Flying solo: Meet the strong mum-of-two who left an abusive relationship

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1 January 1970

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After enduring the rollercoaster of a toxic relationship, losing her business and moving multiple times, Joanna York is now running a self-empowerment course to help other women.

“Life throws crap at you all the time, but I refuse to be broken,” says Joanna York.

They’re fighting words from the 44-year-old, who’s had to navigate her lifeboat through various waves of grief.

That includes leaving her partner, raising two children – Archie, 12, and Georgie, 10 – on her own, losing her hairdressing salon after the Kaikōura earthquake and moving seven times in the last nine years, living in a campervan for four of those years.

But Joanna, who now works in community development and events for the Kaikōura District Council, says it’s all been worth it.

“Sometimes, I could lie on the floor and cry from the sheer exhaustion and emotional hardship of being a single parent. But raising two healthy, happy children who I have a great relationship with is awesome.”

Growing up in the UK, Joanna admits children were never on her radar. “I had a list of 115 reasons not to have kids! I have polycystic ovary syndrome and was told that I might not be able to have children, which was fine by me.”

Having been taught by a Kiwi teacher who introduced his class to New Zealand, Joanna had her heart set on travelling here. In January 2000 she did just that, spending years doing everything from working for AJ Hackett in Auckland to running a pub on the West Coast and hairdressing all over the country.

She met her former partner in 2006 and moved to Kaikōura to be with him. The relationship quickly turned mentally and financially abusive, but it took Joanna six years before she could leave him.

“One night, I turned up on my parents’ doorstep with a four-year-old and two-year-old, no money and a massive dent in my pride. I felt ashamed and useless, but I was concerned about the impact on the kids if I’d stayed. My children are the most important thing and I had to get out of the relationship for them.


Joanna worked any job she could get, including cleaning at night, to make ends meet. She eventually opened her own hair salon, but lost it after the quake. “I was in pure exhaustion mode and not coping, so I closed it and went into debt, which I’m still paying off.” On the plus side, Joanna says her family and friends have been great, including her elderly parents, who let her park her campervan on their rural block.

“Being a solo mum is hard financially and emotionally, but there are always other people worse off,” she says. “I see so many people living in unhealthy relationships, so I count myself lucky I got out and am happy again. It’s OK to be a single mother and it’s ultimately rewarding, because you’re doing the best for your kids and that’s something all single mums need to hold on to.”

It’s OK to be a single mother and it’s ultimately rewarding, because you’re doing the best for your kids

It’s a message Joanna is hoping to impart through a self-empowerment course she’s running later this year.

“I’ve helped many women over the years learn to be happy and to love themselves. You don’t need a partner to make you happy, but any partner needs to respect and love you for who you are.”

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