I’m not a parent, so I haven’t had to change my life or make difficult choices in order to ensure a better life for my children. Yet this is the reality for many parents – making the decision every day to put kids and their needs above their own.
Likewise, this line of thinking was very relevant for some participants in the Positive Living, Positive Homes (PLPH for short) community-based research study looking at HIV and housing in BC. We heard stories from participants about much hard work, energy, and sacrifice put towards supporting the kids in their lives. As one participant put it: “Yeah, my kids are number one”. Many participants echoed this sentiment- that they were willing to shift their lives in quite significant ways in order to be good supports for their children, regardless of where their children lived or how old they were.
It is also worth noting that this perspective could apply to many parents, some challenges and successes mentioned were specific to the experience of people living with HIV. Some PLPH participants described experiencing stress and negative impacts on their mental and emotional health as they navigated challenges such as how to disclose their HIV status to their children, finding that their status had been disclosed to their children without their consent, and experiencing stigma and discrimination from child welfare officials. As well, some participants described physical health changes relating to their children, such as needing to switch medications while pregnant. As well, some participants also described successes specific to their lived experiences of HIV – one example included choosing to become more adherent to their medication in order to support their kids,.
In the context of housing, some participants in PLPH felt the safety and comfort of their kids was the most important element in their decision-making. Some participants described looking for neighbourhoods that provided a safe and friendly place for kids to play- for example, one participant spoke happily about how the neighbours in a new neighbourhood were friendly to the family. Participants also sometimes described housing aspirations that included their older and/or adult children, including dreaming of being able to one day live with their child and extended family.
On the other hand, some participants described challenges in housing, including concerns about co-habiting with their kids(feeling that they were effectively getting in each other’s way),or worrying about the impact on the kids sharing the home when there were issues between the adults in their lives. Housing size also arose as an issue, with some participants considering how to provide and split up rooms for their kids appropriately. Several participants mentioned cost as a significant barrier to finding appropriate housing and supports for them and their children, including the cost of housing itself and costs around necessities such as laundry. Consequently, as is the case with many families in BC, some PLPH participants found it a challenge to find just the right home for their families while navigating family relationships and dynamics.
Accepting changes in day-to-day life in order to build stronger relationships with children also frequently arose as a topic of discussion. Some participants in PLPH discussed moving, changing jobs, and other major life changes in the context of supporting their kids, even when the children were not necessarily in their immediate household (for example, children who were living geographically far away from the participant, children who were grown up, and children who split their time between multiple households). Positive health changes also arose for some participants from the experience of raising and supporting kids, including some participants describing improved emotional health and a sense of less loneliness with kids in their lives, and some describing reducing substance use in order to be a support to their kids. One participant spoke about life changes as steps towards supporting their son: “I’ll step up and if he wants to come stay with me, we can always change things around for the better, right.”
Likewise, navigating this decision-making was not always easy, and sometimes brought fear, anxiety, and stress for some PLPH participants. In one situation, ensuring the safety of a child required a near immediate move, despite logistical challenges and worries around next steps. Some other participants talked about the challenges of supporting children who were dealing with their own emotions, such as anger and frustration: “I kind of made a comment . . . and it really upset my [child].” Some PLPH participants also found their decision-making around their children was impacted and sometimes frustrated by formalized systems and policy, including stressful and upsetting interactions with government workers surrounding child welfare and government benefits.
In summary, we found in PLPH that for some participants, the goal of a good life for their children led them to make significant and sometimes difficult choices within their own lives; I think, for many parents in particular, hearing this would not be a surprise. It also seems hopeful to hear that many of these greatest challenges would apply broadly to many parents, as opposed to being challenges specific to the experience of living with HIV, though we acknowledge that those specific challenges still exist Yet I also think it is crucial that as we read and hear these stories, we acknowledge the individual challenges, successes, and work that lies within them. While these stories can help us to better understand perspectives and issues broadly, they belong to the people who share them, first and foremost.
Questions? Comments? Please contact Madeline Gallard, Community-Based Research Coordinator at [email protected].