From almost being homeless to sending her kids to varsity: Woman opens up about her hardships as a single mom

Elaine Wolfe (Photos: Supplied)
Elaine Wolfe (Photos: Supplied)

A mom would do anything for her children.

That is exactly what Elaine Wolfe (51) did when she single-handedly raised her children Kyle (24) and Nadine (22), while working a full-time job and studying part-time.

Now that her children recently graduated from university, she gets candid about what being a single mother throughout the years has taught her.

This is Elaine’s story:

“Last week both my adult children graduated, albeit in a virtual ceremony thanks to the Covid-19 national lockdown. My daughter is now the proud holder of a BA degree and my son a master’s degree in philosophy.

“Congratulations, what an achievement for a single parent!” I’ve heard several times during the course of their years at university, followed quickly by, “How did you do it?”

I would usually smile and nod a modest thank you amid all the compliments, but in quiet moments it often had me thinking, “Ok, so how did I do it?”, and during the 21-day lockdown, I decided to put pen to paper, dig deeper and ask myself, “What was it about what I did that nudged both offspring towards pursuing academic goals?” 

Well, multiple snacks and several movies later, I managed to come up with a number of insights that may be of help to other single parents, especially with regard to walking the tightrope of education with their charges.

First and foremost, and what I think played a mammoth part (probably coupled with the fact that me and their dad are both keen writers), is that I’m a voracious book lover. Since picking up my first book at age five, I haven’t stopped reading. 

So it followed naturally that my children’s first outing as soon as they could walk, was to the local library. Reading to them since babyhood was my greatest pleasure, and later, when they could do it themselves, became theirs.

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This paved the way to making the act of acquiring knowledge at school and beyond, more of an adventure than a cumbersome and dreaded necessity.

Secondly, as the product of a less than idyllic childhood, predisposing me to childhood and later teen depression, I entered the sacred ground of parenthood painfully aware of the grave importance of a child’s fragile psyche. 

I was extra cautious, making a conscious decision to never, ever, under any circumstances, use words like stupid, dumb, nonsense, or the like, when addressing any child – especially my own. Hence I parented with this constantly in mind, being careful to heap only praise and positive attention on the souls entrusted to my care. 

I promised myself that even if I failed at everything else in life, parenting was going to be the one thing I did right. I was passionate about nurturing their talents, and became a tireless cheerleader at whatever activities and interests they pursued and went wherever it took us. 

I was the parent who cheered on the sidelines on a foggy Saturday morning during my son’s high school hockey or rugby matches, and walked and took buses and taxis even when chronic asthma threatened to keep me housebound.

And when the kids saw me push through even when I wasn’t feeling well, it taught them perseverance and resilience, to keep going even when circumstances were conspiring against you.

In the meantime I was also careful to keep a strict eye on my own mental health, so that I would not get to a point where I allowed myself to shout or become ill-tempered.

Fairly easy as I’m a mild-mannered individual.

But when things threatened to overwhelm me – caring single-handedly for two small children while working full-time, studying part-time, running a household and being a Sunday school teacher – my remedy was to pop a dance video into the VCR.

And much to the delight of the children, we’d dance wildly until we fell down in a heap of tired laughter on the carpet.

Of course being far from perfect as all parents are, I made mistakes.  Looking back I was guilty of putting myself consistently last in many ways. Outside of parenting-related activities, I had no social life and didn’t date – at first by accident and then by choice. 

I’m an introvert by nature, but there were more than a few Friday nights when I longed to break free.

On those nights, while my kids, my niece and the neighbourhood kids turned my lounge into something resembling the kiddies corner, I stood on the balcony, watching other adults drive by and wondering where they were going to and wishing I could join them just once.

 (Photo: Supplied)
Nadine and Kyle when they were younger (Photo: Supplied)

Me-time was when I fell asleep just before midnight, exhausted. 

I was fiercely independent, and my entire existence was about making sure that my children never felt neglected, unloved or second-best, and I threw myself wholeheartedly into their school activities and extra-murals. 

I was a mother to the exclusion of all else. Although I have no regrets, I wouldn’t recommend this option, especially if you value your sanity and your sense of self. 

I was blessed with a support system that was always on standby. The entire extended family, my mom and dad, my sister and her kid, me and my kids all bundled into my dad’s battered Cortina to watch my daughter in concerts and talent shows.

I must add that life wasn’t always kind to us.

I endured a bout of unemployment and we faced hard times, finding ourselves on the verge of homelessness at one point.  But one of my non-negotiable rules was that we’d stick together as a unit, no matter what.

Even if we had to live on the street or get by on bread and water, we’d do it together. I was adamant that there’d be no shipping off of my son to grandparents or my daughter to aunty so-and-so.  If we struggled, we struggled together.

That rule only made us stronger, and built character in my children, so that they have become compassionate individuals, always ready to help others in difficulty.

Dear single parent, please don’t take to heart what society or those ill-fated studies the experts are always quoting have to say.

They doom our children to a dreary future because they come from a so-called broken home. I taught my children that they should hold their heads high because the three of us are a family. Nothing broken about us.  

Finally, I cannot take all the credit for helping to shape two amazing lives. Thanks to my support system and my Heavenly Father, we made it thus far. 

A large part of my journey is over, but theirs is just beginning.  Was it worth it? Definitely! Every up and every down was worth it. I pray they’ll remember all the lessons we learnt together.”

 (Photo: Supplied)
Nadine and Kyle recently graduated from university (Photo: Supplied)

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