Parenting is no easy task. While the responsibility of raising children is shared in some two-parent households, single parents have to be both mother and father. The situation is further compounded with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing many people to be at home. They have to figure out how to juggle work, school and childcare sometimes with little or no help.
Guardian Media spoke to 22-year-old University of T&T (UTT) student Shierneil Kimkeran, a single mother of two–her four year-year-old son, Zion and Mercedes, her one-year-old daughter.
When Guardian Media visited Kimkeran, the eldest of three brothers and a sister at their home in Morvant, she was multi-tasking.
She was supervising her brothers, Emerald, eight, who attends Sacred Heart Boys’ RC School; Gifted, ten, from Chinapoo Government Primary School; and her son Zion, from the Church of the Rock Preschool doing their lessons via Zoom on their laptops in the living room. Gifted was using his mother’s laptop and Zion was using his grandfather’s laptop which he had to reposition now and then as the reception was spotty. They were at ease in the comfort of their own home. All the while Kimkeran cradled her daughter, Mercedes, in one hand while holding her cellphone in the other participating in a Zoom class of her own.
Her sister, Miracle, was in the kitchen helping their father package lunch for his fledgeling catering business.
Kimkeran said she had to keep monitoring her siblings and son, if not they would switch to watching Youtube videos or play video games.
Redemption, her 14-year-old brother, who attended Trinity College was at their mother’s house.
Kimkeran said “When I became a single mother, within two to three months, the lockdown started. I am a full-time University of T&T (UTT) student completing my last year in the Bachelor of Education degree programme for primary school teaching.
“In terms of how the pandemic affects us; it is difficult. I’m a student, if I wanted to get a part-time job, or switch to part-time schooling and get a full-time job, no one is hiring right now.
“I’m at home with my children, doing online school, my son is in online preschool and I have my daughter to look after.
“Right now I’m living by my father, McNeil Mundy, who is also a single parent. I wasn’t living with him from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was living with my mom, she has it hard also, she has a small house with my siblings and my dad’s house is bigger.”
She said her father was also a pastor, but he cannot administer to his congregation as churches had been in lockdown and landlords were not sparing churches from paying rent.
Kimkeran said it was hard on him, it was a struggle to move in, not that her father didn’t want her to come, but he was already under financial strain. She came with three additional mouths to feed to add to his economic duress, and she was hoping things will pick up soon.
She suggested that he start a catering business from home, deliver food to customers and also bake bread; this has been going on for a month now, the business had been picking up slowly but surely and hopefully, this entrepreneurship will help alleviate some of the financial burdens.
Kimkeran said she did not go to the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services to access any public assistance grants because of the negative feedback she saw on social media from some single mothers after filling out their forms and not getting feedback from the ministry about their status.
She said she shared cooking chores with her father, plus a daily routine was for her to get up and make breakfast for her family, see to her son and brothers’ schoolwork, her own studies, her sister would help their father with the catering after they had finished classes, she would organise dinner, and make sure everyone did their assigned chores.
Kimkeran said the schedule can be “a little difficult,” with her father cooking for his business during the day, working in the night preparing food for the next day, seasoning meat, her overseeing her siblings and son’s schooling, and ensuring that they followed their teacher’s instructions.
She said it was challenging to concentrate on her own classes, after she supervised their homework, by the time she put the children to sleep, sometimes only then she can start her own studies while combating sleep and tiredness.
Kimkeran said another concern of hers was Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s announcement in his 2021 Budget Presentation that Government will freeze the filling of all vacancies in the public sector for one year.
She will be graduating in April 2021. Kimkeran said there was usually a backlog for teaching positions, especially primary school teachers and they had now reached names for 2016.
Kimkeran said she was contemplating starting her own business, attending more online schools, tutoring to adapt to the COVID-19 landscape.
When asked if she would like a laptop for her son, she said that would help him with his school work and he could share it with her siblings.
Kimkeran said she was hoping that the virus would just disappear, and things will work out somehow.