Jonathan has been single dad to his six-year-old daughter and three-year-old son, since his ex-wife left the family two years ago.
My ex-wife is Chinese, we met when I was working in China. We got on well and when my contract finished, she came to the UK. We got engaged, then married. Things changed after the wedding. She didn’t like the UK, it wasn’t what she wanted, it was a culture shock for her.
My wife said she wanted kids but she wasn’t very maternal. When our daughter was born, we really tried to make family life work but it was going badly wrong. I tried to make my wife happy but there’s only so much a human being can do.
When my son was nine months, she bought a ticket back to China and left us. Nobody knows what I’ve been through, it was hell. I’ve had a rough ride. I was working full-time for the NHS and explained to my line manager that I needed to cut my hours. But she was abrupt and unsympathetic. I was leaving work, rushing to pick up my son and daughter, give them their tea, they were tired and stressed, so was I. Also, my son got very ill, he was affected by breastfeeding stopping suddenly.
Eventually I took early retirement from my job, I set up an electronic engineering business but again found it too much combining work and kids. Now I’m on income support and will be until my son starts school. It’s the first time I’ve ever lived on benefits.
I try to blend in but I am unusual, being a single dad in a small village. I sympathise with other single parents, keep your chin up, I say. I don’t have any family around me to help. But by now I’m used to pulling my socks up and getting on with it, so that’s what I do.
My little boy needs a lot of attention, he’s still so young. With my daughter it is getting easier now she’s older. She washes and dresses herself now and is learning how to make breakfast for herself. I’m proud of her, she’s very independent. When my wife first left, my daughter cried when it was time for school and she was still shy and withdrawn this time last year. Now I wait at the school gates and she walks confidently into class.
We’ve got a routine. On Saturdays we go shopping, Sundays it’s swimming. We went to London for Chinese new year, we manage to do different things even though we don’t have much money.
Things are very tough for us still and I’m about to sell our house and don’t know what will happen next. The kids have not seen their mum in two years, she phones sometimes but my daughter does not speak to her.
Living on benefits has changed our lifestyle but the kids are much happier than when I was working. Now I can spend more time with them, being dad and mother.
For detailed step-by-step advice on everything from benefits and tax credits to childcare and your wellbeing, see our guide to leaving work.