Back on my feet after domestic violence

Posted 3 October 2017

Jemma is 28 a single parent to two boys – Alfie, age six, and Archie, age two. She lives in Leicester and is a full-time hairdressing student alongside working self-employed as a hair/beauty and make-up artist.

Ultimatum

I’ve been a single mum for three years now. I was on and off with my boys’ dad for almost six years. I even stayed with him after a bout of domestic violence which ended with him being convicted of battery. After a brief split we reconciled and tried to make a go of it, which is when we conceived Archie. He gave me an ultimatum: have a termination or he would walk. I chose to keep my baby and terminate my relationship.

I was devastated at the realisation that I was a single mum. It was my worst fear. I developed an eating disorder and would sleep most of my days away. I probably was depressed but was too stubborn to get help.

Drawing strength

After six months of feeling like this something clicked in my head. I got up and started to learn how to walk in the shoes of a single parent. My parents were a fantastic support – particularly my mum. She was with me at both of my children’s births. She has the boys so I can go to work/college and have a social life.

Becoming a single parent was the scariest thing I’ve ever had to do and I have lost a few friends along the way. But I have drawn so much strength from the situation since. I’ve passed my driving test, educated myself and became the person I wanted to be.

I am proud to be a single parent now. It is far healthier for me and my boys to be in this situation that the destructive one we were in before. The father chooses not to see his boys. I would have loved him to have a relationship with the boys as it isn’t their fault.

Going it alone

My professional background was retail management before I had my children. But the hours are long and I knew it wasn’t going to be realistic for me to work in the corporate world again whilst my children were so small. This is the main reason I went back to college to re-train. I’m good at budgeting and so we were never on the breadline so to speak. But I became weary of not being able to treat my boys or myself to the finer things in life and this was my main motivation getting out into the working world.

I’ve been working for a couple of months now. I’m self-employed and work 16 hours a week doing hair and beauty. It was terrifying coming off income support and going it alone. I don’t think there’s enough support to help single parents into work. Jobcentre staff need to all be singing from the same hymn sheet, which I currently feel they are not. One adviser suggested that I stay on benefits for ease!

I did an awful lot of research on my own on the internet to try and gauge an idea of what to expect. I tweeted Gingerbread about returning to work and they sent me some fabulous links to advice and information.

Juggling act

I juggle working around my boys and college. As a parent, I carry a huge amount of guilt around with me. I feel guilty for not having enough money, guilty for relying on my family for childcare help and guilty for leaving my boys to go to work. But I believe it’s healthy for the boys to see that mum goes to work and earns money for the household.

The best part of being a single parent for me is not having to discuss and compromise my parenting style. But juggling everything is tiring and I’m always on the go – I only get a break when my mum gives me one. I have stopped watching TV as I just don’t have time anymore! I also find that I can get quite stressed from managing the care of a toddler and an intelligent six year old 24/7.

Life does get better

I’m so glad I took the steps I did to make my life better. I wanted to share my story to show other victims of domestic violence that there is a rainbow after the storm. Life does get better. And the only person who can change the situation is you.

I really respect what Gingerbread does. Some people need more help than others – and that is not a flaw. It simply means we are at different stages of our single parent journey.

My advice to other single parents is ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’. The cleaning can wait – go and get a hot bubble bath and pamper yourself at least once a week. And don’t beat yourself up. You are doing an amazing job!

For detailed step-by-step advice on everything from benefits and tax credits to childcare and your wellbeing, read our guide to self-employment.