After a frantic couple of months, permanently, or so it seems attached to my computer. I have another issue to contend with, I now have a teenager, having turned 13 a couple of months ago, they think they know it all & of course you are the worst Mum ever, unless of course you are buying them something!

You patiently or not so patiently after numerous whinges explain that if you don’t work you won’t have anything & anyway that not working isn’t an option.   You even consult them on a job that means leaving them at home for 15 minutes in the morning before they go to school, no they don’t like that idea & even worse they would have to stay at home on their own during the school holidays each morning.  This is the teenager who doesn’t emerge from their bedroom much before 12 noon each day.  That is fine, I have spent that time busy beavering away – earning money.

Every time I have thought about gaining meaningful, regular work with a pay packet each month, that little curse of illness resurfaces. (Thwarted yet again, still freelancing does offer that flexibility, you can mope their brow, provide refreshments & comfort all from your desk, while they lay on the settee being ill.  Hacking coughing is not so easy to deal with, when you are on the telephone trying to conduct calls.  At that point putting them to bed is perhaps preferable, although they tend to be resistant to that).

If you work you are ignoring them, if you don’t they moan because you are broke. The bank of Mum is not always open, heaven forbid you suggest they go to the bank or the post office to withdraw the money they owe you from their latest online shopping foray.

You decide to try to teach them about the real world of work – I have to make up postal packs regularly at the moment.  They agree to help, but only after they have negotiated their hourly rate & extras. The thought of actually having to do it regularly is boring, so after a couple of weeks you give up, stop paying them & go back to doing it all.

During the Easter holidays I actually got her a job doing some colouring  & helping me to write a review – guess what I even promised her all the money.  I never want to see that colouring again – I even bought several sets of pens to use,  she did some but I spent many hours cajoling her to do it & spent most of one weekend doing it.  I stupidly thought she would enjoy it – big mistake – never assume your teenager will enjoy it!

Last weekend at the hairdresser 2 other single Mums were discussing the fact they work & the jobs their children do & my daughter sat aghast, help that is an anathema. Make Mum a drink – why?   She saw a CD she wanted later, I agreed to buy it on condition she clean the patio table.  By Sunday lunchtime, still in bed I asked her what she intended to do for the rest of the day – nothing. Okay – do it yourself, as usual.  The table is clean, by yours truly, the CD has disappeared & she asked where it was & then proceeded to sulk when I told her she could have it when she has started doing some jobs.

When they are younger you urge them to be quiet when you are making phone calls, yet the teenager is perhaps more challenging – nothing is ever right I am regularly told I am breathing too loudly!

Frustrations regularly bubble over, apologies to the neighbours!!  Being a parent is never easy, but then neither is life in general!  Conversations with my parents take the path of you are only getting back what you gave out as a teenager.

I am going to become a recycled teenager!!



It is in a state of shock I write this post, like many others (or maybe not) I woke to a shock on Friday 8th May to find the Conservatives had an overall majority & we were facing another 5 years of austerity. We are a democratic nation, so the majority have spoken , but who are they, certainly not those affected by the first round of austerity, including those who faced stark choices, such as eat or heat, were subject to the ‘bedroom tax’ & the ever increasing reliance on food banks. All we know is that we face another £12 billion of cuts to welfare planned, yet this lack of knowledge did not stop people voting. As a single working parent, on a low income, I am living in fear of what will happen & I know I am not alone. I have friends with mental health issues who are more frightened & it is compounded by the lack of knowledge about how they will be affected & of course their mental health is deteriorating with this additional pressure. Like many single parents, I did not set out to become a single parent & it certainly isn’t a lifestyle choice, to live on a low income. I have spent the last few days thinking about how I can ensure my family is not affected unduly. I am not saying the welfare state does not need reform, what I am saying is that as a member of society & a hard working family I am worried. The easy answer would be to take on more work; this is perhaps not as workable as at first it seems because, with 5 clients & only a set number of hours in the week I need to be realistic about what I can offer & what I can fit in. All my clients have differing telemarketing & administrative needs, which can fluctuate, sometimes on an hourly basis, While most of my clients book regular weekly hours, which I can pre-plan, a couple will contact me asking for additional work often at very short notice. As someone who takes a pride in what I do, I like to provide a professional, reliable service, & try never to say no, even if it means constantly juggling & moving my other work to a slightly later time or day. However, my clients would never know this as my job is to provide a service, at whatever cost. My daughter has become used to me working later than planned to ensure deadlines are met & 8am in the morning is my saviour! I can regularly be found working on admin tasks, at this time before I get on with the rest of my day, while lunch breaks involve enough time to eat something before getting back on with my calls. My other option is to par back on our expenditure, but to be honest I already shop in a no frills supermarket & search out for bargains in other shops, we certainly don’t have a lavish lifestyle, or even a car. So for now every penny will be scrutinised even more carefully than before, while we brace ourselves for the next round of reform.

