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Fuck Politeness

This is a revolution, not a public relations movement

Tag Archives: single mums

Oh yeah, it’s been like forever since I posted!!!

I’m having a ‘moment’ right? Usually I get kinda embarrassed and skate past it if people try to make me out as a ‘hero’ for doing the single mum thing. You do what you do right? And I’m not a hero. I am flawed and fallible, I am a big wuss when it comes to moths and deep water and riding down hills…

But…I was trying to explain to my mother tonight this wierd thing I’ve had lately where my chest has been feeling ‘tight’. I thought I was sick. Cold? Asthma? Ribs growing too quickly? Then it occured to me that it happens right when I’m pondering how I’ve got too much to do and not enough time in which to do it…this led me to try to explain what I had on my plate…

And for real? I raise a child with a double diagnosis of developmental disorders (new Doctor Seuss title?). I do this on my own and have since he was a baby. He was a baby when I was twenty. I was twenty having grown up in pretty working class areas, little money, little hope, bugger all in the way of examples of functional caring relationships, fuck all ideas on proper nutrition etc. So I grew up with him. I learned how to cook/clean etc. But being twenty I had nothing…no degree, no proper employment experience, no idea of what I wanted to ‘do’ or ‘be’. I had been working since I was fourteen, but casual retail work. How the FUCK was I going to make a good life for the two of us?

So anyway…I guess I can’t be arsed covering all the bits in between – a breakdown of that ten years includes little sleep (insomnia is NOT fun), less money (it’s better than poverty), lotsa headaches, backaches and illness,lotsa worries,lotsa study, big moves, a vow off of relationships til I could be sure I wouldn’t date such pricks (long periods of celibacy are also unfun), lots of shitty jobs and shithouse bosses and a couple of school changes – and will just skip to now. My son’s eleven. He’s doing really well in school, despite the fact that the wheels fell off in a big way a few years ago for him. I have a degree in Arts, and am halfway through a degree in Law. I have a permanent job in a law firm and increasingly I am realising how much I’ve learnt there, and how much experience I am getting that ordinarily you get upon graduation.

I have managed to get a degree (will have two by the time he’s say fifteen) and find gainful employment, I have managed to avert the impending crises caused by my son’s anger issues which were a part of his disability, I have moved to an area I love from an area that was killing me, I pay a ludicrous amount of rent on a stupidly small income, I cook and eat well, my son reads voraciously (I like to think I had a little something to do with that with my own love of reading and my own animated readings to him of Harry Potter et al), has a great sense of humour, is interested in everything, tries new things, is teaching himself Photoshop and computer animation (and apparently this week Spanish). He knows he is loved, he is independant and clever, I DEFY him to have hangups about sex, he knows that other people exist – he knows about poverty, about racism and sexism, homophobia and discrimination. He can analyse any form of media, he loves good cinema, he talks back to advertising and he speaks his mind. He has adult role models of the very best kind I can imagine, teachers, postgraduate students, managers, protestors, authors, poets – people with imagination and intelligence who aren’t afraid to use those assets. I surrounded myself with good friends…and managed to stop dating pricks. 🙂

I came home today and my chest began tightening. My final essay for my current subject is due. In around two weeks. Plenty of time, of course I’ll get it done – but I’m exhausted, I’m totally fucking shattered. Because I am living more than one life. Work all day, study at night, a house to clean, shopping and cooking to do, friends to see, a family to keep happy, a relationship with a great guy and all this while I am the primary carer of a child with disabilities (not to mention the fact that it takes considerable time to invest in “looking good”, and Im kinda embarrassed to add that in, but you know, choosing outfits, personal grooming, makeup, hair – this shit takes time). When I spell it out like that, even I occassionally think I might just be a little bit awesome.

