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Not the Whole Story

Challenging the Single Mother Narrative

Edited by Lea Caragata

Publication Year: 2014

Not the Whole Story is a compilation of seventeen stories narrated by single mothers in their own way and about their own lives. Each story is unique, but the same issues appear again and again. Abuse, parenting as single mothers, challenges in the labour market, mental health and addictions issues, a scarcity of quality childcare, immigration and status vulnerability, struggles with custody, and poverty—these factors, combined with a lack of support, contribute to their continued struggles.

The themes that recur across stories illustrate that the issues the women face are not just about individual struggle; they demonstrate that major issues in Canada’s social system have been neglected in public policy. In order for these issues to be addressed we need to challenge the flawed public policies and the negative discourse that continue to marginalize single mothers—in terms of the opportunities in their own lives and in terms of how they are understood by other Canadians.

The first-person narratives of the struggles and issues faced by low-income single mothers provide narrative richness and are augmented by introductory and concluding chapters that draw the narrative themes together and offer overarching discussion and analysis.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Series: Life Writing

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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Lea Caragata

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pp. 1-18

This volume contains 16 stories that we hope will cause readers to think about and critically examine the ways in which single mothers have been positioned in our society. The life stories told here are narrated by single mothers themselves—they are their own stories, told their own way, about their own lives. Each of us has multiple life stories; as we talk about our lives and ourselves, the story told depends on our own moods and contexts....

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On the Process of Creating This Book and on the Stories That Needed Telling


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pp. 19-22

Lone mothers who are poor are all too often stereotyped into categories that only put them down. Women are often blamed for circumstances that could not be helped. Many of the problems that are described here are systemic, and the oppression that women and lone mothers feel is entrenched in patriarchy....

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The Individual Stories

The lone-mother narrators of this volume originally planned to use their real names. They were proud of the obstacles they had overcome and wished to “own” their own life stories. After extensive discussion in the group, the women somewhat reluctantly agreed to use pseudonyms—and to have the names of people in the stories changed as well. Many of the women agreed to this only to protect their children....

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Sara’s Story

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pp. 25-30

I’m a single mom. I’ve been a single mom for 35 years.
I come from a little town on the island of Newfoundland. I grew up in a very small house with my mom, dad, and 16 siblings. I am the fourth oldest child. They were very hard times. We had a tiny house that had tiny bedrooms and was never very warm. My father was away most of the time and we kids had to do what we could. We cut, dried, and stored the wood for the wood...

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Martha’s Story

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pp. 31-38

My mom was a stay-at-home mom, and I really, really liked that she was there for me at lunchtime and after school. I thought my family was pretty big—three brothers and myself. My dad was always around. He was very important in my life. I made it clear to my husband that I wanted to have the option to stay home with my children when I became a mother. It didn’t make sense that I would put my kids in daycare while I worked. I believed that my kids should...

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Mary’s Story

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pp. 39-45

My name is Mary, and I’m 39 years old.
My mother abandoned my dad with three kids. I was the youngest of the three. My dad worked full-time as a construction worker and eventually ran his own business. My brother, sister, and I spent a lot of time in daycares and with babysitters. What I remember of growing up with my dad is waking up early at 5:30 a.m. I would make his coffee while my dad bathed and got ready for...

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Anne’s Story

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pp. 46-53

I was born in Toronto, in the west end. I have a fraternal twin sister and another sister who is two and a half years older. My parents divorced when I was five. My mother, who was a single mother, raised us until grade 10, when we were 15. When my twin and I started acting out in school, skipping out and getting in with the wrong crowd, my mother and father decided that it would be best if we moved in with him. We moved to High Park for Grade 11 to live with...

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Madison’s Story

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pp. 54-65

I was born and raised in Toronto. My parents are in a different house now, just down the street from where we used to live, which is funny. They are both from Italy. My dad came here first to work. Later, he knew somebody who knew my mom, so he went back to Italy and proposed to her and they both returned to Canada. So there are five of us in the family—me and my four brothers. I have ...

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Stacey’s Story

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pp. 66-75

My name is Stacey, and I am 49 years old. I am the youngest daughter in a family of six. I was born in Toronto and am second-generation Canadian. My grandparents were from Barbados and Saint Kitts....

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Robin’s Story

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pp. 76-84

I was born in Toronto in the late 1960s, during the month of February. My mother is Algonquin First Nations/Irish, my father is Scottish. I have a sister who is 16 months older.
My parents were kind and loving toward my sister and me as best they knew how, resulting in a lot of love and a lot of neglect. My parents had volatile tempers toward each other, they simply could not get along, and both had issues with alcohol. There was a lot of fighting and yelling between them, so...

