NL·The Grind

This single mom ran away from the daily grind — and she's happier for it

Stephanie Moyst is working a full-time job at an insurance company and two side gigs to pay the bills. She moved away from the city for a more affordable life, and now she and her son live in a century-old heritage home.

Stephanie Moyst juggled jobs for 20 years before downsizing her life

A woman with grey hair sits in front of a kitchen window.
Stephanie Moyst worked multiple jobs for 20 years. Now she lives on a plot of land by the ocean, happier than ever. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

In the corner of her living room in an old biscuit box house in rural Newfoundland, Stephanie Moyst sits in a rocking chair beside the fire. She's reading a passage from The House of Wooden Santas, Kevin Major's perennially popular Christmas story. 

She records a video of herself reading a new chapter every day — the book is structured like a literary Advent calendar, culminating on Christmas Eve — to send to her granddaughter, who lives on the Canadian mainland.

It's a priceless Christmas gift — and Major's story is one to which she can relate. The protagonist, after all, is a single mom who leaves the city in hopes of finding a good life in a small town.

Moyst, 52, says her three children have always been her priority. 

"If I'm going to do a job, I'm going to do 150 per cent, because I can't lose a job," she said. 

"I'm the one putting the roof up and the food on the table and all of that. So being slack at something, it was not in my wheelhouse."

Sipping on a cup of coffee, she explains that she has to bundle up to keep warm in the old, drafty home during the winter.

It's a heritage home in Bareneed, a small community close to Port de Grave on the Avalon Peninsula. A century-old house that's been in her family since the 1960s, it's now home for her and her 16-year-old son, Cole, the only one of her children now left at home. 

An old two storey white house, a large tree sits in front of it.
Abram Richard built the biscuit house in 1912. Now it's a Heritage House and home to Stephanie Moyst and her son. (Sarah Antle/CBC)

Last year, Moyst was living in Mount Pearl, a city that neighbours St. John's, and she was working 70 hours a week.

Rising rent and soaring inflation forced her to decide between working herself sick or figuring out a cheaper solution. 

Moyst is among a rising number of Canadians dealing with unaffordable housing and what Statistics Canada says is a 20 per cent increase in food prices in the last two years.

When she decided it was time for a new way of living, she started a desk job at an insurance company, taking a significant pay cut to save her mental and physical health. And she moved out of the metro St. John's area, where rent has spiked in recent years.

She thought the move would make life more affordable. But bringing in about $1,200 a paycheque, she couldn't afford the $1,500 monthly rent in Bay Roberts.

So mother and son packed up again and moved to nearby Bareneed — a befitting name for someone living off the necessities — and into the 112-year-old house, still plastered in original wallpaper and needing renovations. 

This is the first winter that anyone's lived in the heritage home year-round since her family bought it. 

WATCH | Stephanie Moyst is happier than ever after quitting the grind and moving out of the city:

Changing careers and leaving the city saved this single mother’s mental health

4 months ago
Duration 4:23
Stephanie Moyst was working herself to the bone, at 70 hours a week. Now, she still works multiple jobs — but it’s on her terms. Part 6 in our series "The Grind", profiling people who work multiple jobs.

The house is filled with a collection of teacups that were once enjoyed by her grandmother's church peers, handmade decorations and furniture more than 100 years old — including the kitchen table, where, some days, Moyst sits to budget her groceries. 

The family dog, Luna, settles down in her favourite spot in front of the fireplace. 

And while Moyst treasures this simple, outport way of living, she's had a long struggle to get where she is today. 

20-year grind

Last year, Moyst was working as an event planner for big hotels, and almost never had a full day off. 

"It just became overwhelming," she said. She was pulled in all directions by the demands of the job, she said, her two phones pinging madly at all hours.

A woman is hugging her son, standing in front of a christmas tree.
Stephanie Moyst and her sixteen-year-old son, Cole, moved from the city to the bay. Now she's happier than ever. (Submitted by Stephanie Moyst)

"And then you get a paycheque, and then you go, 'Here's rent, here's power, here's that.' And it felt like everybody was getting what I had worked hard for, except for me," she said. 

