Solo Mums in South West Sydney
27 Mar 2017
In 2016, after living and serving in South East Asia for more than 10 years, a Pioneers family have settled themselves in South West Sydney. You might think they have hung up their missionary hats, but in fact they are still full time Pioneers workers, now reaching out to their neighbours from many lands. Here is what super Sydney missionary mum Melinda* has been learning so far …
“You know, there are so many single mums around here”.
I was sitting in a classroom, talking to a community worker, in one of many conversations I’ve been having over the last few months, trying to figure out what the needs are around me in this part of South West Sydney. As she expressed her observation, my thoughts turned to the various refugee women I have been meeting with regularly, and I realised that they were not the exception, they were increasingly the norm.
As my widowed Afghan friend prepared tea in the kitchen on one of my early visits, someone whispered to me in hushed tones that her absent husband had actually been killed by a bomb in a market in Pakistan. One of her four children has a developmental delay, and at 9 years old does not really speak.
Another woman in that family raises her two young daughters while her husband remains a refugee in Iran, with no prospect of ever being reunited. Her 6-year old will have spinal surgery in a few weeks.
My new Pakistani friend raises her 4 year old alone, after her abusive husband walked out within weeks of her birth. She has even considered another arranged marriage just so she can survive financially.
Many refugees, for a variety of reasons, do not live here as a complete family unit. Every time my husband goes away for a work trip, it doesn’t take long for me to remember how exhausting solo parenting is, and I immediately sit in awe of those mothers who do it every day. I have always been inspired by the resilience of refugees, and the more I get to know them it continues to reappear in different forms, and when I watch these women raise their children alone, resilience once again comes to mind.
In many of the shame-based cultures that these refugees come from, however, there is an added stigma to being a single mother, and many avoid others from their community for that reason. Yet like most women, they crave friendship – another woman to chat to, go shopping with, swap parenting ideas with, laugh, and sometimes pray for them. Sometimes we can help them in more practical ways too. With Centrelink rules always changing, many are under pressure to return to work, so as a friend I can help them practise English, write a resume, or use my car for driving practice. In return I am frequently blessed by their generosity. Whatever they do have – their smiles, their tea, their time – they offer with abandon.
We cannot heal the broken relationships that these women experience. But through friendship we hope to be that bridge to introduce them to the one who can.
Pray for Melinda and her family as they continue to develop these bridge-building friendships. Do you have neighbours who were born overseas like Melinda, and are there ways you can offer them friendship?
*name changed for privacy