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We Are Women

Nadia Wiseman

“Many people ask me why I don’t have a husband. Some people have straight out told me that I need a man to take care of me. There is still this perception that a woman cannot be on her own and be successful at the same time.”

Mom shaming is alive and well these days, and no matter what your situation looks like, you can bet that someone will be there looking over your shoulder telling you what you’re doing wrong. But the unfortunate reality is that mom shaming is never as intense as when it is aimed at single mothers. Despite our progressive attitudes towards the modern family, there still somehow exists this dominant belief that single mothers are irresponsible and that many of them share similar stories. This couldn’t be further from the truth!

I want to share my story with you to help the world understand that single mothers are people who come from all walks of life. These women are busting ass working full-time jobs, making it to school events, and being present for their kids. We are expected to be the best mothers and the best employees at the same time. But no one realizes how impossible it is to do both. Oftentimes, these women lead busy and hectic lives. Oftentimes, they don’t have anything in their lives for themselves.

I often think back to the song, “Every Day is Exactly the Same,” by Nine Inch Nails. We wake up in the morning, do the school rush, I go to work, and then we come home – it’s the same thing every day. I often find myself alone and isolated, even with the support network that I do have. While I wouldn’t trade my life with my son for anything, our daily challenges are sometimes simply hard.

My story as a single mother began when I was 28 years old. I was just unceremoniously dumped by my boyfriend of 5 years through text message. He informed me that he was leaving me for another woman. One week, we were talking about our future together, and the next week, it was over. I was left broken. Needless to say, I was not in a good place emotionally.

In my vulnerability, it was not surprising that when another man gave me attention, I ate it up. I was flattered and hurting, and with this man, I found some relief.

Now, while I am usually a very rational, responsible person, sometimes a broken heart can lead to lapses in judgement. Normally, when someone tells me they don’t have proper protection, I would say to them, “Sorry, go home.” But all it took was one single night of not paying attention. All it took was one night, and I conceived.

It came as a surprise, for sure. When I found out, I went through all kinds of emotions, and I knew I was faced with a choice. Immediately, my rational brain took over, and I started to do some research. I did not walk into my decision to keep my baby blindly.

Instead, I decided to make a conscious choice, and I made sure to educate myself on ways to do this. I really looked into my financial situation and determined whether or not we would be okay. I discussed my options with my parents, and before going ahead, I made sure that I had their emotional and physical support every step of the way.

Truthfully, I took every necessary step at the time. But I was also 28 years old, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Sometimes I just want to go back and smack that twenty-something in the face! I don’t regret my choice today at all. There is no parent alive who is 100% prepared for the changes a child will bring to their life, so there was no way I could have fully understood. But I soon discovered that raising a child costs a lot – not just in terms of money, but also emotionally and mentally speaking.

As soon as I discovered I was pregnant, I let the father know. He decided that he did not want to be a part of the baby’s life. I never held it against him – we both made the choices that were best for each of us. So, when my son was born, I did not put the father’s name onto the birth certificate. This was a legal choice that I would recommend to single moms in a similar situation. Because there is no father on the birth certificate, we did not have to go through custody hearings or work out child support agreements. Both mine and the father’s choices were respected, and I was able to begin my mothering journey alone.

I was lucky I had so much support in my life. A good friend of mine came to the hospital with me when it was time. My mom moved from Ontario to Quebec to help me with Aidan. It was no strange event for me to call my mom at 2:30am when Aidan was a small baby with colic. Today, my dad drives my son to activities and picks him up from school two days a week. Because Aidan’s father is not in the picture, it was really important to me that he had positive male role models in his life. Aidan has his grandfather and two other amazing men – an “uncle” and a godfather – involved in his life. Without these people’s support, I don’t know where I’d be.

I have always had good employment and I never struggled financially. That’s not part of my story. But I did realize early on that people perceive you differently when they realize you’re a single mother. If my hair is tied back one day, or if I look like I’ve just thrown old clothes on, I am definitely confronted with the judgemental stares. Even worse, I’ve had some extremely unpleasant and insulting encounters with other people.

For example, one day, I was looking for a new apartment. I set up a time when I could go and see a place with the manager of the building. After looking around, the manager and I got to talking.
Eventually, she said, “listen, I don’t want to punish you for running your husband out of your life, but I need you to get your father to co-sign on the lease.”

I was absolutely shocked. But it’s not the first time I’ve received comments like that. Many people ask me why I don’t have a husband. Some people have straight out told me that I need a man to take care of me. There is still this perception that a woman cannot be on her own and be successful at the same time. It’s infuriating. I walked out of that apartment viewing and I never looked back.

