low income and really had no interest in joint finances or family life.

We moved away to a regional area for a while to help with his new career and I focused on child minding. I still didn’t have superannuation on my radar; let alone the fact that compound interest is inexorable but slow, so if you take time out of the workforce, you take a dramatically larger hit to your final retirement savings than if you keep earning all the way through- which is not great for somebody who was a late starter with their super. I did know I was spending all the savings I had but it was for a good course. Right?

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Watch some of the Mamamia team talk superannuation (or, what they don't know about super). Post continues after video. 

By the time I had a small child in school and a toddler in day care and was back at work and my partner was finally is in a good position job wise, he discovered Tinder and much younger women. He’d always been tarred with the pathologically selfish brush... yet I’d find a way to excuse it because I didn’t want to be a single mother. I’d watched my own mother go through it; and those were the days when people worked 9-5 and houses were affordable in terms of the average income.

Just before I asked him to leave I did some quick calculations in my head and thought “Oh I’ll be OK- sort of.” The thing is I never really was any good at maths. Childcare is incredibly expensive even with a rebate and so is vacation care. I don’t have anybody who can help with this, so I outsource it all. I spend my money on rent and fresh food and everything else goes on the credit card. And there are so many other things I didn’t consider; dental, excursions, gifts, school uniforms, shoes, school dress ups, haircuts, sporting activities, school bills for arts and crafts and photocopying. Almost every day I have to pay for something I wasn’t expecting.

"Every day there is something new to pay for. Kids' sport, haircuts, activities." Image via iStock.

After we’d been broken up for a while I came across a recent tax return of my ex’s and realised his super had gone up a lot since I’d met him. He had been working long workaholic hours consistently and once he was in a reasonable paying job he started salary sacrificing. I am middle aged and I’ve got enough super to last about a year. I’m educated and have always worked other than when taking care of the children. I’m a nice person who’s never wanted to rock the boat or been shy of ambition. I consider I’m now in a precarious and vulnerable situation. I try to never ever contact the real estate and fix things myself in case they want to raise the rent and we have to leave our neighbourhood.

I feel very alone with my problems. If I earn a tiny bit more than very little, then Centrelink payments change and I end up owing them money. I find it confusing. Centrelink is a problem for all of the single mothers I know; the word crying is often associated with communication with Centrelink- partly because it’s so complicated trying to figure out what they will give you and how to get it and also the problem of getting them to pick up the phone.

being a single mum

"I often end up owing Centrelink money." Image via iStock.

The company I work for is busy hiring young people with diverse backgrounds, which is a wonderful thing. However I feel as though it’s never been a worse time to be an aging woman with no savings or super. I know I’ll need to work forever but I’m worried there will be no jobs for old people.

I get why meditation and Buddhism have become so popular. There’s a lot to accept these days. I accept that I have to buy cheaply manufactured goods that won’t last. I accept that we won’t be going on any holidays and that I cannot afford to study. I accept that my ex quickly re-partnered but since I have my children 95% of the time and work full time, there is no time to date. I accept it with my head held high and a smile on my face most days because being a victim is not fun. Besides my kids make me so happy and that’s what it’s all about for the moment. And mindfulness (aka being in the moment) seems like the best plan as thinking about the future frightens me.

Jane Bowen is a working single mother of 2 living in Sydney. Sometimes people comment on the bus that they're a delightful little family so she hopes that must mean they’re doing OK.  

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