I’m beginning to ramble and lose what ‘point’ I may have had to begin with…but it’s not that I’m trying to say “I’m superior” or “I’m such an excellent person”…just that well, this good stuff didn’t fall from the sky into my lap I have worked my arse off for this, I have had to fight for every inch of ground I’ve gained, and there have been times where i thought it would kill me, times where I thought it would all come undone, times I couldn’t see how I was possibly going to pay the bills, times where I felt like a mess and a failure – and looking at then and now in such a stark way brings clarity to how far I’ve come…but I don’t want to lose the sense of seeing how I was working towards this with every single choice I made, every chance I took along the way. Our lives haven’t ended up this way by accident, they’ve ended up this way because of the choices I’ve made and the priorities I set. And because of a truckload of luck and race privilege.

Having said all this…I’m kind of a bit uncomfortable here, because any glib pronouncement of “Hey – I am great” ignores the fact that while for me, on an individual level I worked my arse off and saw some rewards, that that’s a narrative of heroism that can only take place within the context of certain privileges…I’m getting a bit uncomfortable with the lack of marking of white privilege in my blog in general, and this post in particular. If I were an Indigenous woman who had had given birth at twenty…with no resources behind her…I just imagine that it may have been quite a different story because I know I would have faced far more hurdles, had far bigger fights on my hands. It’s late and my brain is mushy and this is a serious point, and I really think it needs to be another post, or several. I just didn’t really want to leave it all ‘La di da, I’m so great’ without acknowledging that I’ve had opportunities others would not have had. I cannot imagine how things would have ended up for instance, if my son’s asthma were as bad as it in fact is, but I did not have the same level of medical care I’ve had. I cannot imagine trying to cope with my son’s issues without early intervention strategies and the help of a good childcare centre and a medical profession that mostly respected my parenting abilities.

And now, since it’s so late, I cannot wrap this up in any intelligent way, so I’ll just have to stop typing.

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A quick rant on bureaucracy

Given that I have a child with special needs, and given that his father has fucked off overseas, and has never paid child support (oh, sorry I lie, he does pay $20 a month which covers my bank fees), the Government gives me some financial support to acknowledge the fact that, as a single mum, I’m kinda rooted prospects wise.


So I’ve taken that assistance and have finished a degree, I am halfway through a second and I have, by hard work, luck, support, privilege and bloody mindedness found a job which is not casual, which is reasonably flexible, which pays reasonably well (any work means you lose almost all of your benefits mind you).


Recently the Government decided to make changes to the Welfare system (in general, let’s save the truly evil changes to Welfare legislation regarding Indigenous families being cut off for another post).

Now…dig this…the Government will give you 8 grand if you have kids. The Government WANTS more kids in the country – not Asylum Seekers children mind you, nor kids raised by same sex parents, nor kids raised by one parent (when the courts decided that it was in fact discrimination to refuse to allow same sex couples or single women to access IVF treatment, the Government granted special dispensation for the Catholic Church -!!!- to go before the Court as an ‘interested party’ to argue against such access marking an alarming collapse of the boundaries of separating religion and politics). The Government wants women to stay at home, they are big on marriage and have devised and implemented tax breaks which reward marriage and raising children within marriage, tax breaks which work when the woman stays home and does her job. The Government doesn’t (or didn’t until they realized they were going *down* this election – please, please, pleae) support paid maternity leave. So they want more kids, but only within the context of heterosexual marriage. They argue they are being supportive of women’s choices (their choice to stay at home and look after their family, not so much their choice to have kids and a career, or a career and no kids)…but even if we believed them, this doesn’t stand up in the face of the new laws for Welfare.


Under these new laws, parents raising a child on their own  must undertake at least fifteen hours of paid work a week once their child turns six – study does not count. When the laws were introduced it was on the premise that those already on the benefits would not be affected….this turned out not to be true, and was a major factor in my decision not to start Honours, and to instead go find ‘real work’. (With a Bachelor of Arts and a High Distinction average, with my lecturers and tutors telling me I could succeed in postgraduate studies and beyond, I got a job first in a pharmacy, then making sandwhiches in a deli.)