Living paycheque to paycheque, Moyst was constantly worried about money and taking care of her son — her third and youngest child. 

It was a narrative that played out in her father's life as well. At 53, he had a heart attack—- a history of health issues in the family compounded by his penchant for overworking. 

It felt like everybody was getting what I had worked hard for, except for me.- Stephanie Moyst

It's something that plays on Moyst's mind every day as she approaches her own 53rd birthday. 

Moyst has been a single mother for most of her children's lives.

When she moved to Alberta in the mid-1990s with her then husband, she worked up to four jobs at one time. She managed a restaurant, taught dance lessons, worked in a coffee shop and picked up shifts at a shoe store. 

She's no stranger to making tough decisions and making the best of a bad situation. 

An outdated model

While Moyst might be moving away from hustle culture, there is a growing demographic of Canadians who are moving into it.

Based in New York City, Sam DeMase has been a career coach for women working in male-dominated industries in corporate America for over a decade. 

She said the 40-hour work week was designed at a time when one parent worked and one didn't, and that system — based on a living wage that's been lost to inflation and plateauing wages — is outdated in the modern working world.. 

Moyst's whole career as a mother has been compounded with a full workload. With more Canadians picking up extra jobs, it's becoming harder to balance being a parent with being a worker. 

"I definitely have a couple of clients who are parents who are picking up side hustles currently in addition to their nine-to-five job. And a lot of folks' nine-to-five job is actually looking more like 45 to 50 hours instead of 40," DeMase said. 

"You're looking at a lot of hours that you're working in a week and that takes away from your ability to be able to be parenting. So these jobs are not only taking up more than 40 hours a week, but now we're finding that the pay is not meeting standards of livelihood and meeting cost of living." 

DeMase said there needs to be more child benefits for parents working now that so many parents are in the workforce. 

Even for non-parent workers, she said, there is an overwhelming amount of burnout in workers trying to keep up with work demands, 

A slower pace

Moyst is used to providing as a single parent. She's also used to working long hours to make ends meet. She's been setting up her life for a time, like now, when the pace could slow down. 

These days, her mental health has improved, and though she's still working, she has more free time than ever. 

A woman, a man, and a male child stand together staring at the camera.
The last time all three of Stephanie Moyst's kids were together was in 2017. Her oldest, a father himself, says he doesn't know how she juggled motherhood and working so much. (Submitted by Stephanie Moyst)

Living amid nature and seeing the ocean from her living room window calm her. It doesn't negate the struggle she's gone through to give her children a good life, but she set herself up for a slower pace. 

She might still be working multiple jobs to stay comfortable, but she's happy. 

"I think things happen for a reason," she said. "And I'm in this home that brings me so much joy right now. There's little bits of my grandparents here." 

But does her dollar go further now? 

"It goes further because my choice is mine now," she said with a smile.  

"I chose to insulate this place. I chose to redo that fit. I chose to put the money in there."

In Bareneed, Moyst is able to reflect on how she's able to live with less anxiety than before. 

But she knows people are struggling the way she did. 

"We're all just kind of flat-lining with our salaries right now," she said. "The living situation for people right now is very difficult."

And working multiple jobs for the past 20 years, she finally put her own health first. 

"I can tell you this: I wake up a lot more mornings without that worry nowadays than I ever did.

"It still pops in. There's always stuff like … I had to have a repair on my car the other month. That was $700, which was unexpected and I had hoped to, you know, to get Christmas shopping or something else done with it.

"But it's OK because I can do it now. I can make that choice and that stress of 'how do I fix this car' is not there. I can go fix it now, but it's only by doing what I've done."

Moyst knows what it's like to put her children first, to burn herself out to make sure her family is taken care of. She said it's also hard to distance yourself from the barrage of work when it's your way of life. 

"I've been laid off, I've been let go.… I had a house for a short period of time and I had to give it up," she said. 

"I've had my car taken from me. That was years ago. I had a car break down in the middle of a highway with a child, and no one helped me."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Antle

Journalist

Sarah Antle is a journalist working with CBC in the St. John's bureau.

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