Episode 3 – Carolyn

Last updated: 31/05/2022

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Our third episode features single mum Carolyn from Edinburgh telling us her story. Hear her talk about how balancing her health condition with caring for her son has impacted on her availability for work and thoughts on the cost-of-living crisis and what changes she would like to see made.

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Podcast transcript

Philippa Kemp, OPFS 0:00
Hello, and welcome to episode three of the OPFS podcast. In today’s episode, I’ll be talking to single parent Carolyn Samson about caring for her four-year-old son, who has additional support needs. Would you like to start by introducing yourself, Carolyn?

Carolyn 0:17
Sure. My name is Carolyn, I am a lone parent to a little boy, Robbie, who is four and a half years old. Robbie is likely to be high functioning autism. And he also has sensory processing disorder, which adds another layer to, to parenting. We live in Edinburgh, and we have a very large dog, Chico, who keeps us fit and healthy.

Philippa Kemp, OPFS 0:43
Lovely. And can you tell me a little bit about how you came into contact with One Parent Families Scotland?

Carolyn 0:49
Yeah, I’m actually part of the Lothian Single Parents Facebook group, and just through a discussion, it was highlighted on there that that One Parent Families Scotland is a really good kind of resource for single parents. So I went on the website and had wee look around. Through further discussion with a friend who worked previously for One Parent Families Scotland, she was able to advise me that I may be able to get some help getting a laptop because my laptop had broken and I was trying to do Zoom meetings and MS Teams meetings through my phone, which if anybody’s ever tried to do that, is really not a fun experience, you end up you can’t actually kind of see anybody and it was really difficult. I was doing kind of interact parenting classes. And just being able to see myself on screen was really quite distressing! So, it was, it was wonderful to be able to get the help to get a laptop and to be able to connect again. And I think on that note, as well, one of the advantages that COVID has has brought is that, especially for single parents, or lone parents, where it may be difficult to physically get somewhere just with time constraints, you can now join meetings online. So quite often, you know, they’re they’re both meeting in person, and they’ve got an online system going on as well, which is great, and I feel has actually helped me become more inclusive in quite a lot of things.

Philippa Kemp, OPFS 2:24
That’s really good news. I’m glad that that’s been a help to you.

Carolyn 2:29
What’s the catch? What am I due you? When’s, when’s the man coming to the door to ask for it back? But no, it’s been amazing. So, yeah.

Philippa Kemp, OPFS 2:40
So you’re saying it’s enabled you to join parenting support groups? And what else? Is there anything else that you’ve used your laptop for? Or you think you might be using your laptop for?

Carolyn 2:51
Yeah, I mean, I did apply for a job recently. And just again, I’ve I’ve become, I suppose quite isolated during COVID. And also with the additional needs that Robbie has. Again, I’m quite drained a lot of the time. And actually, I have fibromyalgia myself. So I’ve got to be a bit careful with my energy levels. But no, I did. I did apply for a role, which was going to be eight hours a week, but it ended up she she wanted me to do kind of two hours a day, over five days. And I was like, that’s not really going to work for me so…

Philippa Kemp, OPFS 3:29
So employment is an issue for you at the moment, then and you’re saying that that’s partly because of needing to attend to your son, buy also it’s because of your own health condition.

Carolyn 3:42
I mean, I prior to having Robbie, I’d always worked full time. So I managed my health condition. One of the biggest triggers for fibromyalgia, which is a muscular skeletal condition, is stress. And when you have a child who is not in control of their own emotions or actions a lot of the time, obviously, the stress factors are quite large. His sense of.. his danger perception, for example, is non existent. So because he can do something he thinks it’s okay to do, like cut up a cucumber with a carving knife. So again, you’re you’re just kind of, you’ve got to have eyes on him at all times, which which is stressful. And I think having applied for this job, I would need to look at something that reflects the term time because just with Robbie’s additional needs, child care would be a big issue. I had spoken to somebody that runs the After School Club, and they were like because he is going to need almost one on one supervision, it’s unlikely we will be able to offer him any sort of place. So that was a bit of a reality check for me!