The stereotyping and stigma can even come from other moms. The main thing I’ve realized from being active in online forums or groups is that there is this dominant belief that single mothers need only pull themselves up by the bootstraps. But it’s impossible for moms who haven’t been in the same situation to understand what we’re going through. You don’t know what it’s like to be in that black hole of despair, wondering how to feed your child. Single mothers are on their own in every way. No one is there to pay half the rent, and there’s no one there to tap when you’re tapped.

I don’t blame anyone for not fully understanding the intensity of the experience. These days, everyone is busy and stressed out and struggling. When you’re in that frame of mind, it’s really hard to step out of your experience and truly empathize with your fellow human. But it’s important to remember that it’s not helpful to tell a single mom to just power through. It’s easy to judge someone from the outside and consider them a failure when you don’t understand the context of the situation. Single moms are powering through – against sometimes insurmountable obstacles – every single day!

We do our best to bottle up our struggles so that they don’t spill over into the lives of our children. We’re doing a job that requires a tremendous amount of support – support that many single moms don’t have.

At the same time, we are still trying to be women ourselves. Sometimes we, too, wish we could kick back with a cocktail, go play a sport, or take a hot bath. But we rarely find that opportunity. There is nobody there when we need a five-minute break. We also have very little freedom at work in terms of our schedule and sometimes our earning power.
So, while every day sometimes ends up looking exactly the same, I know that if we can work together to fight the stigma and the stereotypes, we can envision a different future. One where single moms are lifted up, seen as the strong women we are, and supported by our communities.
If I won the lottery today, I would open up a centre for women. It would be a space for single moms with no judgement. A space for community and connection. But until then, it’s really important that we support our local organizations that help these women in need. Together, we can build a meaningful community of support for women like us.

I want to encourage single mothers to see themselves as they are: you are a woman who is stronger than the people who criticize you. Despite the fact that, sometimes, it all feels impossible, you are doing it! Every day, you are supporting your kids financially, physical, and emotionally.

Mother’s guilt is one of the most powerful emotions a person can feel. It can override everything you know in your heart to be true. Intellectually, you can know that you are a good mother and you make choices with the best interests of your children in mind. But emotionally, you can tear yourself apart about some things for years.

Mother’s guilt is familiar to everyone who has born children. But when you are a single mom, the guilt is compounded by daily challenges and ever-present stigma. In order to combat the stigma single mothers face, it’s important for people to know that there are a wide variety of reasons women end up single mothers. It’s also important to realize that we aren’t just single moms – we are women. We are people, athletes, artists, everything under the sun. And we also happen to have a full-time responsibility to our kids.

Writer: Colleen Romaniuk

Freedom and Dignity

Nadia Wiseman

“Every situation is, after all, unique. But whatever situation you are in, remember to look for some kind of peace that you enjoy. Life can’t be all challenges and hardships throughout.”

Last year, when I first arrived in Canada, I travelled with one small bag for myself and one small bag for my children. You can imagine how much could fit into those small bags. I had a few dresses for the kids, and a few other necessary items. Whatever we could fit into those small bags, we brought with us on the plane.

We came to Canada to be with extended family. When we first arrived, I remember asking myself, “what is this?” The cold and the snow were very different from hot, sunny Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, we were not prepared for the weather, and we didn’t have any warm clothes. Those first few months, I was sleeping in a thin nightgown, quickly realizing that it was serving no purpose at all. That’s when Single MOMtreal Organization really came in for me. Through the organization, I was able to get boots, jackets, and clothes, not just for myself, but for my family. The organization really came into my life at the right time and has impacted our lives greatly.

I am a single mother of two. I was happily married in Africa until 7 years ago when my husband got into a road accident. All this while, I’ve been taking care of my children on my own. It’s been a challenge, but today, I realize that I am capable.

Life has not always been easy. Our decision to move to Canada came with its own challenges. The way of life here is very different from the African way. In many ways, it is more difficult. In Africa, we have farms where we can grow vegetables to feed our families. In Canada, you cannot live without working a very good job. You have to buy everything for your family, and often, the money you make isn’t enough to cover all expenses. I have discovered that it’s really hard to be on your own and support a family. This is an experience I share with many members of the organization.

Adjusting to life as a single mother was also difficult for me. In my husband, I lost a confidante and a pillar of strength. When he was still here with us, he was a great encouragement for me. He pushed me to make sure I reached my goals and accomplished everything I wanted to do. In life, support is really important. It’s difficult to face the world alone, and when you struggle to support a family, it can sometimes be difficult to find your freedom and your dignity.