Now there are two issues here: the political and the personal. Politically I am infuriated that parents who are trying to do their best for their child have their ability to make choices about how best to parent said children taken away from them or at the least drastically limited by the requirement of finding fifteen hours work a week.  If study counted towards this “Activity Requirement” that would be one thing. But it doesn’t. We don’t want single mums getting uppity ideas now. So work….fifteen hours huh? Well with a six year old you probably don’t want to be working full time if you don’t have the support of a partner to work with you around school drop offs, pick ups, cooking, cleaning, time with your child etc. So part-time? A-ha-hah-hah…good one! Permanent part-time work in Howards new ‘work choices’ environment? No, casual is what you’ll be looking at.


As a veteran of casual work let me say it goes like this: “Sure you can have exactly fifteen hours working around your kids hours at school…though…you work quite well. Could you stay back tonight? And tomorrow night? What’s that?? No?? Well I can totally let you go if you’d prefer…oh good. Thanks. Also, it’d work better for me if you could do these hours, and perhaps take on an extra day. But mmm…business is slow this week, I don’t need you til Thursday. Oh I’m sorry to hear you kid is in the hospital. But gee I’m glad I don’t have to pay you sick leave.” Oh yeah – under the new legislation? You aren’t allowed to leave a job for any reason that the Government doesn’t approve of, and issues of ‘unfair’ requirements or family commitments don’t count as reasonable. If you leave a job your payments can be suspended for eight weeks. That is enough time to be evicted. For your child to go without medicine while sick. Not to mention what this kind of stress does to a parent.


So politically I think it is appalling to punish people for parenting a child on their own, and really, to punish their children. Could we for once step aside from the moralistic bullshit finger wagging of A Current Affairs et al and ask the question “But what sort of society do wewanna be?” Do we want to be a society who brands single parents as welfare milkers popping out babies for cash? Do we want to then put children of single parents at risk by creating real risks of extreme poverty? Do we want to put these kids at risk by putting their parents under such strain that inevitably there will be negative repercussions on their parent’s physical and mental health? Or do we want to say we live in a democracy, and as such there are some families who will need our support. If we support them properly they will take part in supporting others? Just a thought, just throwing it out there…I really think we’ve lost sight of the question of “What sort of country do we want to be” right across the board in contemporary Australain politics and society and I think that our failure to keep that question in mind will haunt us for a long time to come.


Now…the political aspect is appalling, and I hope like hell that Labor has a plan to help single parents gain access to education and childcare to help them build real prospects, rather than dangling financial ruin over their heads to scare them into casual jobs floorsweeping while their kids stay home alone.

But the initial point of this blog was just the supreme, bungling idiocy that is welfare bureaucracy.  Even if you accepted the premise that it’s ok to do this to people (punish them for not being married, punish their kids for having one parent) take a moment to ponder the ridiculousness of the following:

About once a fortnight I get a call saying I MUST attend a day long seminar at the Centrelink office (45 minutes away on public transport). If I do not, my payments will be cut.

I call, I explain, slowly and patiently that I work five days a week. They say, “Sure, well, we can reschedule, but you will have to attend one of these seminars”.

I ask “Why? What is it about?”. They say, “It’s about the new changes to Social Security laws”. I say “Oh, I know all about that, as soon as they came in I researched them and contacted Welfare Rights”. They say, “You will still have to attend.” I say I can’t as I am working five days a week. They say, “Ok, we’ll call to reschedule”. (Is your brain bleeding yet? Having flashbacks to the Who’s on First skit?)

About a week later I field a call (at work) from a different staff member. I explain again that no, I can’t really see the point in taking a day off work to travel across town to sit in a crowded room to hear someone explain in little words something I know about already.

