Despite it being a hard road to travel alone, mum-of-two Gillian Hayes shares why becoming a single parent was such an important decision to make.
Gillian Hayes can quite clearly pinpoint the lowest point of her life.
“I was on my hands and knees, searching down the back of the couch for coins so I could buy bread for the kids’ lunches the next day,” she recalls.
That was in 2012, when Gillian left her husband of 10 years.
“All I want to say about it is that the marriage didn’t work and I made the tough call to leave when my daughter Olivia was seven and my son Ben was five.”
At the time, Gillian, now 46, was working in IT for Telecom (now Spark). She left her well-paid job to raise her children on a four-hectare property in Ōtaki. “I’d grown up in Ōtaki after my GP father relocated here from the UK. But I couldn’t raise the kids and commute into Wellington each day, so I decided to quit my job.”
It was, she admits, the worst of times. “Back then, I felt as though I’d failed both my dreams and as a mother to nurture a healthy and happy home environment. I constantly worried about the kids’ mental wellbeing and was terrified they’d be scarred and traumatised by being brought up in a single parent home.
But I knew I’d given my marriage my all and it hadn’t worked out. I had to believe that by leaving, I’d set an example to them – especially my daughter – about being a strong, independent woman who takes charge.”
I had to believe that by leaving, I’d set an example to them – especially my daughter – about being a strong, independent woman who takes charge
Gillian, who grew up with horses, juggled solo parenthood with caring for Moose, her Clydesdale horse. “I started taking Moose to dressage and showjumping events. He’s the gentlest horse you could ever meet and people started asking if they could learn how to ride on him. Some had childhood horse traumas or were lacking in confidence.”
It kick-started Beachbrook Stables, the horse-trekking and equine camp Gillian has run from her property for 10 years. She now has 16 horses, and as well as leading beach and forest treks most days, she recently opened boutique accommodation on the property.
“I’m not going to lie, being a single mother hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve been doing it for a while now and it’s probably the best decision I ever made,” she says. “Thankfully, my children have no memory of those early years – of my endless tears and the constant struggle to pay the bills. They’ve grown up to become well-adjusted young teens who only remember the good times, and for that I’m incredibly grateful.”
Gillian believes there’s little stigma around being a single mother these days – “If there is, I’ve never felt it” – but says she wishes it didn’t come with a side-order of guilt. “Not just single mothers, but all women these days live with eternal guilt that we’re not doing enough or working hard enough.
“We need to stop beating ourselves up, stop the questioning and self-doubt, because we are enough!”