I have two messages to share: one for other single moms in a similar situation, and another for the donors who support this organization every day. I want to encourage other single moms out there to reach out to organizations like this for support. When you are isolated, without anybody to talk to when something is going on in your life, you really need someone who can understand your situation. Here, you can get advice relevant to you. It’s easier to express yourself with somebody who is in the same shoes.

I also want to encourage you to be bold, and stand for what you believe in. And the most important thing I want to say is be yourself. Share your ideas with other single mothers. Share your experiences. Don’t let somebody make you into to something you are not. Be the original you. I am slowly learning that if there is something you want to do in this life, then you should go for it. When you are alone in your house, isolated from people, it can be difficult to believe in yourself. But to be a single mom doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve your goals. I realize I don’t need anybody to make me happy.

Many people think being a single mother is a negative thing, but this isn’t the case. Sometimes, married people can be very unhappy, especially if you are married to the wrong person. Even if you are married to the right person, there are always limitations and boundaries. Every situation is, after all, unique. But whatever situation you are in, remember to look for some kind of peace that you enjoy. Life can’t be all challenges and hardships throughout.

The other message I would like to send is to the donors that make this organization possible. Last year was our first Christmas in Canada. We were struggling. We hadn’t been out to a restaurant yet because I didn’t have any money. Through the organization, we were able to go to a restaurant for dinner on Christmas. It was a good Christmas. It’s an amazing thing to belong to a particular group of people who are so supportive and understand your situation.

I would like to say to Nadia, and to the organization’s donors: you are doing an amazing job. I don’t have the correct way to say thank you. Without you, the amazing things this organization accomplishes would not be possible. Many single mothers would not have the freedom to follow their dreams and to live with the dignity that is their right.

This organization is just so full of love and self-sacrifice and support. It has touched so many people’s lives. It connects single mothers from all different backgrounds together so they can support each other, and that is a very important thing.

Writer: Colleen Romaniuk

The Second Time Around

Nadia Wiseman

“I know that people judged me. Women are often blamed when they find themselves in an abusive situation. In fact, one day, a police officer looked me in the eye and said, “not you again.” He asked me why I didn’t just leave.”

