My life as a consumer single mom
Reprinted from "Parenting" issue of Visions Journal, 2004, 2(2), pp. 15-16
I feel that, in a sense, I’ve made it through. I am entering a new phase in my life: middle age and becoming a willing grandmother of 7-month-old, twin grandsons. I’ve just come back from England where they live with their mom and dad, who are aspiring young adults.
Their mom, my daughter, was a victim of a very rocky childhood. I became a mental patient in 1978 and was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder the year she was born. Her father didn’t take kindly to my having a mental illness and we were divorced a couple of years later. Both daughters ended up in a foster home for a year, after being apprehended from my custody, where they stayed until their father and his parents gained custody. But for the few visits with me, they grew up in an uneventful, unloving, and uncaring household.
As I recently went over old letters and affidavits from that time, I realized that it was no wonder why Emily, my other daughter, was having problems in school with her reading and arithmetic. My worries and concerns were having an effect not only on me, but also on this small child. As much as the psychiatrists and doctors were trying to help, the situation at home was getting worse and worse. The medication I took left me listless and chronically tired and sleepy. Emily wasn’t staying home and would be gone for hours.
We were on welfare as well, and I was being pressured by them and by my family to go out and find a job to support my little family. With no skills or work history, I managed to find a part-time job at a local market, at a bakery selling carrot muffins to seniors who happened by. However, my frequent hospitalizations, moves, and my desire to be with my daughters while they were growing up prevented me from continuing on with my job or my education.
Finally, my daughters were gone. Every effort had been made to block me from being successful at childrearing. Their father would not send child support, and welfare wouldn’t give me a furniture allowance; every step I took was like going around a blockade.
These early years left quite an impression on me. When my life had settled down, and my daughters came back into my life, I began to think that other moms like myself might need some mutual support to deal with the struggles of parenting with a mental illness: hence, Mothers in Transition (a support group for single moms with a mental illness) was born. We met for coffee and socialized on outings. We helped each other with apprehension and loss of custody issues.
Towards the end of the four years that Mothers in Transition met, a movement to discuss and record stories about all oppressed mothering groups was made by various organizations and agencies. Mothering became a very ‘hot’ issue and I was involved in a number of these initiatives; for instance, I was interviewed as part of the Mothering Under Duress project (see article on p. 10 of Visions: Parenting).
The report, Life Experiences of Consumer Single Moms, was produced in 2002 and may be ordered from ARA Mental Health Action Research and Advocacy Association of Greater Vancouver. Call (604)-689-7938 or toll-free at 1-868-689-7938, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
All the group meetings, publications and other material don’t seem to have made much of a difference with government ministries though. Recently, we faced major changes to provisions for single parents through the Ministry of Human Resources review. The capability and sanity of a single mother with mental illness is still being questioned as a matter of course through the Ministry of Children and Family Development in apprehension and custody cases.
I’ve had a couple of good jobs since 1989. I worked at CMHA BC Division as Consumer Liaison and developed the West Coast Mental Health Network. In 2001, I began more work as a researcher on a project about single moms at ARA Mental Health Action Research and Advocacy Association of Greater Vancouver.
As I look at my daughter’s young family, I think how idyllic it may seem to those outside. I wonder just how prepared they are for the inevitable catastrophes that cross our paths. Hopefully, my daughter will not end up as a single parent. She is too far away for me to support her very well. I think about both my daughters frequently, and the life we’ve had so far. We’re all feeling that better days are on the horizon.
About the author
Dawn is a researcher for the ARA Mental Health Advocacy Association of Greater Vancouver