They say “Oh but you also have to sign a Participation Agreement” – I say “What for?”, they say, “To say you will look for fifteen hours work a week”…[pause] “I work twice that already on a permanent basis” they say “If you don’t sign this agreement your payments could be cut. So, let me get this straight. I have to take a day off from work to go to an office far away to hear a speech about something I already know about and sign a piece of paper that says I will do *half* of what I am already doing??? Aaaaaand – then they said, “You will also have to start coming to the office each fortnight to tell us what you earned that fortnight”…[long pause]…[in brain]: You fuckers realise what permanent part time means right? Means I get the same amount week in and week out, if I am sick, on holidays, at work, at a funeral, WHATEVER…I. STILL. EARN. THE SAME. AMOUNT. EVERY. FUCKING. FORTNIGHT…so you could save us all some time, talk to my bosses and we don’t have to chat except a couple of times a year…but now you want me to drop down in my hours or take time off work, to come and tell you to your face the amount I’ve earned this fortnight which is, has always been, will always be the SAME???



So seriously I was ready to snap when I fielded another call at work.  In the end I was so angry I was about to say “I tell you what, I will write you a fucking essay on the new laws, on the pros and cons and the social implications, comparing and contrasting it with the laws that went before – if at the end of that I get a mark of less than 85%, I will attend, nay I will GIVE the seminar and bake cookies for all who attend”…close to death by aneurism I choke out my issues reminding myself it isn’t this woman’s fault…and she says “Oh, hey, how about I post you out your participation agreement?”[stunned silence]

“Um, yes, that would be great” (it’s only taken 12 months at least fifteen calls to come up with this brainstorm). Then I broach the reporting, carefully, quietly (as if I am talking to a dangerous animal) “Um…since I work five days a week, and I have a child with special needs and I don’t drive…is it possible to keep reporting over the phone?” [since it’s the same fucking amount each fortnight anyway]…she says “Yes, you would be eligible to keep reporting by phone.”


FUCK!!!! I mean, totally I’m doing the crazy happy dance of relief…but really…should it have been that hard??? And really…I am fucking lucky. What of all those people out there working casual work, whose hours change and who are subject to the moods and whims of their bosses, who have to trek across town to do what can be done over the phone (and what do they do with their kids in this time, and what if they work five days, when do they get the time to do it?), or who are harassed by their bosses and quit to have their payments cut. It is pretty hard to save for a rainy day on welfare. Who get sacked unfairly and have no redress if they work for a small company? Whose hourly rate went down when the new laws came in? Whose kids are sick or suspended from school so they lose their job?


What sort of country do we wanna be? What sort of future do we wanna create? Do we really wanna be the country that says *some kids* deserve to be looked after and have a happy experience of childhood, and some don’t because their parents aren’t married? Or do we wanna stop this bullshit of dividing society into deserving and less deserving, stop painting welfare as handouts to bludgers and start looking back to ideas of assistance to ensure adequate care and futures of promise? Do we wanna punish single parents or help them to be the best parents we can? Do we wanna play talkback radio/current affairs scaremongering and hatefests or do we wanna say none of that matters, what matters is the sort of country we want to be and we want to hold our heads high and say we look after people, we look after each other? And this? Just the tip of the iceberg.


What sort of country do we wanna be? One where First Australians are ignored, silenced, reduced to a ‘special category’ rather than given self determination and the chance to be actively included in plannning and shaping the future of Australia. One in which Indigenous health and mortality rates are ignored, or treated as an Indigenous problem rather than a national health crisis? Where our response to concerns raised over Indigenous children’s welbeing is met by slapping some more laws down rather than funding more resources? Or one where we say “We have failed, we will do all we can to redress inequality, to improve access to resources, to listen, to raise health standards by extra service provision, to tailor education to specific needs, to offer scholarships, to heed the Indigenous activists, doctors, lawyers, authors who are asking us to listen and act”? One where we say “Wasn’t me” or where we say “I’m sorry”. One where we lock kids up in the desert for years at a time because their parents brought them here looking for a better life? Or one that says “We can do better than this for fellow human beings”? One who says “Well, fuck the rule of law, David Hicks was definately doing something dodgy”, or one where we fight for the protections offered by following due process? One where deaths in custody get swept under the rug, or one where we have as many inquests as it takes until it stops? We need to stop looking at each other and pointing the finger, stop shouting about special interest groups, and lefties and dole bludgers and queue jumpers and ask ourselves, really, really ask ourselves what sort of country do we want to be?

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