Philippa Kemp, OPFS 5:01
So, is he in childcare at the moment then, Carolyn?

Carolyn 5:04
He’s at full time nursery. So he gets the 1140 hours. He’s absent. It’s a private nursery that offers funded hours. And he’s been going there since he was two and a half. So he was on the eligible twos programme, and then the eligible threes, and then obviously, they now get all the childcare for preschool.

Philippa Kemp, OPFS 5:31
Right, ok. That must a a big help for you in terms of, you know, managing your own health condition. And I suppose giving yourself a break as a single parent.

Carolyn 5:42
Yep, that’s been absolutely massive. I think what it has allowed me to do is to focus on getting the extra support in place. It was hugely challenging through COVID, because we didn’t have a lot of the support available. So the ASL team, the occupational therapy team, nothing was happening. So there was no visits, there was no assessments, the child paediatrician. Again, so everything has backlogged. So he’s now got ASL support in place, which will continue to school, he’s now being seen by Occupational Therapy, because the sensory processing is so extreme. But again, it was a very, very stressful two years where you’re trying to you know, I I’m not an expert in child behaviours, I didn’t know what was what was wrong with my child, I didn’t know why everything had to go in his mouth, I didn’t know why he was getting so wired, that he was uncontrollable. And there was no help available. Because you couldn’t see anybody. And that, I think, was very stressful. And during lockdown, I did actually move in with my parents, because it was, you know, it was a lot to cope with on my own..

Philippa Kemp, OPFS 6:58
I can imagine. So in terms of your wider support network, who have you got to sort of help you take the strain?

Carolyn 7:06
I have my parents, who are both in their 70s. My dad’s fairly fit and healthy, and you know, seems to think he’s still a young buck, which is great. So he likes to chase after Robbie and take him swimming and things. My mum has quite bad back issues. She’s got osteoporosis of the spine. So she’s got to be really careful in terms of you know, if Robbie runs off, she can’t chase after him and catch him. And so again, my mum can’t really be alone with Robbie. Because when you say stop, he will not stop, he’ll keep running. And that’s again, just part of the, I suppose, the issues of, of the condition he has.

Philippa Kemp, OPFS 7:47
Yeah, I understand. What do you find you can do to help you to sort of de-stress from these sorts of situations? What do you do?

Carolyn 7:55
Oh, sit in a darkened room by the time he goes to bed! But yeah, no, I mean, I think it’s, it’s easier. Now he’s beginning to emotionally mature a bit more. He loves riding his bike. And we’ve set we’ve now established very clear parameters. So actually going out with Robbie and the dog on the bike can actually be quite relaxing, which is good. And I think just having the awareness of what overstimulates Robbie, and what his triggers are, has really helped as well. So being able to manage his behaviours. And I would have to say the childcare that I get, you know, is huge, because it allows me during the day to, to kind of get things done to have a bit of time for me to be able to be involved in things like focus groups.

Philippa Kemp, OPFS 8:53
And you’re saying that that’s funded childcare?

Carolyn 8:55
Yes. Yeah. I mean, he’s obviously at his nursery five days a week from quarter to nine, until his funded run till 2.45. So, I actually pay wraparound which is £5.50, which takes it to four o’clock, which gives him a much better day. And that was partly on the advice of the ASL team, because they feel that having longer days at nursery is going to help him transition to school, where he’s got kind of longer days and he’ll be more mentally ready. Because he’s, he won’t be as tired. When he gets tired, that’s when his behaviours act out.

Philippa Kemp, OPFS 9:41
In the current context, I suppose, things are getting difficult for parents at the moment. We’re all looking at rising costs in terms of food, energy, bills, etc. How is that impacting you at the moment?

Carolyn 10:03
I would say the term ‘heat or eat’ is quite prevalent in this house. So am I going to heat the house? Or am I going to eat? The budget for food, my costs, my weekly shop has basically almost doubled. Because of Robbie’s issues, I need to take him in the car a lot of places because getting from A to B is actually quite dangerous. And it also takes about three times as long as any normal child, and I have to use the car to get him to nursery. My petrol costs have doubled. And I’ve just got my gas and electricity bill through..

