Posted 1 August 2019
Alexis is a mum, actor and writer who blogs over at her site, The Time I Almost. As the summer holidays begin, she discusses her experiences of taking the brave step of booking a trip...
Posted 18 April 2019
Rachel is a single parent to her three year-old daughter, Faith. She was first signposted to Gingerbread while pregnant and has used many of our services ever since. Here, she writes about her amazing journey and the ways in which Gingerbread has been able to help her family.
I am a mother who is surrounded by like minded parents, with a sense of belonging, self worth and empowerment to show my daughter that she can be anything she wants to be. I haven’t got here on my own though: Gingerbread have been a hugely positive influence in my journey.
A vital piece of information
I knew before I gave birth that I would be raising Faith as a single parent. I was confident that I would be able to bring my daughter up in a positive and healthy environment. I did recognise that financially, it would be difficult, but with lots of offers of support and help from family and friends, I wasn’t overwhelmed.
At seven months pregnant, I started to realise it may not be as easy as I first thought and I came across my first hurdle. Working as a waitress, where I had been less than a year, I started suffering with pregnancy-related illnesses which meant I was no longer able to work. This meant I had significant financial constraints but I didn’t qualify yet for any help toward my rent or living costs other than SSP. I needed to keep my independence, my home, that I was creating for my daughter’s arrival. However, everywhere I turned for help, I was told I didn’t qualify until after my baby was born, by which point it would have been too late – I wouldn’t have a roof over my family’s head.
I was signposted to Gingerbread. I contacted the Helpline and found out I could apply for a discretionary housing payment. With a sigh of relief and lots of hope I applied, yet I was turned down as my situation wasn’t bad enough to qualify for the help. With Gingerbread’s advice, I appealed and the local government agreed to pay my rent up until my daughter was born and Housing Benefit kicked in.
This vital piece of information that no one else had told me about made the difference between starting our life as an independent family rather than living under someone else’s roof and being reliant on them.
A sense of belonging
Once I got settled into motherhood, I took Faith to the daily free baby groups at our local children’s centre, walking there and back due to low funds just to have contact with other parents. I will admit that, at times, I felt quite out of place as people would talk about partners and arrange meet-ups at cafes that I simply couldn’t afford. Sometimes, I felt like I was looked down upon as I was a single parent receiving benefits. A lot of the time, I just couldn’t relate to what the other parents spoke about and my problems seemed to perplex them such as issues with child maintenance or arranging visits with Faith’s dad.
As time went on, the children’s centres reduced and the free classes stopped. I became more withdrawn as lots of my non-parent friends stopped asking me to go places. The mum friends that I made would still meet up, but I could only afford to go if I sacrificed something like food that day, and even then, I would often feel like an outsider.
The weekends were the hardest as I could easily go three or four days without having a conversation with anyone other than my baby, or a phone conversation with my mum or sister. The impact this eventually had on my mental health was massive, and it made me worry about the impact it would also have on Faith.
I was forced to make the decision to leave my waitressing job due to lack of childcare, and it was at this point the isolation became overwhelming. My mental health made it almost impossible to leave the house. I knew that this could impact Faith’s development, so again, I turned to Gingerbread. As there were no local groups, I used the online forum to speak to other parents for advice. It gave me a sense of belonging and other parent’s stories empowered me to make some huge changes.
The support of likeminded parents
Firstly, I trained as a peer supporter for breastfeeding (bringing Faith with me until she started nursery), then I enrolled myself into college. I first completed my GCSE Maths, which was a huge step for me as my self-belief was at an all-time low and anxiety at an all-time high. I then enrolled in a level 3 TA course which I have almost completed. Although childcare is still an issue, I have utilised what help I do to enable me to attend.
I have been lucky that I have managed to find and maintain some excellent friendships with people that understand my situation. The one that has helped me the most has been another single parent like myself, which shows that the peer-to-peer support you get from someone else in the same situation can mean the difference between slipping into a downwards spiral of ill mental health and fighting back against it.
I am also lucky I have a good family support network but even with this, the isolation, financial difficulty and stigma that comes with single parenthood is enough to drag even the most mentally strong down. Had I not had the contact with Gingerbread, I very much doubt I would be on the road I am now, and the impact on Faith would have been severe.
Since I have started college, I have come into contact with many single parents at last(!) who have had the same issues as myself. I always recommend Gingerbread as a source of information as I feel that other organisations just don’t understand the needs of single parents, especially needs that aren’t financial! For me, personally, the support of likeminded parents and the sense of belonging and self-worth was exactly what I needed, I didn’t want to be known as just another statistic.
Start to see potential
Being the child of a single parent myself, I wanted to stop the cycle of poverty and ill mental health, I wanted a better outcome for my child through hard work and determination. I strive every day to overcome the barriers that I face as a single parent so that she has more choices.
I hope that my story helps everyone to understand how important the impact charities like Gingerbread can have on a family. I believe that with more campaigning and awareness – as well as more partnerships – more parents can be reached and they too can start to see their potential. The next generation can escape the cycle if this generation is given the opportunity and support to fulfil their potential.
Thank you to Gingerbread for the help that you have given me so far and for empowering single parents in a society when we often feel powerless.