Caroline knows that being a single parent can be challenging, but she also sees that there are really great aspects to raising her daughter on her own – not least their very close and loving relationship.
I left my husband when my daughter was 18 months old. She’s now nearly eight. I worked part time and was too frightened and embarrassed to claim housing benefit, only realising when I had 28p left in my purse that I was going to have to. My Housing Benefit office were lovely. They handed me tissues to mop up my tears and have always been fair and non-judgemental.
Since then, I have worked between 18 and 30 hours a week in a number of jobs, from being my child-minder’s assistant when I was made redundant to now using my qualifications and skills in a fairly good job with the NHS. Throughout the past six years I have always kept an eye out for any courses I could do through work or in my own time, taking on extra responsibilities, doing voluntary work and also keeping an eye out for better jobs – closer to home, better hours, more flexibility, that sort of thing.
I’ve been rewarded for my efforts, and my hard work has also had a really great effect on my daughter. She sees that I have to work to be able to run the car, which helps her to appreciate the value of money and getting a good job. I tell her about what I do and it stimulates her interest in what she might want to do as a job. I have no family within a hundred miles, but I have got great friends – all of whom are in relationships and who I help out as much as they help out me.
Finding a balance
I realised I had the choice to become a single mum and I made it, having been clear with myself what my options were. So I deal with the hand I have dealt myself – renting, housing benefit, juggling work and home. I shop in charity shops, don’t have Sky or a smartphone, buy clothes and presents from ebay (shhh! no one has noticed yet!) do lots of free stuff, use the library, and meet with friends. Yes, it would be good to have more but actually, I want to be a mum and I find I balance and enjoy life pretty well.
My daughter loves going to my friends’ houses after school as she plays with other children and pleads to go to after-school club, but that’s only for special occasions! I use them when I have to, but also by being flexible with work when they need help, I receive the same flexibility back in the school holidays. It definitely gets easier when your kids reach school age, but I have made the decision to remain on housing benefit and work 22 hours a week now, as covering school holidays and my daughter’s sick days was really hard.
I make goals about what I want to achieve each year, like paying some of my 0 per cent interest credit card each year. I try to be clear what I want to achieve so I know when I have got there. I worked out how to keep my very old car on the road this year by looking at how much it cost last year. I get a small amount of maintenance from my ex, luckily we’ve managed to maintain a good (ish) relationship and he sees his daughter regularly. I have e-bank accounts that I put money in to save towards the car bills, Christmas etc. Yes, it’s daunting going over the monthly receipts and finances, but it reduces the stress of the unknown being clear exactly what I have spent my money on and what I don’t have left!
What’s right for us
I accept now that I am not superwoman and, unfortunately, the house fairy does not tidy up whilst I am a work! So no, my house isn’t amazing. But no one undermines my house rules and if we want to go for a bike ride at 8am on a Sunday morning, read an extra-long bed time story, watch DVDs back to back and the laundry isn’t ironed – well, we can just suit ourselves!
I think about my attitude and what I want from life and accept the path I have chosen. I accept that no one else will do the washing up or make a cup of tea for me. Yes, some days are hard and I have a good moan about it occasionally, but actually what I get in return is a very loving and close relationship with my daughter – she can talk to me about anything. In a decade my daughter will be embarking on her own life and I want to enjoy this time I have with her now as it will be gone quick.
I have made my own decisions – some of them good, some of them I could have chosen better. There are choices wherever we look and we make the ones we think are best at the time. Sometimes, the options all look as bad as each other but there is still a choice. I would like to say to any single parent out there that life is what we make it. No one will make it easier for us. But there are great things about being a single parent and there are lots of small ways in which we can improve and enjoy it.
For detailed step-by-step advice on everything from benefits and tax credits to childcare and your wellbeing, read our guide to separation.