The single mothers advocate

Image: Terese Edwards and her son on
Interview with Terese Edwards National Council of Single Mothers and their Children.

“I deal with women who are hiding; they are fleeing, child support is paid partially, sporadic or not at all. There’s little money for education so there is just that sense of being stuck.” Terese Edwards.

Single mums are fortunate to have someone as dedicated as Terese Edwards in their corner. She’s CEO of the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children, founded in the 1970’s primarily so women could keep their children out-of-wedlock.

Back then, a news article likened the council to “the moral decay of Melbourne.” The founding women had all been discriminated against because they were single women or had been forced to adopt their children out.

Modern solo mother’s aren’t always the savvy, empowered types we are often exposed to on our screens and in print. There are countless women who are struggling with financial hardship, child support issues and domestic violence.

The accomplished, single mum you’re about to meet gave up a well paid job to “fight the good fight” on their behalf.

Martine Harte: Terese, it seems everyday women’s stories aren’t often prominent in the national discourse unless the women are branded wicked or saints. Why do you think it’s so important that ordinary women with their normal struggles gain prominence?

Terese Edwards: When there’s ignorance there can be false assumptions that can be damaging. So the more the mainstream community is informed, the more it is aware, the more correct the knowledge –rather than erroneous knowledge – everyone is better off. From the child who is living in a single-parent family; to the parent, to the extended family, to the community. Knowledge is powerful and truth is powerful.

MH: What about the rise of social media, has it become a platform for single women to mobilise? Because they’re talking online and legislators are taking notice? The PM invited mummy bloggers to the Lodge. Have you noticed change?

TE: Not to that extent. Look, I understand the mummy bloggers but I still find Martine, such a gap. A huge gap between the empowered, socially confident mum to the one who is on the bones of her…in a really tough place. I still think there is a gap of understanding and I often try to fill that gap. So at the National Women’s Day event there were women from all walks of life – speaking about the huge inroads that have been made – and I’m one of those women.

I’m highly educated and there was no financial difficulty when I separated from my son’s father. I had the resources and the knowledge to be informed and to navigate through that system but that’s not the women I deal with. I deal with women who are hiding; they are fleeing, child support is paid partially, sporadic or not at all. There’s little money for education so there is just that sense of being stuck. I still find some of the articulate, prominent feminists haven’t really gotten behind this cause as much as the welfare lobby and there’s space to do that.

MH: A lot of the engaging women I speak with have one story that stands out for them as a game changer. It usually motivated them to make a difference in the world. Do you have one of those?

TE: I do, I do. I went into the Adelaide Family Court and I was on a community reference committee. I was in the lift about to go up and I gently bumped into a woman. I turned around and apologised and upon apologising – there was this look on her face and she fell screaming to the floor and sobbed uncontrollably. So I took her out of the lift. I had no support from security or anyone else in the court, and she was incoherent in her capacity to tell me her name so I stayed with her a little while. As she regained control she told me she had just lost custody of her two young children that were pre-primary school age and they were going to be primarily in the care of her ex-husband. He had abused them and the abuse had been identified by the state family child protection system but because it was heard in the federal jurisdiction that information was not before the judge.

This was pre the review of family law; this was when it sat under the shared parenting act. It has since been picked up. Just sitting there with this mum who had gone through that process; there was no counselling, no support, she was just led out of the room and told to go home. She watched her kids be taken away and put in the hands of a man who spent a long time abusing her and had moved on to her children. In the blink of an eye your life can change and your capacity to protect your children, probably the most driving force within all of us, was completely squashed.

MH: It just seems that vulnerable women are often falling through the gaps?

TE: Absolutely. What happens is women often don’t talk about violence because they think it will put them in a bad light. They will often go in and mediate against the man who had subjected them to the humiliation and violence but they would go through it because they thought that would be a better outcome than naming it for what it is. And I think that is very sad. Seeing our system fail this mum and her two little ones certainly spurred me on.

MH: So what do solo mums need from the rest of us?

TE: I think respect, and understanding that they’re doing double the work with only one set of hands. Often they don’t have access to extended family networks. Understanding that money is often tight and will always be tight because if you’re lucky enough to have that job that can work in with parenting time; it is limited. They don’t have that extra income from the other partner to help out. A willingness to get on side with us. This is a really sad and a sobering thought but in the blink of an eye any of us could be a single mum. Get outraged when women’s benefits are cut. Get outraged when the court system isn’t putting safety first. That’s what I would ask for.

Editors note: If you find yourself in a difficult personal situation don’t hesitate to contact the NCSMC on the link below.