“I’m a single mum and victim of domestic violence”

Emma* is a single parent who escaped a violent relationship. She shares her story and lessons learned, the ongoing complexities of co-parenting with her abuser and feeling joy and pride once again. 

Yes, I am a single mum and when people ask me how I do it, I don’t know how to answer it. To be completely frank, I don’t know. It’s pretty much all that I’ve known with both of my kids. Most of me has just accepted that I’m a single mother and that I have to do what I have to do to ensure my kids get the love and support they need, that we eat dinner, have a clean house and clean clothes, and that I’m setting a good example to my children at every opportunity. My story is complex. Thankfully, I can now write about this and feel proud that I have two incredible children and a career that I love.

I left my second husband when I was pregnant and I had limited financial security. I’m a survivor of domestic violence who was subjected to financial and psychological abuse and was facing absolute uncertainty about how I would support my two children. I went on parental leave knowing that I’d probably have to return to work earlier than I wanted to, and I questioned my ability to juggle it all.

I am in a complex situation where I’m dealing with abusive emails and text messages, the concern associated with not knowing what drama I’m going to face following my daughter’s visits with her father, and the unsettling nature of dealing with the Family Court. The juggle between work, my children, continued abuse (despite an intervention order), and court documents mean that I have had to learn how to compartmentalize.

Sometimes that doesn’t work and there are days when I feel like I’m at breaking point. Those days are when I value my family, friends, and relatively new partner the most. But they are also the days when I feel the most vulnerable and find myself questioning my ability as a mother and as a career person. I have to remind myself that most parents go through these periods and that there is nothing wrong with feeling overwhelmed at times. I sometimes wonder how I’ll handle life when the legal element settles down… whether I’ll fall in a heap or inadvertently seek another challenge because I’ve adjusted to a life that many would see as chaotic.

On the positive side, I’m very organized. I have lists of things to do at home and at work. I plan our meals and try to follow that plan closely. I have my kids in a routine and stick to that routine as best as I can during the working week, and I’ve tried to ensure that my kids understand that house admin is just part of life.

I have also made sure that I have support from friends and family, and that I’m a member of my local community — whether that’s time with school parents or helping out with the kids’ sports. Being in the community helps — you develop relationships, have more people to lean on during tough times, and set an example for the kids. And my parents spend time with the kids and me when they can.  They are also my lifeline for legal matters — my dad might as well have an honorary degree in family law by now! I’ve also learned that you need to lean on your friends — there is no doubt that parents help other parents.

If you do find yourself as a single parent trying to balance your career and parenthood, then this is what I have learned:

  • You need to ask for help. Sometimes asking someone to look after your kids for an hour so you can go grocery shopping alone makes a world of difference in your life! I’ve made a commitment to ask for help more, mainly for my own mental health, which flows onto my kids’ happiness.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. You don’t need to defend yourself when you leave work early or you have to leave a meeting to answer a call from your childminder. But don’t use it as an excuse for brashness or tiredness. Parents in partnerships may be just as tired!
  • Be honest. People may not understand your situation, but they will empathise with it.
  • Do something that you’re passionate about. It’s hard enough being a single parent, so use the time you have away from your kids as a time to be your best professional self.
  • Find someone at work who you can confide in. And don’t be scared to lean on that person when you’re having a tough day.
  • Make time to socialise with your work friends. I don’t do this enough and have made a commitment to doing more of it.

I’ve asked myself a lot, “What do I want my kids to think about me when they’re older?” I want them to remember that I gave it my best shot. That, sometimes, I worried too much and didn’t get things right. But ultimately, I’ve learned from my mistakes and taught them both the value of compassion, love, honesty, and giving back to the world. I want them to remember me as the woman who always got back up and didn’t back down!

The writer of this story has asked to remain anonymous.

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