Carrying the motherload: single moms struggle to get ahead
Sarah’s alarm chimes at 4:30am. If she can get out of bed without disturbing Solomon, her two-year-old son, she can work for two hours before she has to get them ready for their day.
“It’s easier now that Sol is older,” says Sarah of their morning routine. “He’ll colour while I’m prepping our lunches and getting ready for work.”
It’s 7:45am when Sarah leaves her Chinatown co-op (Solomon in tow) and walks to YWCA Leslie Diamond Early Learning and Child Care Centre, where Sol spends his days. Sarah kisses Sol goodbye, then hurries to a busy architecture firm in downtown Vancouver, where she works as an intern architect.
“I love my job, but work can be demanding and it’s hard to put extra time in,” says Sarah. “Even an extra hour at the end of the day can be all you need to get a project out the door, and yet that isn’t possible because someone has to be at daycare to get Solomon.”
Like so many working mothers, Sarah struggles to find enough hours in the day. But as a single mom, Sarah has the added burden of lone-parenthood. With no partner to provide a reprieve from the seemingly endless responsibilities of being a parent or to help carry the financial load, Sarah says she simply, “can’t get ahead”.
“I’m a working professional, I’m good at my job, I’ve got experience in my field and I cannot make ends meet,” she says.
The high incidence of single moms raising their children in poverty arises from a number of factors, including:
- A lack of affordable housing and child care - many single mothers work part-time because they cannot afford full-time care, which costs an average of $1258 per month in Vancouver
- The gender wage gap - women are still making just 74 cents on every dollar made by their male counterparts
- A lack of family-friendly workplace policies, like flex-time and caregiver leave
Even with subsidized child care through the YWCA, Sarah relies on her mother, who allocates part of her survivor’s pension to pay for Sol’s care.
“I have an incredibly supportive mother who works full time so she has the means to help me out, I’m well-educated and I’m easy to employ,” says Sarah. “But if you take one of those things and tweak it slightly—say I had no work experience or I didn’t have the family support—then a precarious situation could turn into a complete disaster.”
Supporting single mothers
Evidence from the University of British Columbia’s Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP) suggests that family-friendly workplace policies and affordable child care are key to levelling the playing field for single moms. HELP has developed a comprehensive policy framework that includes benefits for all new parents in the first 18 months of their children’s lives, high-quality, accessible child care services for all who need them and flexible working hours to allow parents to balance the demands of work and home life.
The YWCA has established itself as a leading voice on this complex issue, and has consistently advocated for this policy vision. It is a long term commitment that requires an incremental approach, but it is also a vital requirement for single moms, like Sarah, to get ahead.
“There should be enough support for people to build themselves up and find their own independence,” she says.
Meanwhile, Sarah will continue to try to make ends meet and move forward in her career. Eventually she would like to return to school and begin her PhD, but for now she is happy where she is, and values the friendship and support offered through the YWCA.
“The Y has been phenomenal,” says Sarah. “Just to be able to share resources and to have people that understand the position you are in. I’m very thankful.”
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