Dominique Jaccot, like the heads of around five per cent of Swiss households, is a single parent. She has built a new family around her son. In spite of the difficulties, she loves life and her calling as a mail deliverer in Neuchâtel.
It’s a Friday afternoon on a café terrace across from the main headquarters of the post office. “Friday is a good day because we finish up early,” says Dominique Jaccot, as she removes her heavy grey and yellow jacket and sits down.
The petite and energetic woman with long hair, purple-tinged glasses and a broad smile is 43 years old and has been working for 14 years for the Swiss Post.
“I worked in a secretarial office for 13 years. Then I got pregnant. When my son was three-and-a-half his father and I separated. He was a night owl and I was a day person – it never would have worked,” she says.
“It was difficult. I didn’t get much financial support from him. But I was lucky – I was almost never unemployed. I did all kinds of jobs, and we always made it through, even with very little money.”
During this time Dominique Jaccot also “more or less raised” her nephew. Today he is “a part of the family”. And for the past ten years she has had a life partner, who has a daughter. “She lived with us for a year, and I had three kids the same age at home,” says Jaccot.
“I had to make sure I showed each one respect, so they didn’t feel neglected. But I really enjoyed that time.”
“I’m a letter carrier. And that’s that!”
Jaccot also has her parents to thank for the fact that she made it through financially. They paid for everything she couldn’t afford: the skis, the vacation camps. “Without them, I would never have made it,” she says.
And a neighbour watched over her son when the boy was sick, for example (“I couldn’t take off work every time. And in school they’re always sick”), or when she had to work on Saturdays and during the school holidays. “He’s like a second grandfather.”
Today her son is in the second year of an apprenticeship with a veterinarian. “He really likes it. When he was little he drove us crazy with all his animals. Now he can do what he loves!”
There were always cats in the family. “It’s very soothing to come home from work and take a little nap with a cat on my chest. That helps me relax,” Jaccot says.
Jaccot’s other passions are handiwork and fantasy objects. “The tackier it is, the more I love it!” she says. Proudly, she displays a violet scarf decorated with skulls, a pencil with flowers sprouting out of the end of it, and a banana-shaped box for her morning banana.
Then there are the pink socks, a bit too fancy to agree with her uniform. “I have no problem wearing a uniform,” she says. “When I work, I’m not a man or a woman – I’m the postman. And that’s that!”
ʻI like working outdoorsʼ
In the 14 years she has worked for the post office, Dominique Jaccot has lived through its development from the old-fashioned post, telegraph and telephone service provider to the modern company it is today.
“Everything has been streamlined, measured, calculated. A scanner notes everything: our arrival at work, the sorting, the delivery, the breaks we take at the end of the day. Some people feel like they’re under surveillance. It doesn’t bother me.”
And she’s thankful to have been able to go through all the changes gradually. “For people just starting out it’s difficult to get a handle on everything. People who are reaching retirement are happy, because it’s all gotten so complex.”
Jaccot worked for years in villages. It wasn’t until six months ago that she was transferred to the city. “It’s different. More anonymous, but we’re a good team. And I love going out to deliver the mail. My life is much freer than if I worked in an office. I like working outdoors. I want to keep going as long as I’m fit. Every day I climb more than a thousand stairs – I’ve counted!”
She loves her job. “I’ve learned to love it in spite of the annoyances that exist everywhere. I like the contact with people. I pass by the gardens, and sometimes I take a photo of a pretty flower or a cat with my telephone. I also like being alone on my route, when I have time to think about things.”
ʻI’d like to live to be 100!ʼ
But working outside in winter can’t be be very comfortable… “That’s true, and you have to make sure the letters don’t get wet,” says our letter carrier. “But for me the cold isn’t a problem – we’re all bundled up like the Michelin Man. What frightens me is the snow on the roads. I drive a roller, and I’m afraid of falling.”
The profession can also be dangerous because a mail deliverer carries money. “But it’s not as bad as it used to be. I’ve never had problems or felt threatened. I’m careful when I have to deliver debt collection documents, because the recipients can be aggressive. Or they’re ashamed and try to justify themselves. Sometimes they confide in me.”
In earlier days, it was the police who delivered these kinds of documents. “That was a bit too obvious. It’s better that we delivered them.”
And what does she love most? “Life in general. There’s always something good about it, even if there are times that are a bit difficult. But over the years I’ve learned that there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. Depending on the conditions, I’d like to live to be 100. There are so many things that interest me and entertain me.”
And with that, Dominique Jaccot drives away in her car. It’s a grey car, and the rearview mirrors are encased in pink flowered covers, which makes the car look sort of like a mouse on wheels….
Single parents and poverty
In Switzerland in 2009 there were almost 183,000 families headed by only one parent, and single parents cared for 255,000 children (around 5% of all households), with 27% of single-parent families living under the poverty level.
Thirty per cent of single mothers worked full-time and 46% worked at least 50%. This compares with 15% and 30% of married mothers respectively.
If there’s not enough money to cover costs, single parents can apply for social assistance. However, they have to repay this debt.
Relief organisation Caritas Switzerland estimates that more than 20% of people who receive child benefits pass the money on to their children only partially, with delay, or not at all.
After a couple with children separates, 86% of the children live with the mother and 8% live with the father.
(Source: Swiss Association for Single Mothers and Fathers, SVAMV)
(Adapted from French by Jeannie Wurz), swissinfo.ch