I doubt there is a mum in Australia who doesn’t know it is Mother’s Day this coming Sunday. Most of us will be expecting some sort of gift and the best restaurants will be packed to the rafters with families treating their mothers to a special Sunday lunch. While Mother’s Day shouldn’t be all about the gift, the process of thinking about ‘what mum might like’ as a gesture of thanks is important symbolically. In surveys and blog discussions across the web, mums report feeling over-worked and under-appreciated by society at large and yes, at least sometimes, by their partners and their children. Whether perception or reality or a mix of both, Mother’s Day gives families an opportunity to acknowledge and thank mums for all that they have sacrificed and all that they do.
The plight of single mums in Australia has been in the media a great deal since May 2012 when the Federal Government announced that it planned to save $700 million by forcing more than 100,000 single parents (90% are women) off the Parenting Payment and onto the Newstart Allowance. Newstart is much lower and many say unbearable to live on. Researching the impact of these cuts got me thinking about how Mother’s Day happens for single mums.
Given the facts about the lives of single mums in Australia (see below), it came as no surprise to hear that there is often no gift, no invitation out to lunch and few messages of appreciation. As one mum explained:
“There is no money to go out or take the kids out and unless school encourages the kids to do something, there might not be a gift. It becomes just another day. It is not the gift itself that I miss, and in fact I don’t buy into the consumerism around Mother’s Day. But the gift giving is important because it encourages our kids to think about and appreciate what other people do for them. I can’t be the one encouraging my son to go and get me a small gift because I am the one that tells him to clean his room and put his clothes away. He will come to see Mother’s Day gift giving as a chore and then that’s missing the point”.
When I asked the mums I spoke to for ideas of things that the rest of us can do to make Mother’s Day more special for them, the answers were simple:
1) If you know a single mum, offer to take her kids gift shopping this Saturday. While you are there, explain what Mother’s Day is about and why it is important to acknowledge and appreciate the work that mums do.
2) Pop over with some home cooked treats and encourage mum to go play with her kids in the local park while you do some of her usual chores.
3) If you can afford it, add a couple more people to your lunch booking and cover the tab (this was my idea, not theirs).
4) Sign this petition to pressure the government to support single parents and their children.
If you are interested to learn more about the lives of single mums in Australia (some of the facts might surprise you) read on…
Life as a single mum in Australia
This excerpt from Single mothers need education, not welfare cuts, written by Yvonne Joyce and published in The Conversation last month, gives the statistical ‘big picture’ on what life is like as a single mum in Australia right now:
- According to the ABS, in 2005 almost 22% of Australian families with children under 15 years of age were one-parent families, with 87% of these families headed by women.
- More than six out of ten families relied on government pensions and allowances as their principle income source.
- More than twice as many Australian single parents as partnered parents report not being able to pay utility bills on time and seek financial assistance from families and friends or from welfare or community groups.
- Women almost everywhere are more likely to live in poverty than men because of lower labour force participation and lower earning capacity.
- This is because women are more likely to work in part-time, poorly paid or poverty-level wage industries known as “pink collar” work and they tend to be the primary carer of children.
- But economic disadvantage is only one of many factors to limit the life chances of single mothers and their children.
- Single mothers are also more susceptible to: housing insecurity; limitations to mobility; debt accumulation; poor mental and physical health; disability; low levels of social support; experiences of physical, sexual and psychological violence including domestic violence; and experiences of child abuse.
This article, poignantly titled ‘You and me against the world’, draws on the findings in the book Naked Motherhood: Sharing Truths and Shattering Illusions. It is an illuminating and powerful read.