'Just him and me against the world': Single parenting during a pandemic
7 single parents in Alberta share their challenges, fears and coping strategies
Single parents have always shouldered extra responsibilities, but the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated challenges for this growing segment of the Alberta population.
According to census data from Statistics Canada, Alberta is home to more than 186,000 lone-parent families.
Though some share custody or have the help of a live-in partner, others have navigated the pandemic almost entirely on their own, balancing work, school and child care.
The pandemic has increased the weight of those responsibilities, according to Layna Haley, who runs support groups for single mothers online through the St. Albert-based Kaleo Collective. Her organization has seen a surge in single mothers seeking supports, she said.
Seven parents in the COVID-19 hotspots of Edmonton and Calgary shared their struggles — and successes — with CBC just days before the province enacted new restrictions.
Here are their stories.
Tania Gonzalez-Hope, Edmonton
Tania Gonzalez-Hope has a 12-year-old son who lives full-time with her in Edmonton.
Both she and her son have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which has posed challenges for the family.
Gonzalez-Hope said she worries most about how social isolation is affecting her son's development.
"It's just him and me against the world, and that's been really hard," she said.
Like many parents, Gonzalez-Hope struggled to juggle working from home in the beginning of the pandemic with her son's school work.
She has since lost her job, so finances have joined the list of things she worries about.
Rebecca Firlotte, Edmonton
Rebecca Firlotte said she moved into another apartment with her infant daughter in March after fleeing a domestic violence situation.
She spent much of the year caring for her daughter, but got a job at a small cafe in September, once her daughter was in daycare. Within just two weeks, she said she was let go because the cafe was not earning enough money during the pandemic.
She applied for and received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), but the payment took about six weeks to arrive and as a result, she was late in paying rent.
She and her landlord eventually worked out a payment plan, but Firlotte said a rent deferral program would have made her life a lot easier.
One of the supports she has relied on is online therapy through Telus Health's Babylon app.
"That really helped my mental health," she said.
Roshni McCartney, Calgary
One of Roshni McCartney's biggest challenges has been balancing her children's schoolwork with her own. The full-time Mount Royal University student shares custody of her seven-year-old son and five-year-old daughter.
For a while, she and her son worked side-by-side at a large desk in her bedroom.
"But that didn't work because he'd be talking to his teacher and I'd be trying to listen to my classes over my headphones and it would be super distracting for both of us," she said.
She has since restructured her school schedule so she can spend more time helping her son.
Since McCartney lost her job with the Jubilee Auditoria Society because of the pandemic, she qualified for CERB. She has also been relying on student loans and bursaries to stay afloat financially.
"I don't particularly want to think about how much I owe the government right now, but it's a lot of money," she said.
Sean Roberts, Edmonton
In a word, Sean Roberts's family life is complicated.
The divorced dad has two children and his partner has two of her own.
Both adults decided to move in together to support each other during the pandemic. Each adult has co-parenting arrangements, so their children, who range in ages from six to 13, move between three different households.
With the kids in different schools and sports programs, COVID-19 scares have been common, but luckily, no one in the family has contracted the virus.
Roberts said communicating about everything — from new restrictions to Christmas holiday plans — has been crucial.
"We've had to constantly adapt and change what we've been doing and how we've been operating," he said.
Luckily, he and his partner have stable employment, so they do not have to worry about finances.
Erin Rayner, Edmonton
Erin Rayner is one of a growing number of women who are single mothers by choice.
She has a lot on her plate, and not just because she cares for her two-year-old son solo. She has a full-time job for a construction company and owns a small marketing and event-planning firm.
Rayner, who has asthma, made contingency plans for her son in case she was hospitalized due to COVID-19.
Though she and her son did end up getting the virus earlier this month, she was able to care for him at home.
She said the pandemic has been hard in ways she could have never imagined, but she is grateful for her son's company, her financial security and the many people who were quick to offer help. When she was recovering from COVID-19, people showed up to shovel her walk and drop off food and drinks outside her door.
Quarantine life hasn't been so bad for her son, after all, as he has enjoyed extra screen time, candy and silly games with his mom.
"I'm pretty sure he is the happiest little boy, now that he's not sick," Rayner said.
Robynn Strikwerda, Edmonton
Robynn Strikwerda has a daughter and son in junior high. Their father lives in another part of the province, so she lives with them full-time.
As a program manager for the George Spady Society, she sees first-hand how the pandemic is affecting people in Edmonton's inner city. Though she always takes precautions and follows protocols, the realities of her job mean she is in contact with people outside her household, increasing the risk of getting the virus.
Every day she worries what might happen if someone in her family tests positive for COVID-19.
For her kids, the pandemic has meant embracing independence earlier. While their mom was out working, they took turns using her laptop before receiving school-issued Chromebooks.
Single parents are resilient, Strikwerda said, but as a counsellor, she recognizes everyone has bad days and outpourings of emotion.
"Tears are important and healthy," she said. She has made family check-ins a priority during the pandemic.
"That's been helpful for me, not just them, because then I don't have to hold it in and pretend it's always OK," she said.
Desiree Armstrong, Edmonton
Desiree Armstrong lives with her mother, seven-year-old son and five-year-old daughter.
She said mental health is the family's biggest concern.
Unable to work due to PTSD, she receives income support from the provincial government, but stretching the funds to cover groceries and bills is always hard, she said.
The pandemic has exacerbated her anxiety, she said, and made parenting decisions more difficult.
Recently she decided to pull her kids out of in-classroom learning, to reduce the risk of their getting COVID-19, but that decision means her kids are no longer getting the social interaction they crave. She said they miss their friends and cousins.
Armstrong said she cannot wait for the current year to end — and the new one, with promises of vaccines, to begin.
"Being positive is all we can do right now," she said.
"It's not easy, but we're pushing through."