“I’m now finding out who I am. But I’m also realising the mistakes I made in the past.”
Ashleigh* joined the SMILE lone parent community 5 years ago. She was going through many challenges including domestic violence, court hearings over her children, and suicidal thoughts. She was having to face these challenges alone.
Domestic abuse had always been a part of her family history, having witnessed her mum and grandmother live through this but not knowing that it’s possible to come out the other side.
She explained: “Me and Racheal didn’t hit it off at the beginning because she was very gentle, loving, very kind and I saw that as patronising because I’ve never experienced it in my childhood… so I got defensive, aggressive and would walk out and then I’d ring her and apologise and be like ‘am I still welcome?
[Racheal] has shown me, through SMILE, that there are professionals out there that won’t give up on you and that don’t believe everything that they hear about you.”
This was a key turning point enabling Ashleigh to experience acceptance within a safe community. Used to coping alone, Ashleigh explained that she had developed a strong sense of independence, feeling that she needed to look after her children without any support: “Before I was very much ‘they’re my kids, they’re my responsibility… I’ve got to find a way to do it on my own… Lucy and Racheal showed me that it’s not a bad thing to ask for help when you need it. Also that it takes a community to raise a child.’”
When experiencing suicidal thoughts, the SMILE team came alongside Ashleigh and shared various coping strategies and connected her with support networks including counselling.
Through SMILE she also completed the Step Out Of The Traffic course, run by Courage to Thrive: “Step Out Of The Traffic [taught Ashleigh’s Story that] you can be a Mum but you also need that time to yourself; whereas I was constantly running on empty because I wouldn’t take that time for myself or ask for help.” “Because of the way that [Donna]… gives the course – she made it such a calm environment because we were all so chilled concentrating on our art… we ended up talking about anything and everything…”
Ashleigh found that sharing life experiences with other SMILE Mums built up her resilience: “because we are so diverse and have been through such different things, it’s great to get their perspective and advice… it’s not just me that’s gone through it… she’s [another Mum] got through it and look at what a strong, independent woman she is, I know I can be that then clearly.”
When asked whether Ashley now feels differently about her future, she replied: “Definitely. There’s still loads of challenges coming but I know that I’ll be able to get through them with the help and support of SMILE. The way that they have already helped me adapt, I know that I can only progress, it’s only going to be positives now.
She continued: “It’s just such a lovely, safe space that it has truly built my resilience up because before [SMILE] it was ‘Ashleigh has kicked off… so Ashleigh’s got to leave’, whereas [at SMILE] it was ‘this is how Ashleigh works so let’s try and work with her and adapt to it.
It’s taught me that no matter what, there will always be a place in that community for me. They don’t discriminate at all, there’s so many ages, races, beliefs… and it’s so amazing to get to know everyone’s story. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the support and the help of SMILE and their courses.”
*Name changed to protect identity
Find out more about how the SMILE project has come alongside lone parent families in their annual review below.