What makes me angry – by Martina Cole

Posted 3 October 2017

Martina Cole is a best-selling crime fiction author. First becoming a single parent at 18 and again in later life, she has been a Gingerbread ambassador since 2008. Here, Martina explains why she believes parenthood – in whatever form it might take – should never be a cause for discrimination.

Martina Cole“I wonder what your readers would say if they knew you were an unmarried mother?”

I was shocked when I had my first big-selling book, and someone close to me said this smugly and I might add with just a touch of jealousy.

“Big news in the 1990s that, especially since Madonna has made it practically mandatory,” I replied.

I am lucky that I have never cared what people think of me. I have always had too much pride. But it hurt, to know that no matter how hard I worked, and no matter how much I achieved, something that had given me more joy and love that I could have ever imagined – the birth of my son – was being used against me.

I have been a one parent family twice now, and it has been a rewarding and difficult journey each time. I was an eighteen-year old punk rocker the first time, and a best-selling author the second. What amazed me about the experiences was that, despite being twenty years apart, society still had the same old prejudices. Even in these so called enlightened times, an unmarried mother is still seen as a second class citizen. A one parent family is still viewed as outside of the norm.

Just over a quarter of all families in the UK are headed by a single parent. Single parents consist of divorced and widowed members of our society. People who never actually envisaged being the sole carer, or breadwinner. And there are those, like me, who fell pregnant and kept the child regardless of the father’s displeasure and society’s condemnation.

41 per cent of children in single parent families are poor; 34 per cent of single parent families include a child with a disability and only two fifths of single parent families receive support from the non-resident parent. Less than two percent of one parent families are headed by teen mothers.

Most are simply trying to do the best they can in a harsh world that automatically looks down on them because they are single parents.

It’s the ignorance of what’s really going on that upsets me more than anything. Even with all these statistics available to politicians, the media and the man on the street, a single parent is still seen as someone to look down on, when actually we should admire them for their fortitude.

I was a teen mother the first time round and, believe me, thirty years ago being pregnant and not married was still seen as a terrible thing.

Unfortunately, that stigma is still there, and it still rankles me.

Vicky Pollard swapping her baby for a Westlife CD, I laughed at that. It was funny, but it wasn’t real life. Those poor girls being vilified by Jeremy Kyle for entertainment purposes are still children themselves really, learning the ways of the world the hard way. A lot of teen mums, myself included, saw the birth of our children as not just the end of our childhoods, but also as the start of our journey into adulthood and something momentous.

I remember my Dad saying to me that a child was always a cause for celebration, and I still believe that to this day.

I chose to be a single parent, and twenty years later I made that choice once more. My children are everything to me, and I can’t see the difference in one born outside of wedlock, and one the result of a divorce. Either way, they are still children, still important and still loved.

When that person asked me what my readers would think of my being a single parent, they believed they were putting me in my place. I realise now that, actually, they were putting me in their place. Which brings me back to why it makes me so angry that something as wonderful, and precious as childbirth and motherhood can be seen by some people as something to be ashamed of.

A parent should be accepted as just that, a parent. Their circumstances should not be the issue, ever.

My mantra now is out with anger, in with love. However, I will defend my corner – like most single parents I am a hard worker and productive member of society.

So now you know what makes me angry, and why.