Confessions of a Welfare Mother.

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(photo – The Press, Christchurch December 2016)

Confession number one – I accept charity.

You know, I grew up to be a teenager that believed I was the soon-to-be-owner of a multi-story mansion. I’d even designed myself a spiral staircase (marble, naturally…) and a minimalist, artsy decor. Basically, I, Sian Alexia, believed that I was going to be a capitalist success – making lots of cash which = happiness.

{Flash-forward 10 years}

There’s no staircase in my small, Phillipstown rental. There’s no decor, aside from pre-school artwork and alphabet fridge magnets. I am a solo mother, and a student, on welfare.

No degree. No mortgage. No wedding photo’s of me and ‘Mr Right’ waving like royalty. I have failed my teenage imagination.

In this series of posts I intend to pick away, if not openly erode, many of the inbuilt, self-punishing, socially circumcising, stigmas that go alongside being ‘dependent’ and an adult; what I will an ‘un-adult’ for fun. 

Back to my confession …. yes, I accept charity. My beautiful teen fantasy of making mountains of cash – and then setting up a charity to give away all said cash (“The Word Bank”, teaching illiterate children for free, rivaling the World Bank in influence…..sigh) became very twisted indeed. I have accepted parcels from 0800 HUNGRY to feed my 2 kids. I have applied for hardship grants at the university. I have been on the wait list for dental surgery at the Charity Hospital for two years – two painful years. I take hand outs from my parents and some times of the year, my children have holes in their shoes.

It ain’t glamorous. It makes me feel small and ashamed and unworthy.

How did I get here? one might ask. well, I can assure you it was not by choice. First year into my double-degree/double-major change the world mastery in Law, Politics and English, I got sick.

I got sick.

Diagnosed with anorexia-nervosa , I was hospitalized more than once, and quit university one semester in at 19 years old. Years following … I flip flopped between anorexia, bulimia, and severe depression. Sometimes I worked small jobs but those days I hardly remember. It is a black hole in my life that i believe much of my subconscious has fought hard to block out.

But miracles do happen. I got pregnant. And after a post-baby re-diagnosis with anorexia, I got pregnant again. A boy and a girl. My children.

It was all very beautiful and they saved my life – but I was a broken person who never got a chance to ‘want’ recovery – and all of a sudden, so needed …. so responsible for life. 

My partner at the time and the father of my kids was an addict and eventually, the addiction put out our flame. Horrid debt pursued us … addictions (and children) don’t come cheap. So here we are …back to today.

…living alone with my two children, a mental illness that has never really got put to bed, and my almost-finished-arts degree to work on into the wee hours of the morning.

I never chose to get sick.

I never chose to have children.

I would have stayed at uni, as far away from the doctors and nurses and small rooms and tears as possible, got that degree and ran. Positively propping up society. But I could not.

I might not have planned my children but I chose to keep them. and I choose them first every, single day.

Is *this* what a ‘burden to society’ looks like? and if so … can you blame me?

Is there someone to blame here? or are there only circumstances and fluctuations and things that none of us can foresee and SURVIVAL? 

I vote the latter. I used to blame myself – and still do at times – for the mess I have made of my life. I still get a bitter taste in my mouth when I sit in the waiting area at the Work and Income office, waiting to plead my case.

BUT. I know that I have only ever done what I can to bring safety and stability to my life and that of my children. I am not some ugly, money grabbing monster who lounges round in my bath robe all day and lives in luxury on my Sole-Parenting benefit. If you believe that is possible, you really do need to try it out. See how many luxuries you can buy with a benefit of $495.00 and rent of $350.00 ….

I accept charity because I need it now — and one day I wholeheartedly hope that I can be the one helping others; paying forward all the kindness and acceptance small pockets of society have offered me. Show me ONE ‘dole-bludger’ … one stay-at-home parent, one person living on the sickness benefit who doesn’t have a history. Many of them will break your heart. The biggest flaw to modern society is that we have learnt to see statistics before faces – dollar signs before empathy.

Show me ONE ‘dole-bludger’ … one stay-at-home parent, one person living on the sickness benefit who doesn’t have a history. Many of them will break your heart. The biggest flaw to modern society is that we have learnt to see statistics before faces – dollar signs before empathy.

And you know what? I am now more ashamed of my teenage self and her desire for material wealth and good PR than I am of being a charity case. I have learnt far more about life and people and love by living among the fallen than I could ever learn in a court room or a cocktail party. Beautiful people live at the bottom – people deserving of support, time, and compassion. Yes, some of them have addictions that make them dangerous and intractable bitterness resulting from years of insults and failures and abuse … but they are human, and they have a story.

Listen …open your eyes, ears and heart, before you decide.