Single mother, 44: «For me, every day is about making the best out of my situation for the sake of my children. I spend plenty of time and mental energy on finding alternative activities and things to buy».
I have found that there are often cheap but good alternatives for many things. But some days I just feel I can’t cope, and that my children see it, but won’t say anything. I do all I can for my children to live as much like ‘the others’ as possible.
We never had much money, but when my husband worked full-time and I worked a few hours in the afternoon, we had a decent economic situation.
We were married for many years. Then I’d had enough. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had been psychologically abused every day for all those years. He constantly controlled where I was, who I spent time with, and what I chose to spend my money on.
I always stayed at home with the children while he worked, except when I got a few odd jobs here and there. It was important for him that he was the provider. When he came home from work, his job was done for the day, and the children were all my responsibility. And since I was quite young when my children were born I never got to finish my education. When I eventually got some afternoon work, it was he who had to take care of the children while I was gone. Later, my children have told me that didn’t always go well… he didn’t like it when I worked. And if I would, for example, go to a Christmas dinner with my work there would be so much interrogation and suspicion that I just couldn’t be bothered.
So I left, after being married for 20 years, with 5 children in common, knowing that I didn’t have an education nor work and that it would not be easy. Still, anything would be better than going on the way we were, for myself as well as for my children. There have been so many fights…
When there’s a sale on things that we use I always hope I happen to have enough money to buy several things at once… I check for stores that have sales, and go to different places to get the cheapest deals.
Since then, my daily life has revolved around making our money cover what we need. Everything we do – eating, shopping, etc. – all of it has to be planned to the last detail. The two youngest children can still inherit clothes from their siblings. When there’s a sale on things that we use I always hope I happen to have enough money to buy several things at once… I check for stores that have sales, and go to different places to get the cheapest deals. I save free cinema tickets until we have enough so that the two youngest kids can go. We have saved popcorn boxes from the cinema so that we can ‘play cinema’ at home, and I try to find activities that don’t cost anything, such as walks in the forest, etc.
We have eventually found places to turn to for help. Last year we went on a holiday trip with the Red Cross. It didn’t begin well, because the children first didn’t feel like going, because most of the others on the trip were foreigners. But it turned out to be a wonderful excursion for all of us. Many thanks to the Red Cross, who have gotten in touch afterward when they arrange things, such as a day at the zoo.
Most of the things I do are to prevent the children from feeling that we are poor; and I don’t think they do. As for myself, I don’t walk around thinking ‘WE’RE POOR’; only that we don’t have much money. For example, I have called and asked the sports clubs that the kids are in if they have a rebate for those who don’t have a good economy. I have only received positive answers and good fee reductions.
You have to take initiatives yourself! Nobody tells me what rights I have, what benefits I can apply for, or who to talk to. I’m lucky to have a good friend who tells me where I should go to get help. She’s the one who tipped me off about the Red Cross. Apart from that, I’ve found my way through the jungle myself; food handouts from the Salvation Army, clothes passed on from older siblings, support for Christmas and a lot of other great help from the charity Hjelpossåhjelpe Vest Agder (‘Help Us Help Vestagder’). As for the housing allowance and other benefits, I have found out about them myself.
The most difficult moments are when I ask the smallest children, who get invited to a lot of birthdays, if they really HAVE to go to this or that birthday party. 50 kroner isn’t a lot, but when it’s 20 birthday parties a year it’s a lot money in the end.
I get a transitional benefit for single parents of 15,000 kroner per month. That sounds like a lot, but I pay 10,000 on my house loans, and then there’s food, electricity, water, municipal taxes, insurances and expenses for clothes, and other things for the children. The children don’t get the newest or coolest clothes. I refuse to take up loans to buy that. That is against everything I’ve been taught. It all has to be paid back eventually!
The most difficult moments are when I ask the smallest children, who get invited to a lot of birthdays, if they really HAVE to go to this or that birthday party. 50 kroner isn’t a lot, but when it’s 20 birthday parties a year it’s a lot money in the end. Instead, we try to find something else that we can do together for free.
Another thing that can be both boring and costly are the many end-of-school celebrations before the summer and Christmas holidays; they often ask you to bring your own barbecue food or cake to them. The children love to go, but it it’s not a lot of fun to bring a common bottle of juice and the cheapest hot dogs, when ‘everyone else’ brings posh grill food, salads, a packet of biscuits and a bottle of soda each.
The oldest children understand the situation, even though we never talk about being poor. That is, they never badger me about things they want. I try to help where I can to pay small things for them, and I try to find used clothes of the ‘right’ brands, since this is important for young people. It also seems difficult for them to get weekend jobs. They have tried, but since we don’t have much of a network they can’t get anything through anyone we know. Sometimes I feel life is very difficult, but then one of the kids will come up and give me a warm hug, and then it’s a good day anyway.
When we were married, all our friends were his friends; I wasn’t allowed to stay in touch or go out with friends of my own. And I don’t have any parents who can help. I never took a driver’s license, and that makes it hard to get around, for example to drop off and collect my children at Kindergarten or the after-school program.
For me, it’s all about making the best of our situation. I’ not a pessimist. Things were of course a lot worse when we were getting divorced. Then, I worried that I might have made a huge mistake, and that I might not make it on my own. There was so much paperwork, I had no money and was deeply depressed – while having to pull myself together for the sake of my children. So I went to talk to a psychologist. The most important thing she told me was that my ex-husband would never change… I simply had to find ways to deal with him.
When I left him, I thought it would finally be over, but it wasn’t. It continued. He continued putting me down, in text messages and things he would say to the children. Being poor is something I can deal with, somehow, but it’s tough when your ex-husband really wants you to fail. His income is about three times as big as mine. Still, he sends me critical messages or lets me know through the children that, for example, he thinks their clothes are too small or worn out. And he tells the kids too… When one of them doesn’t go to a weekly activity he gets suspicious and blames me for it.
He was so used to always having me available, which means that he would know where I was and what I was doing at all times. It feels so great now that I can turn off the telephone and choose when to answer. I know he has more money than I do, but I refuse to ask him for help, since that would be to confirm his opinion: that I can’t cope on my own. I can!
I have one good female friend, and that’s it. That’s alright, by the way, since I don’t have money to spend on things that friends do, such as going to a café, to the cinema or out on the town.
And as for myself in all this… I never go to the hairdresser or buy new clothes for myself. The kids are all that matters. I have one good female friend, and that’s it. That’s alright, by the way, since I don’t have money to spend on things that friends do, such as going to a café, to the cinema or out on the town. I don’t feel like doing any of that. I prefer to spend my time with the children.
In two years, I’ll be done with the education that I just started. I wonder where I’ll be in five years. And in ten?
I’m fine, but I would of course love to have a partner. Someone who is everything that my ex-husband was not. Someone who doesn’t just look nice, but who is nice as well; someone that can walk in the forest with me, and who I can talk to.
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