Anyone ever hear of ‘Key to Success’ another of our government’s great initiatives! Apparently it is government funding but Google (other search engines are available) the only thing I found was a login page, no other information. However, being aware of Pupil Premium I guessed it might be something similar. For those not aware of pupil premium it is a pot of money that is available to children who qualify for free school meals or did within the last 6 years.
The only reason I found out about key to success was the arrival of a letter on my doormat, inviting my daughter to a summer camp at her new secondary school. The inclusion of a stamped addressed envelope also told me a lot to, what does it assume, about the fact an SAE is included – people in receipt of benefits don’t reply. The letter itself left me boiling. The letter stated the aim to give your child extra numeracy & literacy over the summer holiday with an opportunity to learn new skills, build resilience and confidence in dealing with some of life’s ups & downs.
How do we break down these stereotypes? Why assume just because a child gets free school meals or was eligible they need extra help with numeracy & literacy. I know research is out there and talks about various groups under performing, especially those from certain groups, including those who are poor & from certain ethnic groups, but why send it out without checking whether a letter such of this is needed. This letter arrived once SATS were published, why not get the reports from the primary school first & phrase it individually, concentrating on what they really need and also personalising it to the child?
Being me & still not happy (in fact furious) I decided to call the school and spoke to a member of staff , who tried to placate me, by saying it wasn’t just about numeracy & literacy but confidence. Ok, my daughter has had confidence issues in the past, mainly relating to self-esteem, but I have worked with her to improve them & she is certainly not under confident, as proved on her transfer days. She insisted on walking alone to her new school on her transfer days, she also made new friends, making the first move to chat to new people.
My concern is I have ‘marked’ her card by challenging how she was selected for this. Also barriers need to be broken down, just because she lives in a single parent family who once claimed benefits doesn’t mean she is not intelligent or able to cope. In my opinion this reinforces how benefit claimants are perceived. In over 30 years nothing has changed, I still remember my parents seething & returning from parent’s evening having argued with teachers about my abilities. They were told I was incapable of doing O’Levels, but they stood up & guess what I took them & passed them. How history seems to be repeating itself. I feel like I am continually fighting, yes it’s my job as a Mum but these stereotypes need smashing and for this I won’t be a wallflower.

Like many single parents I receive help with my rent, but unlike many people my level of housing benefit fluctuates, because I am self-employed. Some weeks I earn nothing & other weeks a reasonable amount (well enough to live on). As I write this I am approaching the end of the month & have no idea whether the contract I have been working on for the last 3 months will continue into next month. Also one of my longstanding clients (coming up to 2 years), has not let me know how many hours she is looking for this week. I live in hope that these contracts will continue. Sometimes I wonder whether the anxiety & IBS symptoms are worth it, but I tell myself it is!
Back to the latest joyfulness in my life! As my rental agreement was due for renewal I signed it & took it to my local borough council, just the same as I have every year. Although not asked to I decided to take my original account books with me, mainly because I thought that perhaps I was being overpaid as I have been working more hours recently. Despite the fact they had copies up to August 2013; the clerk took a copy of the whole year. Job done (or so I thought)!
A week later I receive a letter signed ‘Assessment Officer’ stating the accounts were non-scannable, one I have never encountered before and a form. I read the form and quickly realised that a page was missing, not a lot I can do on a Saturday, except fume! Monday morning came I phone them up to request the remaining paperwork, only to discover it is not a one page document but three pages.
Having received the form I duly completed it and as stated supplied a full copy of my monthly income/ expenses/ net profit, as well as a 3 line account (which is acceptable to HMRC). I took myself to the council offices with my form, only to be told that I needed to fill in the form with my expenses, despite the form stating that a copy of my accounts was acceptable. I was told that the Benefits Team expect each box to be completed on the form otherwise they don’t like it! What a waste of ink! You’ve already got it, not good enough. To put it mildly I was annoyed as I had to take the form home & categorise my expenses to fit their boxes.
This particular benefits clerk deserves the jobsworth title & seems to get off on a power trip. This is not the first time I have encountered this from her. She previously asked me why I was living in the UK when I jointly owned a house with my ex-husband in another country. My response “I don’t want to & my daughter is settled at school here”.
Not only is this form out of date, as it asks for a Schedule D form. To those of you who are self-employed you may have heard of these but I hadn’t, apparently this is the old self-assessment process.
Why didn’t I complain, I hear you scream, perhaps because for one of the only times I am frightened that if I don’t comply my claim will be held up and I may get into arrears. Unfortunately fear and intimidation enables people like this to continue their behaviour. There seems to be an assumption that it is okay to be rude to their ‘customers’. Although I am usually articulate I find it hard to stand up to people like this, I didn’t ask to need help with my living expenses, I am always polite and I am doing my best!