Philippa Kemp, OPFS 10:48
The gas electricity bill, I’m guessing, even though you knew from all the media coverage that it was going to rise, did you did you get..were you surprised as to exactly how much it had gone up?

Carolyn 11:02
Yes, yes. I mean, it has doubled. It’s actually more than doubled. So I was paying 106 pounds a month for my gas and electricity. And it is now 232. Which in a month, you know, when your expenditure. I mean, I was, yeah, I probably had about 12 to 14 pounds kind of free cash each month, dependent on you know, what expense expenses had come up. So to try and find that kind of money was massive. I’m on Universal Credit. So not only did we lose the 100 pounds, which we’ve been given during COVID, despite the cost of living and everything rising. So you’re 100 pounds short already…. Now your gas and electricity costs are that much higher. Like, yeah, I’ve got no idea how they expect people to live. And all that’s going to be happening is people are going to be pushed further and further into debt. My biggest fear is if I can’t find the money, they’re then going to put me on a pay as you go metre, which then puts you up to the very highest cost of gas and electricity. So you know, every which way you look at it the penalising those who don’t have a lot of expendable income. And it’s not because I don’t want to work, I do want to work. But again, if I if I, I don’t have childcare, what do you do? So it’s, yeah, it’s a hugely, hugely stressful time. And there just doesn’t seem to be any help or advice as to what the solution is going to be. You know, the government are saying, Okay, we’ll create this group and create that group. Yeah, great. In the meantime, each month that goes by your your bill is going up, and up and up, and you just don’t have the money to cover it.

Philippa Kemp, OPFS 13:06
What sort of sacrifices does that mean you making on a day to day basis? I mean, you’re talking about ‘heat or eat’, I’m assuming….

Carolyn 13:14
Well, it’s food for me. Robbie, it’s vital that I obviously keep him eating. Because he’s a child. He needs to eat. But yeah, for me. Yeah, pasta has become a staple. And it’s one of the worst things that I can eat from my fibro because the carbs don’t react well for me. But again, you’ve just got to look at what’s going to fill you up. And you know, plain pasta or pasta with a you know, a tomato sauce through is very cheap. Cereal is another one. But again, it’s just you know, I look at what my shopping used to be and there was a lot of fresh fruit, veg, salad, you know, probably more white meat than than anything else or chicken, turkey. And now, I really am. I’m very, very conscious about what I’m buying, what I’m spending. I used to shop between Lidl and Morrison’s I now only shop at Lidl. It’s, it’s just in terms of what you get for your money. It’s, it’s the most cost effective way.

Philippa Kemp, OPFS 14:31
And do you think, do you think Robbie has noticed any difference in terms of the change in diet? Are there any changes that have happened or sacrifices that you’ve had to make as a result of the cost of living crisis?

Carolyn 14:45
Yeah, I mean, of course, we used to sit and eat together and we’d eat the same thing. So again, part of the sensory processing is Robbie doesn’t feel hungry or he doesn’t feel tired. So again, mirroring behaviours so he can see that we’re both eating together and eating the same thing. And now he’s asking, Why am I not eating? Where’s my food? Eating the same as him? He’ll just eat cereal. So it’s tough because, you know, you don’t want to burden your child with the fact that actually it’s due to money. You know, it’s coming, it’s coming towards the end of the month and actually mummy can’t afford as much food. And, you know, it’s a very harsh reality. And I think my frustration is that nobody seems to be listening.

Philippa Kemp, OPFS 15:40
And what sort of what sort of things have you done to try to get the support that you need? Have you spoken to health professionals? Have you tried to get in touch with any other agencies?

