Not the Whole Story is a compilation of sixteen stories narrated by single mothers in their own way and about their own lives. Each story is unique, but the same issues appear again and again. Abuse, parenting as single mothers, challenges in the labour market, mental health and addictions issues, a scarcity of quality childcare, immigration and status vulnerability, struggles with custody, and poverty-these factors, combined with a lack of support, contribute to their continued struggles. The themes that recur across stories illustrate that the issues the women face are not just about individual struggle; they demonstrate that major issues in Canada's social system have been neglected in public policy. In order for these issues to be addressed we need to challenge the flawed public policies and the negative discourse that continue to marginalize single mothers-in terms of the opportunities in their own lives and in terms of how they are understood by other Canadians. The first-person narratives of the struggles and issues faced by low-income single mothers provide narrative richness and are augmented by introductory and concluding chapters that draw the narrative themes together and offer overarching discussion and analysis.
The Individual Stories
The lone-mother narrators of this volume originally planned to use their real names. They were proud of the obstacles they had overcome and wished to "own" their own life stories. After extensive discussion in the group, the women somewhat reluctantly agreed to use pseudonyms-and to have the names of people in the stories changed as well. Many of the women agreed to this only to protect their children.
I'm a single mom. I've been a single mom for 35 years.
I come from a little town on the island of Newfoundland. I grew up in a very small house with my mom, dad, and 16 siblings. I am the fourth oldest child. They were very hard times. We had a tiny house that had tiny bedrooms and was never very warm. My father was away most of the time and we kids had to do what we could. We cut, dried, and stored the wood for the wood stove. In the winter finding food was really hard. We ate whatever we trapped. My older sister had moved away so I was like the second mother. I learned to bake bread when I was 11, and from then on I did a lot of cooking as well as the cleaning and the laundry.
My mom was sick a lot, and she was really overweight. She did not like doctors and didn't go when she needed to. My father was an alcoholic and used to drink away most of his money. My mother never had any money to take care of us and became very abusive to us. I think my mom wanted to love us, but I don't think she ever learned how. She didn't have much of a chance. I never blamed my mom, although I used to get angry at her when she hit us. Sometimes it would seem like we had a little bit of a relationship and she loved us a lot, like when we played cards, but then the next minute it was like she hated us. My mom used to get my dad mad, and he would take his frustration out on us.
I remember one time when I was 12 or 13 when my mom got really angry at me. When my dad came home she told him I didn't listen, so they locked me out of the house for two days. I ended up staying under the house. When my brothers tried to bring me mittens they also got in trouble.
A few years later, when I was 15, I was a little bit late coming back from the store because I met a friend. I got a really bad beating from my father. My father was almost 6'5?, 300 lbs., and had hands like bear claws. He liked to just reach out and knock us down. My father was a vicious person and I hated him. He beat us all. He used to beat my mom. He beat my older brother really hard. When he was sober we could talk to him, but he was not sober very often.
If my parents got mad at us, they took the food away. I remember my dad saying that there were certain cuts of meat that were for us and certain cuts just for him. His friends got the roasts. My father supplied the judge with moose and caribou. My father was buying the judge so we had nobody to turn to. He treated his friends better than his family, so they thought he was a great guy. When he beat us, we had nobody to turn to because they believed him.
In his younger years my dad worked with the railroad. After that he worked on a boat as a cook, and then he worked construction. My dad was a smart man, but he was a stupid man too. My mom was stupid to even stay. I said to my mom once, "Why don't you leave Dad? We can make it. We can plant a garden." My mom told me: "I can't leave your dad because I love him." As I started getting older, I thought I was going to meet a man who would beat me because he loved me. In the romance books I read I started to notice that the woman was always in love with the bad guy.
At a pretty young age, maybe as young as eight, I realized that my mother was not very old. As I watched her being treated the way she was, and not getting the care she needed, I thought, "I don't want to be like that. I don't want to be like my mom." She wasn't comfortable and always worried about what my dad would think. I was determined that I would find myself somebody nice and would not stay where I was.