To those of you who may wonder the outcome I have received a letter stating that my housing benefit has been increased slightly. However, I am sure that I am being overpaid again & dreading my next trip to the office to deal with the officious benefits team. In fact I am putting it off to the end of the month.

Hurrah – I survived! In January the first time for a couple of year I started January with only 10 hours of confirmed work, which is not a position I like being in.  Usually I come back to a large project but not this time.  I know January takes time to start, most people hate the first 2 weeks but gradually people wake up and work starts trickling in. not only have I managed to pick up work (and plenty of it) but I managed to complete my own self-imposed deadline of the 30th to complete the projects for my clients.

Emotionally it was a tough month, especially for my daughter and the realisation that contact with her Father was not helping her & upsetting her.  I took the decision she was unable to make alone and told him not to contact her until he is prepared to listen to her.  He has let her down continually over the years, promising to visit and telling her, but then not turning up.  On many occasions I have mopped her tears from yet another day of longing & disappointment!  The relief in our home is palpable and the atmosphere feels lighter & happier.  Not only have I tried to deal with my daughter’s emotions but also tried to hide my anger towards him as no child deserves to be treated badly.

Although at the moment this feels a relief I wonder how long it will be before my daughter wants contact again, something that if she does want I will facilitate, although I fear the outcome may not be a successful one!

Still onwards & upwards February bought a full diary and so has March.  Far from just planning in my head I have taken to scheduling my hours on my calendar!

At one point I decided to look at re-entering nursing, my chosen career for 17 years, after a break of more than 3 years you need to undertake a return to practice course to re-register.  Something I agree with, as change happens rapidly in the field of nursing & medicine.  However, when I looked into it I discovered that unlike the old days when it was free to go on & students were paid when they worked, that is far from true now.

Not only do you have to pay £640 (when you enrol) to take the course, you also need to do a minimum 75 hours of practice, all unpaid.  I approached the job centre to ask them about how I could fund this.  Surprise, surprise there is no government funding available, you cannot claim income support during this time as you are not eligible, neither can you claim job seekers as you are not actively seeking employment.

The course runs from 0930 – 3.30 at our local university, in another town, another problem, it doesn’t fit with school hours, so how are you supposed to pick up your children, from another town, pay bus fares (2 buses each way) pay the child care costs & your bills & survive?  Guess what, unless you have somebody to support you & pay your bills yet another door is closed to single parents!  I for one cannot survive without earning any money or a further reduction in my income for the 12 weeks it would take me to qualify & I am sure I am not alone.

Taking it as it comes

Taking it as it comes

Last time I talked about learning not to panic and taking the time to enjoy the quiet time.  Umm! Definitely easier said than done.  The other week I thought it was all downhill to Christmas.   Seven weeks before and no work, okay I won’t worry I’ll enjoy the time and try to get organised for the festive season.

Monday I quite enjoyed, time to actually do something fun like go to the library, read during the day,  shopping, even better window shopping, costs nothing and doesn’t cause any guilt! My penchant for handbags is well known in close circles and I am notorious at finding a bargain in colours that fail to match anything else I own.   Tuesday was taken up by browsing online, looking at presents, dreaming & ordering small bits for my daughter, but realistically that soon floundered, there is only so much browsing online to be done & more and more time seemed to be spent looking at jobs on various websites.  Wednesday & Thursday just drifted by in a haze, of more internet browsing and job searching.  Panic was definitely setting in, with the usual thoughts of what if I don’t get any more work this year, it is too early to stop and I need to earn some more money to see me through that quiet period from mid-December to mid-January, pay the bills and feed us.  Yet again the worry proved unnecessary and what a difference a day makes the phone starts ringing two of my clients want some work, the clock is ticking, the pennies are rolling and life is on the up again.

Now I am in the position of hopefully taking on another client starting next week and I hope this will give me ongoing regular weekly hours, to fit alongside my other clients.  The presents lay unwrapped and hidden, the Christmas cards aren’t written & this week there are loads of events at school, my daughter’s smile at Christingle this morning when she saw me, more than made up for all the worries of the last few weeks.  Although, she will probably tell me I am the most embarrassing Mum for trying to take a photo of her holding her Christingle and the camera not working, due to the low light levels, I’ve had the camera for seven years and still don’t know how to use it properly! The joys of being a parent!