There’s a lot to unpack, note and commend in her story.
Here’s the quick summary, name withheld. Woman leaves Lebanon with her husband, leaving behind 5 siblings along with her mom and dad; a close and loving family. Arriving in Canada, she is pregnant and speaks two languages, neither one of which is English. She knows no one beyond her husband in this new land, and soon finds that things are changing.
Here in Canada, she not only knows no one, she’s not ‘allowed’ to meet new people; and whereas in Lebanon she held a job as a Childcare provider complete with a College Diploma, here it’s pointless because she’s entirely supported by her husband. After the child turns two, he walks out, leaving her with no income, no friends, no job, no idea of where she stands financially, and no prospects.
She is well aware of other women who like her ended up being divorced here in Canada and in each case they had returned to their families in Lebanon. Her choice however has been to stay in Canada to give her son – now 13 years-old with a better future; putting his future ahead of her own wish to be reunited with her family.
So that’s it in a nutshell. What I learned beyond this bare-bones story is that in the 11 years since the husband walked out, she took the initiative to enrol in English as a Second Language classes, and now has full command of a third language. She’s also visited and continuously makes use of a Welcome Centre to learn about programs and services to improve her situation. Her son is still completely in the dark about their status as Social Assistance recipients. She doesn’t want to burden him with that knowledge and have him feel shame and embarrassment. When I heard her tell me this I wanted to tell her that she should trust his judgement and he might just surprise her with his understanding and respect for her in spite of being on social assistance, but I kept silent as that’s not call to say so.
I then asked her a question which brought her to a full stop and tears to her eyes – although it was not my intention to do so. I asked, “So what do you do that’s just for you, not your son – just you?” Not surprisingly she said, “Nothing.” Now why you might wonder is this not a surprise to me? Well, it’s been my experience that many women who have been isolated by their partners are entirely devoted to their children; their children being everything that they live for. There is often nothing they do for themselves because any extra income goes to extra-curricular activities that the children are involved with. Sure enough, soccer and buying the things that teenage boys want and/or need to be socially ‘in’ consumes these things. Reading for pleasure isn’t something she does but she reads a lot of legal papers, government memo’s, social assistance letters etc. – and all of these she hides from the eyes of her son lest he pause to wonder if they are on welfare.
For a second time in our conversation I brought her to tears. You’d think I was going out of my way to do so! Such was not the case, but it happened. After hearing her story I said how much I admired what she’d accomplished on her own, getting established independent of her ex-husband, raising her child, committing to living in a country when all her family was back in Lebanon, learning about various services and what brought us together, her decision to attend an interview preparation workshop. Of course what I said that really got the tears flowing was that I wasn’t just proud of what she’d accomplished but that I was proud of her.
So why the tears? Years and years of being put down and told she’d never amount to anything; that she wasn’t important and no one would ever care whether she’d live or die hammered home low self-esteem. This you see is why I believe she doesn’t do anything just for herself – something that people with a healthy self-image regularly do. If you’ve been told you’re nothing and you’ve come to believe you’re nothing, then you do nothing that’s just for you; you don’t deserve it. Nonsense of course, but it takes a long, long time for some people to alter that belief system.
Apparently I am the first person in all the time she’s been in Canada who has said good things about her. That I felt, extremely humbling and even more a sad state of affairs. Mid-forties, in good shape, excellent attention to her appearance, a beautiful smile and equally good manners. A dedicated parent putting her child’s needs and happiness above her own.
Here’s another thing. Does she lay her burden on her parents back home in Lebanon with crying and how difficult life has been and continues to be? No. In fact, she’s no one to share with, no intimate friend to vent or confide in; all this bottled in and heaven only knows what else.
So the point? She’s not the only one. Be kind, be considerate, be above all compassionate and non-judgemental. You can bet that this woman’s story is playing out everywhere not just one isolated person I came into contact with.