Posted 17 May 2019
Gingerbread Fundraising Officer Daniel writes about his experience of growing up in a single parent family, and why he’s taking part in our Virtual Marathon as a tribute to the strength of his parents. On...
Posted 3 October 2017
Remi lives in London with her son Raphael, 15. She and her husband had a privileged life, employing a nanny and sending Raphael to private school. However, after their marriage broke down things changed dramatically and Remi had to reconsider what the best way to raise her son was.
Turned upside down
My husband was the main breadwinner so when we separated, we went from everything to nothing overnight. My son and I were homeless.
It was a terrible winter and we were looking for somewhere to stay. We were sent to the wrong hostel with our suitcases in the thick snow. It was 8pm at night and we had to go to another one. I didn’t want Raphael to worry so I told him we were going on a big adventure. Luckily, the hostel turned out to be a family one where the people were really lovely.
Doing things differently
Raphael had to leave his private school and went to the local school but it wasn’t very nice. We got a flat from the council and my son then went to another school. There were good after-school clubs and there was a family centre over the road that was brilliant too – they really helped to rebuild me as well as him.
But Raphael didn’t settle. He went to secondary school, but it got so bad that I thought, “I don’t want to do this, I’m going to homeschool him.” I wrote a polite letter to the school but they took it really badly. I’d asked them for suggestions about books and they said they didn’t have any, and that I’d have to do it on my own now. I did loads of research to check whether homeschooling was the right thing to do and whether there was any evidence that it was bad. When there wasn’t I thought, right, I’m going to do it then.
I got in touch with the education welfare department in Camden. The man said “teach your son and I’ll come back in a couple of months and see what you’re doing.” I went to Waterstones and asked what they’d be learning and used a timetable from the school where he’d been. I didn’t know what I was doing, so I started off trying to do everything I could afford. I followed the curriculum in case Raphael wanted to go back to school later on.
I didn’t realise how clever Raphael was for a while. When the welfare guy came we showed him what we’d been doing, he said “it’s amazing, but way too much.” So I cut it back but he was still doing quite a lot – English, Maths and sciences plus piano, PE subjects, French and a few other subjects. A charity paid for him to do a Christian course called social studies as well.
Making the most
All this time I was on income support. I didn’t know how I was going to afford all the books but they weren’t as expensive as I thought. Raphael did 10 GCSEs and an A level. Besides the books, we got stuff from the library, looked up things on the computer. We also did museum trips – a lot of them offer free workshops. We got cheap cinema tickets through Education Otherwise, a charity that supports homeschooling in London – they were brilliant.
Once I moved to Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA), I was always looking for work. I wanted something part time around Raphael’s schooling. I was previously a counsellor but I retrained doing an ESOL (English as a second language) course. I did voluntary work and taught English as a foreign language and French in a couple of colleges in the West End to keep my hand in. I put advertising cards in the library and taught one to one. I’ve also been learning new skills like Microsoft excel and Microsoft office at a local neighbourhood association.
His own way
After my son took his GCSEs I focussed more on what he wanted to do – he was learning so fast and the next step would soon be a degree! We found a really good course with the Open University which was broken down into all the parts that he really wanted to study. The OU accepted him on the spot – they said they thought Raphael knew more than they would cover in the first year of the course. They also said they would pay for everything because of his age.
People ask me “what about the social side?” like I hadn’t thought about that! They always assume that the only way to learn social skills is in a classroom, whereas Raphael says in fact that is the most antisocial place to be. He learned some bad habits there, whereas he’s learned good habits by being with my friends in a social setting and at home.
The way that single parents are portrayed in the media is mostly negative, especially if you’re on benefits. The first time I came off income support onto JSA the woman said I must have had my son to get better benefits. I couldn’t believe she said that! I said wasn’t that rather a backwards view – it made me really angry. I do think people think like that. I often notice people look at my ring finger to see if I’m married. When I told a neighbour that Raphael was with his dad who had had another child and remarried, she asked me if I was sure he’d actually remarried. That’s just the way people think.
I’m really pleased with how my son’s turned out – he’s quite a hyper person but he’s much calmer now than when he was at school, and he knows his own mind. He’s started his OU course now and is loving it! If someone asked me for advice on how to bring up a child, I’d say don’t get caught up in the whole thing that you have to spend hundreds of pounds and that you’re not a good parent unless they’re doing ballet, gymnastics and seven hours of homework with them a night. That’s how I started out and when we got divorced I had to rethink it.