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Emily’s Story

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pp. 85-90

Until I was seven I was under the care of my grandmother and grandfather in a small village in Eastern Europe. Even though my grandmother was 61 and had a serious heart condition, she began taking care of me after my mom divorced my father. I was only one and a half years old and that she took care of me is a very special part of my life. She really saved my life. I know just how important she was because much later in my life, when my mother was angry,...

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Catrina’s Story

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pp. 91-101

I was born in Central America and I came to Canada on my own in my late teens. Before I was born, my mom had a good job where she worked as a representative for different companies. She worked at promoting the companies, which meant things like going to parties and events to talk about the company. She had two children, my half-sister and half-brother, with her first husband. He owned a company but he didn’t have a good relationship with the employees,...

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Lucy’s Story

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pp. 102-111

I am single parent, not really by choice, but I had to leave a violent husband. It was the hardest thing for me to do, because I come from another culture. Coming from Africa, we are taught that you are supposed to stay with your husband. It doesn’t matter what happened. Your family is supposed to be this—a mom, a dad, and children. So when I came to Canada, I was really surprised to see how many people had what I called, in those days, broken homes. But then it happened to me, and the biggest difference between the country where...

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Christina’s Story

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pp. 112-120

My name is Christina, and I was born in Portugal in 1967. I came to Canada in 1974. I’m an only child. My parents are very traditional Portuguese, bluecollar, uneducated people who work very hard. Within a year of coming to this country they bought their own house. This was the mid-1970s and they had a lot to work through—a language barrier, a social barrier, and leaving all their family behind. I only had one aunt, one uncle, and a couple of cousins here....

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Susan’s Story

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pp. 121-129

I was born in the UK. I am the second oldest of eight children. I came to Canada in the early 1980s as a runaway. The thing that has made my life extremely difficult is that for as long as I can remember my mother was never around for us. My stepfather sexually abused my siblings and me when we were growing up. He made my siblings do a lot of unspeakable things together. The abuse I suffered as a child has really fucked up my head. I am so not happy about it and hope that he is forever burning in hell....

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Miriam’s Story

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pp. 130-138

I was born in Africa, and we had a really poor family—really, really poor, with six sisters and my mom and dad. I don’t know what happened with them but they fought, and my dad managed to keep two of us, and my mom ran with the rest....

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Victoria’s Story

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pp. 139-151

I was born in Central America, and I lived there with my birth mom until I was five. I later learned from my adoptive parents that I may be half American, so I think maybe my father was American. My brother is two years younger than me, and he also lived with my mom at that time. I don’t remember much about living with our mom, but I remember her long hair. I don’t remember her personality, just that she was a kind lady. When I was five, government soldiers...

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Izabela’s Story

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pp. 152-164

I was born in Eastern Europe and I was the only child. I had the most amazing grandparents, and from probably six months or so I grew up at my grandmother’s. This was a big blessing, because my mother had some health issues. I was able to get to see farm life and I absolutely got to see nature and to love animals—back home that was the norm. Whoever went to daycare was not considered lucky. People thought I was lucky that I had grandparents and...

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Jenna’s Story

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pp. 165-168

My name is Jenna, and I am from the Philippines. I have nine brothers and sisters and I am the eldest. My parents are very loving parents. My father is a farmer, and they also do buy and sell. He grows rice, corn, and vegetables. Being the eldest you get all the attention at first, but then you have to be independent and do your best. I have happy memories of my childhood. Our family is very united—we have 100 on my grandmother’s side. When my grandmother died, they said we were 100 grandchildren. We were a happy family; we...

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Making Meaning

Lea Caragata and Judit Alcalde

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pp. 169-210

This following section of the book is a departure in style and form from Part I. We felt it important to let the stories of Part I speak for themselves and to not engage in any direct analysis of the very personal narratives of our co-authors, the women who have chosen to tell their stories. Yet their motive, and ours as the volume’s editors, is to bring to light some of the broader structural issues, to tell “the whole story” that explains so much of ...

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Lea Caragata

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pp. 211-214

Lucy starts her story by telling us that she is a single mom not by choice but because she had to leave an abusive relationship. This notion of choice is a fundamental idea in capitalist western democracies. Lucy must declaim that she had no choice because the common presumption is that people, single mothers, have made sets of choices, freely undertaken, that have created their present circumstance. If this book seeks to refute just one element...


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pp. 215-219

Series Page

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pp. 220-222

E-ISBN-13: 9781554586363
E-ISBN-10: 1554586364
Print-ISBN-13: 9781554586240
Print-ISBN-10: 1554586240

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Life Writing