Single parents and carers, it’s time our voices are heard

Posted 1 February 2019

Ann is mother to 12-year-old Karim, who has autism. Karim loves sports and plays rugby, tennis and basketball. He also plays snooker in his local league, plays pool for Sussex, and is a talented singer and will be singing at his sister’s wedding in August. Ann is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing. They love going to the theatre, live music events, and attending their local gym. They live in East Sussex. 

Someone asked me the other day how long I’d been a single parent for. When I said nine years they were shocked. “How come?” they said. I didn’t take this so much as a personal compliment as a recognition that a lot of people who become single parents will at some point enter into a new relationship.

But what about those lone parents for whom life holds further demands over and above the many facing all single parents? For whom the general caring for their children is accompanied by being their children’s carer. Moving on is not so easy for this group. Their voices are rarely heard, probably because they are just so exhausted, time poor and worn down to speak out.

Yes that’s right this is a shout out to you, single parents of disabled children. You frazzled lot struggling to meet your kids’ needs and battling a system that is strained to breaking point.

All single parents will recognise the juggling act of caring for children alone. No matter how capable and resilient we are there can’t be many among us who haven’t longed for someone to say “I’ll take him to football tonight” or “put your feet up, I’ll do the washing up”.

Imagine how it feels to have, layered on top of that everyday grind, the endless medical appointments, school meetings and complicated disability related paperwork that come with the territory of raising a disabled child. All this set against the mental backdrop of the throbbing worry about your child’s health and future and often the stomach churning anxiety of financial stress caused by the impact of caring responsibilities on your ability to work.

Why are the specific needs of this important group never discussed or addressed? Many studies have suggested that having a disabled child substantially increases the likelihood of relationship breakdown.

According to figures by Gingerbread, three million children live in single parent households and 22 per cent of those households have at least one disabled person. Gingerbread’s figures also show that less than ten per cent of single parents have shared care arrangements for their children.

What this adds up to is a huge number of single parents coping alone with the demands of raising a disabled child. I am one such parent. Over the nine years I have spent raising my son alone, I have found depths of personal strength, patience and resilience that, to be honest, I never knew I possessed. But on the flip side I have had to put aside all hope of a life of my own, at least until my son is older.

I stopped looking at social media as seeing the passage of other people’s lives was profoundly depressing when my life seemed to be standing still through no choice of my own.

So many lone parents face the isolation and relentless pressure that caring for a disabled child can bring. We love our kids and will always continue to put them first. But it is high time our voices were heard too.

So if you too are alone caring for a disabled child, don’t forget that you matter too. After all, your child’s wellbeing depends on yours.

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