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 2 October 2017
Louisa is 33 and lives in Torquay with her son, Finley, who’s 3 and a half. Louisa is originally from Aberdeen, but moved down to Devon to make a fresh start with her now ex-husband. Since becoming a single mum after the birth of her son, Louisa has found that keeping positive and “getting out there” are the keys to making a new life for her family.
A fresh start
We were living in Scotland when my husband got a job on a boat as a seismic engineer which meant he had to go away for six weeks at a time. Just after he started, my sister passed away very suddenly. I wanted him to stay with me, but he wanted to continue with the job. Things started to break down between us.
We talked things over and decided we needed a fresh start. We moved down to Torquay and started trying for a baby. I got pregnant relatively quickly and soon enough my husband had to go off on the boat again. While he was away he started saying that he didn’t think he wanted a baby anymore.
My husband came back off the boat just before our son was due to be born. After Finley came along he changed his mind – now he said he really did want to be a dad. But I knew something wasn’t quite right.
Becoming a single mum
After leaving for another six weeks at sea, my husband decided he didn’t want to be a dad after all. It’s a very young environment on the boat – lots of younger guys – and I guess that had an effect. But it was all a big shock for me, even though I think I knew it was coming.
I didn’t have any friends or family in Torquay yet, so I felt really alone. Because I got pregnant so soon after we moved down, I hadn’t started working – and I think that’s one of the main ways you meet people when you move to a new area. So I decided that Finley and I would go back to Scotland for a while. My parents were in Edinburgh and I needed a bit of help getting sorted.
It was while I was living in Edinburgh that I got the idea for my business. I’d left all of Finley’s stuff down in the house in Torquay when we moved, and didn’t have the things we needed like a cot or a pram. I thought, wouldn’t it be great if you could hire out this kind of stuff when you need it? And that’s now the business that I run myself – Jigglygiraffe.
Jigglygiraffe hires out baby and toddler equipment in the Torbay area to parents, so that they have all the stuff they need if they’re visiting on holiday, or coming to stay with friends or family, without having to lug it with them – that sort of thing. It’s doing really nicely.
Life with Finley is a lot easier now he’s a bit older. When he was first born it was pretty tough as you have to be with them 24 hours a day. There’s only you to do it. Even little things like going to the toilet became a challenge, because what do you do with him while you’re in there!? That’s why I moved home – to have a bit more support.
Finley and I have since moved back to Torquay and live in the house my ex-husband and I bought. I’ve moved on a lot and I don’t need the same support I did when Finley was first born – I wanted that fresh start again. Since splitting with my husband, I’ve just got loads more confidence. I’ve joined lots of clubs and try to be brave and get out there. It can be really hard to make yourself go to a new group or activity for the first time as you don’t know what to expect, but I’ve ended up with loads of friends out of it. I think I love playgroup more than Finley does now!
The parent bond
My son sees his dad about four times a year. They don’t really have a relationship, he’s just another person in his life – Finley doesn’t even call him dad. He just doesn’t know him that well. I sometimes see friends who are settled down and have kids –you see a dad with their son, and it can seem like a bit of a shame that my son doesn’t have that. But then I also see couples arguing a lot about parenting decisions – mum’s said the child can’t have any more sweets but dad’s given them to them anyway, that sort of thing – and I’m really glad I don’t have that. I think it’s lovely that Finley’s never heard an argument. It’s liberating to just make my own decisions.
It is tough sometimes not having the time to do things, and being constantly with my son – it can sometimes feel quite lonely. That said the bond we have is incredible, you can’t beat it. I don’t think there’s anything quite like the bond a single parent has with their child.
Seeing the positives
I think Gingerbread is great for just letting you know that there are other people out there like you. I like to read the members’ newsletter and the stories from other single parents – it reminds you that you’re not on your own. I like that everything’s positive too and not all doom and gloom about being a single parent.
The best piece of advice I received after becoming a single parent is that you shouldn’t blame yourself. I felt for ages that it was my fault Finley’s dad left us, and I used to try and overcompensate for it by trying to be the best at everything – staying up until the middle of the night making homemade baby food (which he hated and wouldn’t eat!), trying to buy every toy I could find so he had the best of everything – until someone pointed out that I wasn’t to blame and that Finley was actually really lucky. He is very close to his grandparents, which I don’t think he would have been had my husband been around, and my friends all adore him so he’s loved by everyone.
My advice to other single parents is just to stay strong and try not to think about what you don’t have. I lost a lot when my husband and I split – both emotionally and financially. It’s a bit of a shock at first trying to get by on less. But I’d say, try not to let it get to you – look for the positives and remember what you do have.
For detailed step-by-step advice on everything from benefits and tax credits to childcare and your wellbeing, read our guide to self-employment.