Local woman finds friend through London organization.
By Adam Wightman
When Heather Pindar’s husband left her and their 18-month-old daughter in St. Thomas, she became a single mother—and her realization of what she faced hit hard.
“I was pulling my hair out, man. It was a very different experience for me,” said the 46-year-old.
She moved back to her native London six months after the separation, into a house with only her daughter, Sarah. Having to raise her alone left Pindar feeling like an island.
“You just feel like you’re all alone by yourself and trying to do this uphill battle, and you’re not getting anywhere. One does not know what resources are available until you find a starting point,” she said.
She eventually found that starting point with the Single Women in Motherhood’s golden connection pal program. One of a number of different programs SWIM provides from its Old East London office, the pal program matches new single mothers with older mothers, who can be either single or married. It is a mentorship program, and the older mothers are required to meet regularly during the six-month period of their mentorship to discuss the single mother’s concerns and questions.
The older mothers—called mentors —provide their knowledge of motherhood to their matched single mother, called a mentee. But the most important thing that they provide is emotional support.
According to Statistics Canada, there were 1,132,292 single mothers in Canada as of 2006, the last year for which information was available. The tasks required of being the main caregiver for a child can be hard enough, but the isolation and loneliness single mothers face are often more difficult, said the coordinator of the pal program, Jessica Simas. Having a mentor helps to alleviate those feelings, she said.
“They just kind of get to take a break from their day-to-day life. They get to do things during the meeting that they wouldn’t normally do, because their main priority is their children.”
|Photo by Adam Wightman|
|Evadne Benson, left, is Heather Pindar’s mentor.|
Pindar’s mentor is Evadne Benson, a 66-year-old wife and mother of a son and a daughter. The two were matched in November 2010, after Pindar’s first mentorship ended abruptly when her mentor had to move for work. Benson now provides some of the companionship that Pindar had been missing. With Benson’s two children living far away, her son in Long Island and her daughter in Alberta, Pindar provides her with an outlet for at least some of her maternal instincts, Benson said.
“For me to have this young woman in my life is like (having) a surrogate daughter,” she said.
But Pindar has a mother, living in London, and she is very supportive of her, Pindar says. Her relationship with Benson is a friendship, more arms-length than mother-daughter relationships and without the historical baggage they can have. The two get together when Pindar feels the need. They go out for coffee or dinner, and when Pindar feels stressed, she calls Benson.
“Sometimes she will call me and say, ‘I just need to talk,’ ” Benson says, mimicking an urgent, deep and growly voice, similar to how Pindar sounded one night when she called her. “And I will just sit down and listen, and if I have some interjections that might be of some value, I offer them. If not, I just listen.”
Pindar has in Benson someone she can vent to, learn from or just talk with, and she doesn’t feel like she is being judged or preached to, said Pindar. That is important for her.
“You’re looking in the mirror and you’re saying, ‘Me, myself and I – you’re everything to this child,’ and you find that you sometimes don’t know where to turn. (But having Benson) is a huge weight off my shoulders,” she said.
Pindar has only good things to say about the pal program, so she was surprised to find out that there are only three matched couples. It is a significant decline from the number of mentorships when she was matched with her original mentor at her first meet-and-greet, in November 2009, in the year the program was launched. There were 12 single mothers matched on that night alone.
Single Women in Motherhood is only a small volunteer organization operating on a minimal budget, dependent on private donations. It faces challenges getting the resources needed to advertise the program, said the organization’s executive director, Ann Marie Ricketts, a single mother of three children who launched SWIM from her living room in 2002.
“There were more matches in the past due to the fact that we are volunteer-based. We are now lacking the manpower,” she said.
She is hoping to attract additional volunteers, which she thinks will make it easier to spread awareness of the mentorship program. The responses from those single mothers who have found out about it have been good, she said, and there are mentors and mentees waiting to be matched. But the process can take a while due to the challenge of finding the right mentor to fit the single mother’s preferences.
As for Pindar, she thinks that any single mother who feels isolated and in need of companionship should sign up for the program, even older single mothers like her.
“Sometimes single mothers don’t feel comfortable in these groups. But when you come in the door, you’re made to feel at home,” she said.
Pindar feels quite comfortable with Benson. The two have hit it off so well that they decided to sign up for another year together, with no plans to cut it off after that, said Benson. She said it would be cruel to limit their friendship to the six months normally allotted for matches.
“We’re so well bonded, and we enjoy each other so much that it doesn’t even seem like it’s a volunteer activity. It’s become a friendship,” said Benson.
Pindar says the same.
“If a friendship like that develops, you just keep reinvesting. You keep going.”