• Sarah and Solomon

Carrying the motherload: single moms struggle to get ahead

Social Change

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 “Motherload”

According to Statistics Canada, single moms head up 80% of single parent families in British Columbia. With a median income of just $21,500, they are also BC’s poorest family type.

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.”


Learn more about our advocacy work with single mothers or make a financial contribution to the YWCA so we can help more families like Sarah and Solomon. 

This blog post, which originally appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of our Contact Newsletter, was inspired by the CBC Doc Zone documentary, The Motherload (watch the trailer below). 




Hi! First off, my hat is off to all the Mothers and Fathers that are dependent on income assistance from the government to support their families. Whether that be regular welfare or disability, I can't imagine the strain and practicality of how you actually do this...
I'm a single woman on disability and am unable to sustain myself monthly on the $906 I receive, so your situation to me, is impossible. I do recognize the tell tale signs of poverty and poor nutrition, in young men in particular, that have been brought up in poverty. Their young growing bodies are able to bulk up and grow healthily as their peers, and to me, it's physically apparent.
Today I'm particularly frustrated with my current circumstance of having to live on government disability. Usually, I'm able to augment this monthly allotment of $906 by doing some kind of part-time work, but currently and for the past 6 months, I've been unable to work.
Each month I've have to borrow money from Cash Money lenders at a high % rate in order to cover my basic living expenses. And I happen to be excellent at stretching a buck and seeking out discounts, sales, coupons and accessing food banks. I NEVER buy anything that isn't a basic need and am totally discouraged--and ANGRY--about the provincial government's expectation that we sustain ourselves on this meager monthly rate. It is totally impossible, and from my perspective, is now absolutely criminal. (Especially with the steadily rising cost of food and most everything else too...i.e. hydro, gas, sundries, etc.)
Last year, Christie Clark saw it fit to give her colleague a $40,000 raise (!!!), just because...Her colleague's work load hadn't increased, nor was she about to take on extra work. The raise was literally, just because.
When I heard this on the news, it literally felt like a slap in the face. As you all know, I/we don't event make $10,000 a year!!!
I'm completely fed up and am ready to burst into flames over this.
Sorry for the rant. Thanks for reading.

Hi Althea,

Thanks for reading our blog and for sharing your thoughts about this important issue. We understand the challenges first hand for families struggling to support themselves and their children. If you are interested in learning about ways we are supporting single moms please get in touch with us. Maybe we can help. Tessa Russel is our Single Moms' Support Resource Worker - you can reach her at trussel@ywcavan.org

Amy, Digital Content Strategist @ YWCA


I live in North Van and my situation is that I’m a single parent with a learning disability who have two kids 9&6. I live with my parents in their home. I rent the bottom suite from them the kids are lucky to have a school close by. My mom support me a lot but they told me that in the future they would have to sell the house. First of all I would have to wait until my kids finish elementary school. I’m on disability assistance and I’m interested in the New Saint George Apartment on Londsdale in the future however I never lived on my own and when my kids are teens staying with my parents isn’t going to work. My family is worried I won’t be able to stay in a apartment because I was told landlords don’t accept anyone on Disability or have some learning challenges or Especially those who have kids. When my parents get old things will get more challenging. They are worried about us being homeless and my kids have ‘special needs’. They are still average kids with different challenges this is why I am still living at home with my parents.

Are there people with these kind of situations where they have no choice to stay with their parents??

Hi Jackie, thank you for your comment. Please contact our Single Mother's Resource Worker so you can discuss your situation and prospects. 

Joann McKinlay at jmckinlay@ywcavan.org | 604 895 5849

...Hi, I just post a comment and realized that it may not be appropriate for this site (?)...if you do post it, can you ad 'single' in front of Mothers to my comment? Thanks so much & I totally understand if you don't think my comments are appropriate for this site...Thanks so much, Althea

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