In this installment of Our Stories, Former Physical Education Teacher of Calvary Preparatory School, Head Chief and business owner Cerine Bernard shares her story as a single mother. For many people, Jamaica is pictured as an island paradise – white sandy beaches, a beautiful and vivacious culture, rich and wholesome food, and attractive people. And while that image is not far from the truth, if the lens is focused on the inspirational stories of ordinary Jamaicans, you’d find a sharper, richer and truer image of the Jamaican experience…this is Our Stories!
Meet Cerine Bernard – Single Mother and Entrepreneur
Cerine Bernard is a mother of five who can now comfortably say that the hard work she had put in raising her children without fathers had paid off. At fifty-six, she is now an entrepreneur and full-time worker at a reputable business in Kingston. A woman one should emulate, a woman who is still determined to succeed after all trials and now has prevailed. Seeing an opportunity to create a better future for herself at 17 she left her eight months old baby with her father.
Raised in a detached household made her well aware of the importance of having a father in a child’s life. Parenting comes with a constant need to better yourself because you want to provide the best for your children. At a certain age in life reality kicks in and we set out to experiment, throwing away frivolous ways and entering into the unexpectedness facing the reality of the real world.
1. When did you have your first child?
I had my first child at 17 years old, in 1978. A beautiful daughter who was my biggest motivator and new reason to survive.
2. How did you become a single mother?
At age seventeen, I was pregnant, and living with the man, I thought I would spend the rest of my life with, however, things were not easy. So in order to provide for our daughter, I decided to relocate to Kingston to find a more lucrative job that would help with putting food on the table. After agreeing with my baby father that it would be a good idea, so I entrusted that he would take care of our daughter and I left him to take care of her along with his parents. I spent about three months trying to get a job and as soon as I was settled, I went home to see how my baby girl was doing. On one of my weekly visit, I was told that my baby father had gone to Kingston to live without even saying anything to me and leaving our daughter to stay with his parents. Without saying anything to me, he left my child with her grandparent. On seeing this, I was left with no choice but to take her back with me, as I wanted to know that she was safe. I tried contacting him after I heard he was staying somewhere in Vineyard town, but I never got to him. Therefore, I was left to take care of my child by myself.
3. How many children did you eventually have?
After the years passed by I had five children, two girls, and three boys. Two for one man and the other three had different fathers.
4. How far apart are your children?
My children are of different age group. The first one is five years older than the second is. The second, third and fourth are two years apart and the last one is just like the first five years from the fourth.
5. Did the fathers see their children often?
Each father was different, my second and third child shared the same father, but the dad only took care of one the other he disowned so I was solely responsible for her.
6. What struggles did you face as a single mother?
I was juggling jobs to make ends meet which did not provide me a lot of time to spend with the children. Without a father in their life, I was solely responsible for the upbringing of my children. I had to guide them down the path that I thought was best for them, teaching them self principles and morals that is being used up until date. I had to provide them with love and trained them in school so they could able to help themselves without being a bother to people.
7. As a single mother, how did you survive financially?
It was hard, many nights just so they could eat; I had to go to bed hungry with just a cup of water. With no consistency from the father, I had to be mother and father, working multiple jobs just so they would not feel left out of anything. There was also a time in my life when I lived in the garrison and the community was under siege so I had to move for the safety of my children. With no place to live, I had to leave them with their fathers and this for me was one of the hardest things to do especially after my first experience with my first daughter.
8. Did you ever get back your children?
Of course, I did, I went for my youngest daughter first who was staying with an uncle of mines, and as soon as I could get the others, they were all right back at my foot, with the exception of my eldest daughter. Who came to live with us after she had graduated?
9. How have your children benefited from your single mother training?
My pickney dem learn from me, them no walk and be problem inna people lie. I make sure say I teach them say I yuh beg toothpaste today and yuh nah none tomorrow, use toothpaste. This way nobody nah know if u did buy back any. It take a lot of effort and patience without assistance of fathers to get them where they are today they turned out good, better than most. My eldest daughter is a Registered Nurse living in America, my second son is a contractor for a reputable distributing company in Jamaica, my third daughter is a Professional Wedding Planner, the forth operates a business selling baked products and the youngest just started his career path in the food industry. All of them have now grown up and I can say have passed the worst.
10. What kind of business are you in?
Since 2017, I bought a Hiace bus that is now working for different companies distributing water in the Kingston and St. Andrew area.
11. How has your success influenced your children?
They saw how hard it was to for us when they were younger, and I must say that in some way poverty has mold them in becoming better persons and to be more appreciative of what they have. Even though I operate a business for myself. My children do not really sit and wait on me to provide for them. They use sleep mark death.
12. What has your accomplishment done for your children?
Them see me work hard and there is a saying that children live what they learn, so I thought them to not be dependent on anyone and that meant even me. Now they are grown; responsible people who sometimes might come around, cause you know is yuh children them, but them no look toward me to put on a pot fi them.
13. How has business been for you? And are you the sole proprietor of the business?
I am the sole proprietor of my business, the bus I bought about 2 years ago through a loan. I thought it would be best to seek contract employment within established companies. Then I employed a relative of mine to transport the water, as I work a regular nine to five. Just like any other business it has, its ups and down. Distributing waters to company can sometimes take an entire and the most challenging part of it is the pay you get after all the work, now you are left with a decision to stay or leave. However, like always God will provide a way. Therefore, I no worry myself.
14. Where did you get the know-how to run this business?
I have always been good with business and saving. I might not have gone to a business school but again this is why it good me have me children them, they are my advisors anything I think I might have problem with I call them and them help me.
15. What other accomplishment do you plan to attain?
I would like to purchase another bus or two where I will be using them to operate different businesses like transporting student and workers to and from their destination. The aim is to own a transportation and Courier service, leaving a legacy for my children to inherit.
Find the time to spend with your children, be present in their lives. With one parent, missing the child will now need someone who, they can turn to, trust, and share with, someone who will be there for them always. It can be overwhelming and stressful sometimes but my children saved me. They are the ones who made me who I am today. A better woman, a better mother and an entrepreneur. Seeing them happy makes me know that I have fulfilled my duties as a mother bringing them to the finish line, although they still take set on me. (Chuckles)
Thanks for sharing your story with us Cerine!