Published Sunday May 12, 2019

Written by Colleen Romaniuk, Interviewee: Sandra Finlay

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.


Submitted Monday, May 7 2018

August 1st, 2010. I picked up McDonald’s after getting my hair styled for a wedding I was about to attend. I went to pee and realized I shouldn’t be spotting. I had a pregnancy test lying around. I managed to find enough pee to activate it. BOOM. 2 lines. Holy crap.
In the next 48 hours I went through a roller coaster of emotions. Every question came to mind. Do I keep it? Is this stick right? Am I only 2 weeks pregnant? What was in the McDonald’s? Is it a false positive? How do I tell my ex boyfriend that I’m pregnant? Maybe the 5 tests are wrong? What do I do? Am I ready? What should I do? What if I have an abortion, will I have a greater risk of not having kids later on? How can I afford this? Seriously... am I ready? I don’t want to be a single mother!!!
I did speak to the father the next day and gave him a week to let me know his decision. At the end of the week he said he wanted nothing to do with the baby. I was fine by his decision. I respected it, however, just because he didn’t want it didn’t mean I had to end the pregnancy.  It was my body. Since I couldn’t decide right away I made an appointment for an ultrasound (to really be sure I was pregnant) and for an abortion at the end of the month. 2 days before the appointment I called the clinic to reschedule because I couldn’t go through with it. The father and I talked afterwards and he said that he wanted the baby and would be there for us and blah blah blah. So we made the decision to have the baby. He was full of empty promises.  
My pregnancy was a roller coaster ride. My child’s father had a girlfriend (the female he cheated on me with which is now is his wife and they are expecting their 2nd child).  He played her and myself during my whole pregnancy. When he was in a fight with her he came crawling back to me saying we are a couple. When things settled down with her he fought with me and left me to fend for myself. I didn’t realize he was a narcissist when we were together and I only truly learned about what a narcissist was in the last couple of years.  My anxiety was extremely high during my pregnancy. I was losing weight instead of gaining it. Luckily my little baby was growing and was healthy. The father kept attacking me verbally, emotionally. The games that he played were disturbing. At one point I found a man who was going to accept me and my unborn child as his own. I knew him from before my pregnancy and we had a strong connection. I honestly still have feelings for him to this day. My child’s father found this out and played me by saying “let’s work on being a family.” Obviously I said yes because I didn’t want my son to be raised in a broken home. I do regret that decision now. 
My child is 7 years old now. I spent the first 2 years without the father in our lives. One day a bailiff came to my house and served me papers saying his father is bringing me to court. Since then I have been going to court at least once a year. He constantly brought me to court. Little by little he gained more time until the last judgement. In July he will have 50/50 custody. He has constantly falsely accused me of some horrible things. 
Being a parent is tough. Being a single parent is even tougher. Being a single mother with a narcissistic ex is even more tough.
I am lucky enough that I was raised with morals, values, and respect.  I went back to school once my child started kindergarten. I started in a new program and received my D.E.P. I went back to school because I needed to find a better job/career to provide for my little family.  I almost gave up a few times. Being a single parent and going back to school, learning new things while trying to balance everything else in life is ridiculously hard. I had an amazing teacher whom I confided to. I told her everything that was happening. It is because of her support that I didn’t give up. She saw the potential in me. 
One of the main reasons why I wanted to give up is because I was falsely accused by his father of sexually abusing my child. This flipped my whole life upside down. Clearly he did it so that others would see me in a different light and he hoped that the courts would see me as an unfit parent. Sadly his plan somewhat failed because my son’s psychologist said he was insane to ever accuse me of that.  Still, having that put in the universe, and having people in my small town hear such a thing made me uneasy. People who didn’t know me might believe his lies. Would my son lose out on play dates? Would people believe him? Will I not be able to volunteer at his school anymore? I started worrying that people were watching my every move. I caught myself even questioning if it was still OK to kiss my child on the lips goodbye when he went off to school. You can say I was somewhat paranoid. 
Being a single parent is not for the weak. My hat goes off to all the single mothers and fathers out there losing their minds to make sure their children do not have to recover from their childhood. 
I love my child unconditionally. I don’t know where I would be if I did go through with the abortion. Even with all the drama and chaos that his bio father has caused... I don’t see my life without my child in it. I’ve been on social assistance, received food from my local food bank, did things out of desperation for money, had my father help me and quite honestly is still helping me financially at times. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my father, my sister, and other close friends.  Hopefully in my new career I will be more financially stable. I want to be the best role model for my child.  I am still dealing with my child’s father and his narcissistic ways. It’s a constant struggle. I honestly hope that he will find a new hobby or something. I have been tempted to recommend scrapbooking because he is so creative in his lies.

So ladies all I have to say is... Never Give Up. We have little eyes who look up to us. We might lose our minds, temper, hair, sense of time, but it’s all for them. They are worth every bag under our eyes, every fallen hair and every sleepless night.



Submitted Friday, May 4 2018

There he was lying on the floor – unconscious, but still alive…his head in a pool of blood.
Within an hour after I had found him, the police told me he was dead. 
So just like that, I was a single-mom and widow. Funny how your entire world can be turned upside down in a blink of an eye. How can he do that to me? How can he leave our children? How can he leave me? I did not see this coming… this was NOT part of my plan!
I knew however that I needed to keep it together for my children. I knew that if I wanted them to be ok, I had to be ok. So, I took ALL the help that was offered to me. I knew that I would have to go through all the stages and all the emotions, but I wanted to reach the point where I would be ok. Throughout my process, I never lost hope. My children and my faith kept me going. 
Being a single-mom wasn’t so much of a shock because I can honestly say that I raised my kids on my own. Most of the time, he was just there… It’s as if he was preparing me for the day he would decide to die. I had completely lost myself in that relationship trying to save him. 
Making big decisions, managing a household, children, chores, activities, events, work, tasks can be very overwhelming at times. Often, I feel like I’m running, but can’t quite catch up. There are times when I feel like giving up and running away, but I can’t do that! I’m very grateful for my support system. Being a parent is the biggest and hardest challenge I’ve had to face. Being a single-mom is twice as hard…but I can say that it’s very fulfilling. I get to see my kids grow up, laugh with them… and live. I thank God for that every day. I also thank HIM for that… he could have easily taken my life and the kids’ lives that morning. 
As a single-parent, I’ve learned that I’m a pretty strong mama. I’ve managed to keep it together. After everything I’ve been through, I’ve managed to find myself again… a better version of myself, and I can say that I’m ok.