When I think of the word proud, apart from the obvious, words such as noticeable, standout and visible come to mind. This may be because society makes the issues of being a single parent noticeable, making us stand out and our struggles visible.
I became a single parent eight years ago. I was able to dismiss the preconceptions of a one parent family as amongst my family and friends attitudes towards me and my daughter had not changed. This was extremely important to me. The strength I draw from this is still very relevant today and I don’t doubt it will continue.
My daughter Ebony is eleven and has just started her journey into the world of senior school. This adds to the many journeys we have been on within our little family. She is amazing, full of energy and has a wonderful sense of humour. Ebony is thoughtful and doesn’t let much stand in her way. Sadly though, there have been times when I could not envisage her demonstrating her personality in this way. We’ve spent many days, (and nights) in tears, talking until the sun came up and feeling like shutting ourselves away because of the big changes in our lives. Changes adults had made. When I think of her past and her future and how the impact of being a single parent may affect her in addition to what I must do to support my daughter, I’m the one now shedding the tears.
When Ebony was two and a half years old, I started volunteering at a local school. My parents helped with childcare alongside a childminder. I really enjoyed working with children. I was given every opportunity to study for qualifications at college as well as being encouraged to attend courses to improve my skills supporting children in school. Two months later the school employed me as a teaching assistant. I was very happy. This was a great distraction as our home environment was again a sad place to be.
Almost a year later our home life completely changed and I became a single parent.
Over the years, my responsibilities at work increased. I was now employed as a nursery manager. I enjoyed my job and found it too easy to bring work home and continue working through the holidays. Being a single parent, there is not another adult at home to say, “slow down” or “give yourself a break”. This did not discourage me from engaging in distance learning through the Open University either. I decided to study for a degree. Almost at the same time Ebony was finding school life difficult. My worst fears appeared in front of me. It was suggested that Ebony receive support through her school counsellor. I found this very distressing. The thought of a stranger discussing issues with my daughter made me feel quite low. I felt as though I had let her down and had been unable to listen or make the right decisions. Putting that together with the decision I initially made as a responsible parent to become a single parent. The whole situation became difficult to understand.
Ebony and I struggled with arrangements that were made for her at weekends. They had never been easy and were becoming unmanageable. I have always had family around me. I knew it was wrong of me to prevent my daughter from seeing her family. That should be her decision. Regardless of how awkward it was for me.
Ebony’s personality changed. She became anxious. She would express thoughts that were beyond her years. My little girl was piecing together the version of events in a way she could understand. I was honest with her. I made a point of not steering her thoughts in any direction, leaving her to make her own decisions. I did not realise what the impact would be allowing Ebony to do this. Through all of our conversations almost ever since, Ebony has openly discussed her thoughts and opinions. They are not my thoughts or opinions. They are 100% hers.
Many people who know or have met Ebony in whatever capacity have used the phrase, “you should be proud”. When talking about her I often begin my conversations with, “I’m really proud….” To put down what I am exactly proud of is difficult as it is more of a feeling. Ebony’s attitude towards what she can accomplish, her self-respect, thoughts towards others, and the love she shares is something I admire as her mum. She has drawn upon past experiences to gain her own strength, to voice her own opinions and make her own decisions, (with a little guidance from me, family and friends!). I’m not looking for people to acknowledge Ebony’s triumphs knowing I’m a single mum, for me to then shout from the rooftops. My proudest achievement is being able to enjoy life with my daughter. Knowing that for the foreseeable future we will be travelling along more journeys joined by anyone else who has a valid ticket.
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