The faint circles around Nicoletta Dini’s eyes don’t diminish the glow in her smile as she watches her son run around the playground. His curly hair bobs playfully as he climbs up the slide and sits gingerly at the edge.
Dini is a 25-year-old single mother trying to balance her three-year-old son, Luca, with school, dating, social life and family. She also deals with the stigma of being a single mother on a daily basis.
“There’s this weird pity element to being a single mother. You’re literally doing two people’s jobs,” says Dini. “People feel bad for you, but people respect you for doing it and putting in all the work by yourself.”
Dini found out she was pregnant when she was 22. Though her parents helped her take care of her son financially, it took some time for her to accept her new role as a mother. She remembers feeling “numb” when Luca was born, as she was hit with her new reality. She went to therapy to help cope with the situation, and now regards Luca as her “epiphany.”
“He really helped me put everything into perspective,” Dini says. “He makes me focus on how I am as a human being and the values I want to pass on. You just want to make yourself a better person to make him a better person.”
Along with being mother to her three-year-old boy, Dini is currently doing her master’s degree at the University of King’s College and plans on going to law school after she graduates. Time management is crucial and she plans her days weeks in advance.
“I typically wake up at six because he’s bouncing all over me, then get him ready and rush him to daycare before my class starts,” she says. “I still have to go home, clean up and get things ready for the next day. There’re all these little things that you have to do.”
Dini only has time to do schoolwork when her son goes to bed, so she usually works through the night. That’s put her social life on the back-burner. She often doesn’t have time to go out with friends or on dates, but Dini says her son and school are the priorities right now.
“Now I have a purpose,” she says. “He motivates me. I have to be able to get a good job and be able to support myself. I need to give him everything that I want to.”
Sarah Silver, executive director of the University Children’s Centre at Dalhousie, explains the role of daycare centres for university-attending parents is to help provide some normalcy for the student.
“Downtime is really important. It’s important to have that time away from your child to regroup and do things that you need to do,” she says.
Silver encourages single parents to reach out for support wherever possible and not lose sight of the bigger picture.
“For single parents, they’re the sole decision-maker. It’s hard to let go of your children already and it’s even more so when you’re all they have,” she says.
“At the end of the day, if you love your child, spend time with them and you know that you’re coming for an education to better your life and their life, that’s a really admirable thing.”
Right now, Dini is counting her blessings. Other single parents have an even harder time because they have no one to help them, and she’s thankful for her family’s support.
“I look at it as taking it one day at a time,” she says. “Every day I’m figuring out something new. I’m trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Hopefully, I get to the point where I’ll just have everything together.”