When we turned 12 or so we all had to leave home, go out, get work, and then send money home to our mom and dad. My dad took me out of school in grade eight because my mom was sick and he said I had to take care of my mom and family. I started my first job when I was 13, going on 14, taking care of a little girl. When I was a little older I got another job and lived in the family's home. I worked for the family five days a week, and then on the weekend I cleaned everything at our home, cooked, and made sure that my brothers' and sisters' uniforms were ready for school. As long as I was contributing I was not a bad kid.
I remember coming home one time and saying, "Mom, I just got paid. There is some money. I am taking my sister and I am going to buy her a coat." My mom said I had to be back at home by nine because dad was coming home. While we were out I started to question why I had to be home at nine. When I got home at 9 or 10 my dad punched me in the mouth and knocked me down. I was angry, got right up and went out the door. He loaded the shotgun and shot at me as I ran away.
I ran to the place my sister was working. From a window I watched my dad looking for me and in a panic I wondered if he would kill me. All the time I was thinking how I loved mom and dad, but right then I didn't love my dad and was scared for my mom. I had to go back and let my dad know that I was okay. When I got home my mom looked at me and started to cry and hugged me. I didn't feel she meant it though. My dad came in and she had a big plate of dinner for him and he said to me, "Come here, sit down, and eat." He looked at me as I sat down and he started to cry. He said, "This won't happen again ever, but I need you to help your mom." I said, "We all help mom, but we can't run a household if you are going to kill us." I told him I was going to go away, further away than before, and my dad said that he knew I could get a job at the Mercers' store.
The Mercers needed somebody in the store and somebody to help in the house with ironing and other things, so they hired me. I was 15 when I started, and I worked there for a year. Mrs. Mercer was good to me. She would give me lipstick and earrings and little things because she knew I didn't have any of these things.
One day I was working in the store and I fell in love. He walked into the store and bought some gum. I thought maybe this was the guy I was supposed to meet. I was so lovesick that I used to actually get sick. Mrs. Mercer had seen what happened at the store and broke it to me that this man was married. He didn't look like he could be married, because he only looked about 20. At a distance I would see him looking at me, and one day I was walking home and he stopped and offered to drive me. I said no, but somebody must have seen me talk to him and told my father. My father went over and beat him. Then my father came to me and said, "I know you have been talking to that young fellow. You stay away from him. I am putting you on a train and you are going to work in Toronto."
My oldest brother and his wife were living in Toronto. I was turning 16, and my father put me on the train. I was meant to go to Toronto, stay with my oldest brother, look for a job, and send money home to my mom. Once I got to Toronto I pretty much had to fend for myself. My brother was doing his own thing, and after a while I didn't want to stay at his place. Soon I was on my own and I had to get out there, look for a job, and find a place to stay.
I stayed in Toronto for two years. I sent money home to my mom, but my father would still call and tell me, "That's not enough, you need to send more home." When I turned 18, I decided, "This is it. I'm going back home. I'll start a war but I'm going back home. I'm strong now." I think that growing up the way I did made me strong. And it made me tough. When I got back my father told me, "You can't come into the house. You're not welcome here."
After a while I found work in a hotel, which is where I met my late husband Jack. He was in the bar, and he was drunk. When I met Jack I was going out with a guy named George. George was a really nice guy, but there was something about Jack that I really liked. The day after I first saw Jack was my day off. I had to go to Clarenville to give my mom some roses for her birthday. George couldn't drive me because he had something else to do. Jack, who had arrived at the bar, overheard that I needed a ride and offered to take me. I will never forget that day. We went to Clarenville in his green Oldsmobile. My mom fell in love with him right away and told me that this was the guy for me.
We were going out for almost two years. One day Jack picked me up the hotel where I worked and took me down to visit his mom and dad. His mom was glad he had met somebody nice, but she told me he needed to go to university. I said I would try to talk him into it. Sometime later I asked him if he ever thought about going back to school. He said no, but said there is one thing he wanted to do-get married. I told him I would marry him if he went to university. So Jack started university, and I worked. I made enough money to put together a wedding. Mine was the only wedding my mother ever attended-she was so happy. She died when she was 45.
Jack finished university and became a school teacher and then a principal. I loved it, and he loved it. We lived in a trailer and we were...