Emily is 34 and lives in Poole with her son, James, who is two and a half. She became a single parent last year after her marriage broke down. She describes having James as the moment she really ‘started living again’ and has since worked hard to build up their life together – from working through financial difficulties to making a new life by the seaside.
The past and the future
Like most single parents, I could write a book on my experiences, and the twists and turns we’ve dealt with. But I think it’s important not to live too much in the past history of how we got to where we are, but live in the now, going forward, learning from our mistakes and making the best of our future.
One almighty argument
Yes, I am a single mother, have been for a year. Yes my husband of 12 years did leave us, in his own words, ‘financially bereft.’ And yes, he did drag me through the courts, making me so ill that the stress of it all nearly stopped me doing the thing I left him to do – bring up my son, James, in the best way I can.
My ex-husband and I had worked abroad in the finance industry, building a business together that had resulted in a very comfortable lifestyle. I was actually back in the UK on holiday with James and my then husband when one almighty argument left me a single parent with James, living in one bed holiday flat in York with one suitcase of clothes and pretty much nothing else to my name.
Needing some help
I lived off our joint account for about a month before my ex closed it and I was forced to live off James’ savings. My ex said he would start supporting James again once the savings had run out. I had become friendly with the florist under my flat and she gave me two pieces of advice – call the CSA and ring Gingerbread. I did both. The CSA took four months to chase my ex down and my first payment came in January, just as James’ saving had nearly run out.
Gingerbread were amazing, giving me calm, clear advice. A lovely women with the patience of a saint stayed on the phone, running through all my options to get me back to work, what government support I would get, what housing allowance I could receive, tax credits and how many hours I could get back to work and how much financial help I would receive to get James into nursery.
Back to work
A little luck then prevailed and through a meeting with a law firm to try and stop my ex taking me to court (another book-worthy story!), I landed a job, initially looking after the boss’ kids and office managing. Very quickly he asked me to develop and market his law firm for him part-time.
I moved to Guildford for the job, into a less than perfect flat but with a perfect little south-facing garden and a nursery within walking distance. James, who was now 18 months old, went to nursery for 16 hours a week and I worked hard juggling the job, the court case, and a little lad that was a bit shaken by what was going on and so was over excitable and upset. But James soon got a bit more settled and I got into the groove of the juggling act!
Of course it wasn’t easy. I was travelling back to Yorkshire every month for James to see his dad by court order. The drive was a killer, petrol expensive and turning up to work tired didn’t exactly go down well. It was hard to concentrate with the financial worries, raising James totally on my own and the still full-on arguments with his dad with no family around me. But we did it together, James and me, from driving into London to drop court documents off to him sitting on my knee whilst I made sales calls.
Around the time James turned two his dad and I went to court for the last time and came to an agreement that we could live with. So now James sees his dad every two to three weeks for two to three days at time. I would prefer James to see his dad more often with a little more routine to it all and fewer arguments around the visits, but the stuff I’m able to control is going well.
My contract with the law firm came to an end after about six months. I had a decision to make – stay in part-time work struggling to make ends meet or pray to god that I could get a job that was going to allow me a future of building up my own finances again.
I knew I didn’t want to stay in Guildford – it’s pretty but very expensive and the jobs seemed to centre around London with long commutes, an option which I didn’t want to take. During a little break away to Swanage we were driving through Poole – and the place caught my eye.
I came to Poole a couple more times, looked at the property prices and rang the local housing association to see what the housing benefit was, hung out with James on the beach – the place is beautiful, a tourist destination, there’s a million things to do on the weekend, loads of parks and it’s running and cycling heaven! So, having worked out the financial side of things, I got my CV ready, applied for two jobs and was offered both!
The two of us
I found a house the same day, got it signed off as mine and Kim, James’ childminder who is a fairy godmother of amazing, said she would look after James. He goes to a Montessori nursery a day and a half a week, which allows for backup if anybody’s ill or life just happens. He loves Kim and calls her mommy Kim, which obviously pulls at the heart strings a bit but it means he goes on trips, paints and sings all day, and I can bring in the pennies to provide for us both.
So now me and James live in a two bed house right next the quay (which admittedly needs a little decorating and has a washing machine that’s been broken since we moved in!). James is a very happy, energetic little boy who has a bundle of people round him that love him as their own. I love my job and it just gets better every day. When the work is done and I get James back, we spend the evenings and weekends running, with him in a jogging pushchair, cycling with a trailer attached to the bike and building sandcastles on the beach with fish and chips and The Simpsons as a treat!
I guess what I’m trying to say is the situation of single parenting is less than perfect and a bit of a juggling act to say the least but it’s not the end – in fact it can be quite the opposite. Gingerbread helped me when I needed the support and proper advice that helped give me the confidence to build mine and James’ life again.
Gingerbread asked me what advice I would give to other single parents. I guess that advice would be grab every opportunity with both hands and make as many mistakes as you can, it’s the only way you learn! Finally, take all the advice and help you can from as many people that are willing to give it.