Carolyn 15:53
I did speak to my health visitor, I have applied for Child Disability Payment because I spoke to Kindred. No, it wasn’t, it was Parentline, sorry, I beg your pardon. Parentline. And Parentline did a benefit check. Because again, I was I was really, really panicking. And unbeknown to me, I could apply for child disability payments. So I’m waiting to hear about that, but not everybody has that option. And certainly, you know, that there isn’t a lot out there you can go for, you know, there’s there’s some community care grants, and there’s, there’s other things, but they’re kind of one off payments. And that doesn’t help when each month, it’s a shortfall and the cost of living, you know, the money that’s coming in isn’t enough to cover what’s going out. And the biggest thing is the gas and electricity. And, you know, especially when you have a child, you can’t be turning your heating off, and don’t get me wrong, I have turned my heating down. And we now have blankets on all the beds, we have blankets on the sofas to cuddle under. And I’ve tried to make it a game, you know, we get all cosy and we build a nest for ourselves. He’s taken to wearing his dressing gown, over his clothes, he’s also got kind of onesies, warm onesies, which he puts over his schools. And, you know, it’s, it’s fine at the moment in the sense that it’s not as cold as it has been. And obviously, we’re coming out of needing to have the heating on a lot. But I’m still going to have to be paying every month to cover the costs for the whole year. So yeah, no, it’s, it’s, it’s scary.

Philippa Kemp, OPFS 17:46
What would take the pressure off?

Carolyn 17:47
I think the government needs to look at Universal Credit payments and the cost of living, and what people are actually paying to live and they need to increase the amount that is going out. Or they need to do something radical with the rising energy costs to try and help people because it’s not just people on benefits that are struggling it’s people that are working. You know, most people don’t have a lot of expendable income. And for prices to double on just about everything across the board, like what are the government doing? They’re not helping anybody! That’s my feeling, and that’s people on, you know, low income, on benefits. You know, it’s crazy.

Philippa Kemp, OPFS 18:42
Absolutely. Do you get support from being in a peer group of parents or friends around you? Are you able to get some sort of support or help, or people to talk to?

Carolyn 18:56
I think it’s been, it’s been quite difficult. And through COVID Robbie’s behaviours also excluded him from a lot. So I think one of the things that we found most challenging is we actually moved house in January 2021. And there’s several kids on the street. But Robbie’s behaviours… he gets quite wired and quite overstimulated and they can’t really handle it. So they would prefer kind of not to be around him. So because of that, I suppose…

Philippa Kemp, OPFS 19:36
That must be quite isolating for you, I’m guessing.

Carolyn 19:39
Massively, massively. And it’s, you know, it’s stressful, because you can explain behaviours, but again, these are your kids. And they’re not really understanding, they just think he’s being naughty and not understanding it’s just the way his brain processes things. I don’t know, I try not to think of it as a sign of things to come. I also know that he does have, you know, friends who are probably more similar to him. He is very rambunctious. He is very excitable. He will talk the hind legs off a donkey, but he does have little friends that he plays with very nicely one of whose, you know, Granny lives on the street, which is great. And next to my mum and dad, there’s another little boy that he plays perfectly with. So I think it’s finding, I suppose the right groups. And I think, with COVID, it’s not, you know, it’s been very limited as to who you can play with, where you can play, when you can play. So I think now that things are beginning to open up, I’m hoping that there’ll be a bit of a change, and you’ll become more familiar with playing and, and how other children play outwith a very kind of controlled environment like nursery.

Philippa Kemp, OPFS 21:11
Yeah, I understand? Is there any advantages to being a single parent? Just the two of you?

Carolyn 21:23
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, Robbie’s dad made it very clear when I was pregnant, that he didn’t want anything to do with him. So that as far as I was concerned, fine. It means that I have full autonomy to make decisions on Robbie’s behalf. I don’t have the kind of the angst of splitting holidays. You know, I, I am there for all this firsts, which is incredible. I think we also have a much closer bond. And, you know, he’s, he’s very, very loving. And, yeah…

Philippa Kemp, OPFS 22:03
If you could change something, write to the government. What would you tell them? What would be the your central message?

Carolyn 22:13
I don’t think in this day and age, that any person should be having to ask themselves the question, Am I going to heat or am I going to eat? And I think that is something they have to look at very, very quickly. And, you know, as I say, it’s affecting the whole spectrum of people. You know, parents, single people, couples, low income. It’s…words fail me, to be honest.

Philippa Kemp, OPFS 22:49
Thank you, Carolyn, for sharing your story. For more episodes, please subscribe to our podcast. Thank you for listening.