The years before Tyler was born, my biggest concern was whether to go to Paris or Cuba. This was my time! I had already raised three daughters, built myself a solid career, and was finally, after years of struggle, financially stable. If I couldn’t choose between which of the two cities to visit, I thought, hey, why not do both?
But one fall morning, everything changed.
My youngest daughter went into labor and I met her at the hospital. Unannounced to my daughter, the plans were all laid out. Unfortunately, she was struggling with some heavy issues, including substance abuse and mental illness. As someone who works within the field, I tried to meet her at a place of understanding. Youth protection was going to take the baby into custody. It was a risky move, I knew. The system isn’t perfect, but I was hoped he would find a loving, amazing forever home instead of being bounced around as a foster child. I also wanted, with all my heart, for my daughter to be the best mom she could be, and I was hoping against all hope that she would turn her life around and be able to raise him. Unfortunately, it didn’t look like this was the case.
I had meticulously planned for this moment in the last 9 months while my daughter carried the baby. When Tyler took his first breath, and I heard those first few little cries, my best laid plans came crashing down.
“Oh, shit, no,” I said when they placed him in my arms.
In that small moment, I fell in love with my newborn grandson. In that moment, I knew there was no way I could let youth protection take this beautiful boy. In that moment, I became a single mom – all over again.
I spent Tyler’s first few days cradling his little body in my arms. I held him close and an unbreakable bond grew between the two of us, while my daughter grew more distant. I tried to keep us together as a family as best as I could. But one day, as I think I expected somewhere in my heart, my daughter drifted away.
Soon, I found myself alone – again – raising a little boy at 44 years old. All of the familiar challenges were still there – the sleepless nights, the diapers, the colic. But this time around, I war armed with a wealth of experience, more maturity, and more confidence than I’ve ever had.
As I spent more time with Tyler, I knew I had made the best choice for both of us. While I knew the decision was going to be difficult, I am overjoyed – and relieved – that child services did not take him away that day. I know from experience that growing up in the foster system is hard. As a teenager, I was bounced from home to home in the system. It was an incredibly difficult time for me. I grew up without any real role models. But while that time was difficult, I am blessed today. I am grateful that I could be there for my grandson so that he did not have to experience the same thing.
My journey as a mother began when I was eighteen years old. When I was sixteen or seventeen, I met a charming, charismatic man, and I fell passionately, hopelessly in love. A love which, unfortunately, would soon become the most isolating experience of my life. This man, who I loved so dearly, struggled with substance abuse issues. At the beginning of our relationship, I felt like I was floating on a cloud. I had no idea that something dark was brewing underneath. Eventually, I started to notice the verbal and emotional abuse. But when he turned violent, I was blindsided and devastated.
The relationship – which lasted 9 years on and off – was not always bad. It never is. There were moments in time when I thought things would really take a turn for the better. In this relationship, I had three beautiful daughters, who mean the world to me. If I had never met this man, they wouldn’t be in my life.
But the damage this relationship caused was catastrophic. During one of the times in my life when I had separated from him, I was staying at a friend’s house. I had made plans to go out for the night, so the kids were staying elsewhere. When I got home that night, I didn’t notice that the patio door had been broken. I fell asleep. My ex came through the broken door, and I woke up to a fist in my face. The physical abuse got so out of control that I needed plastic surgery to correct some of the damage.
Throughout most of the abuse, I was alone. That’s what abusers do best: they isolate you from family and friends. I was trying to raise three daughters and protect myself at the same time without any support. I was afraid to leave because I thought he would kill me. My self-esteem and my confidence eroded completely. I lost many meaningful relationships in my life.
This period of time was characterized by fear and struggle. I tried many times to get away, but I was often sucked back into the situation. The longer it went on, the more difficult it became to endure. I had stopped reaching out to friends and family due to shame. Shame for being stuck in the situation. Shame for putting up with all the abuse.
I know that people judged me. Women are often blamed when they find themselves in an abusive situation. In fact, one day, a police officer looked me in the eye and said, “not you again.” He asked me why I didn’t just leave. But the truth is, I tried to leave many times before we finally separated. And the judgement and shame that I felt contributed to this isolating situation. When we finally separated for good, I began to heal, but it took a very long time.
I tried to conceal my address and location from my ex, but of course, when I finally went to court to seek custody of the children, the court told my abuser where I was. The end of our relationship didn’t mean that our problems disappeared. They just took on a new form.
As a single mother, I struggled with custody issues, finding proper housing, providing for my family financially, and finding appropriate childcare. Money was tight. I was working as a barmaid where they would pay me $3 per hour. I would go home after the weekend with $25 in my pocket. I went to food banks to put food on the table. For years, nothing I owned was new. My daughters often had to wear second-hand clothes, and my middle daughter especially, was self-conscious about it. She had one pair of new pants and a few shirts that I would wash every night for her so she could look good the next day.
Raising three girls in this environment was extremely difficult. I wanted to find a stable job that earned more money, but at this point, I had no skills I could use in the workforce. One day, when I was asking my oldest daughter whether she had finished her homework, she looked at me and said, “why are you so focused on my school work when you didn’t even graduate high school?”
The next day, I knew something had to change. I signed up for school. I managed to get my high school diploma, and then went on to study Social Service Work. I graduated with a diploma in Social Sciences.
I was going to school during the day and working at a homeless shelter at night. There was so little time and money and energy, I don’t always feel that I was able to give my kids the emotional support they needed.
It doesn’t matter who you are or what your background is, being a mom is difficult. Most of the time, there is never enough to go around, be it attention, time, money or support. What we really need in our lives is a supportive community, but there are very little resources out there to meet our needs. In the end, we end up feeling guilty for things we can’t control.
Slowly, but surely, our circumstances improved. After working a few good jobs over the years, my career progressed, and I started to make more money. I was able to pay for one of my daughter’s college educations. Through pure grit and perseverance, somehow, we made it through.
The first time I became a single mom, I was 18 years old. The second time I became a single mom, I was 44. When my grandson came into this world, he took my breath away. I knew there was no way that we could give him up.
I chose him. This time around, I chose this life. Today, he is four years old and about to start school in September. I still deal with a lot of the same issues today as I did in the past. Even though I have a great job, and my boss is amazing, I still struggle to find reliable childcare when he is sick. I still deal with the sleepless nights and the bouts of frustration when everyone is having a bad day.
But today, I am okay. Today, I have healthy self-esteem and I know that I am worthy. Today, after years of hard work and uncertainty, I am in a good place financially. In fact, this past Christmas, I was able to reach into my own pocket to help Nadia from Single MOMtreal give Christmas gifts to all the children who gathered for the celebration. Today, I am stronger and wiser because of my experience.
My path was not straight. I tripped and stumbled and fell and got back up and brushed myself off. There was a lot of pain in my journey. There were a lot of hard lessons that I needed to learn.
Today, I am finally able to celebrate being successful – and to celebrate being a single mom. And more than anything, I want to reach out to all the single moms out there struggling, and to help them realize that they can do this. You can go through turmoil and come out the other side. You can be successful.
So, if you are doubting yourself today, always remember: be proud of everything you have accomplished, and always look towards a better future. You are a great mom. You’ve got this.

Writer: Colleen Romaniuk