When I became a single parent I had six children at home. It was a time of huge change and I didn’t know where to start. I felt completely on my own, I had nowhere to go and get information. I couldn’t talk to anybody about what it was like to be at the end of a long marriage.
It had been my decision to end it, so it wasn’t that I was in shock, but it’s still a very different future to the one you thought you’d end up with. In retrospect, I think I was quite depressed and I hadn’t realised. But I got through it on my own. I couldn’t afford a solicitor but I did have a family member who lent me money to see one which was great because she helped with the practical and legal aspects. I can’t imagine what it’s like if you don’t have somebody to do that, it would be even harder.
I was, and I am, very lucky that I had a well-paid job, and had always been in a position where I was independent. It would be wrong to say I didn’t have to worry about money but it was never the case that I was worried about feeding my children. I can’t imagine what it’s like if you’re not in that position – if you haven’t been working, if you have no income, if you have no support from your family.
Finding a community
I didn’t have Gingerbread back then. Had I known about it, I would have come to it straight away. It’s an invaluable source of support, resources and information for single parents.
Alongside that, Gingerbread provides the ongoing support and understanding you need in what can be an incredibly isolating experience. You’re surrounded by people in relationships, and I sometimes feel like I’m this comedy mum, running from here to there with things falling out of my bag, forgetting things! I don’t have time – I’m very busy, it’s very stressful and it gives me a lot of anxiety.
But single parents understand how hard it is to juggle. You need that community of people who can support you and lift you up. People who understand what you’re going through and who can remind you that you’re not alone and that you’re not a rubbish mum!
Through Gingerbread I met so many more single parents, and though there are so many different things affecting us, we have a lot in common. We are juggling, we have the responsibility of parenting alone and it’s a big responsibility. It’s hard work and it’s exhausting, and I think the weight of the mental load is the same for everybody. You may have support from lots of different people but, at the end of the day, it’s you that’s sitting on the sofa when your kids are in bed, thinking about the to-do list, or worrying about them. It’s that burden that makes us all the same.
I’m very hard on myself and I think I made a lot of mistakes along the way, but what I’m most proud of is my children. They are incredible and I love it when we’re all in the house together. They’re a fantastic bunch and they’re so funny, so strong and so kind. I take a lot of credit for that – if I’m going to blame myself for some of the things I didn’t do brilliantly, I think I’m also going to take credit for the things I’ve done alright!
I’ve now got three kids off at university and they’re all independent and growing up, and they’re happy – it’s just really rewarding. I feel very much that I did that! I feel very proud of them for doing it, but I also feel proud of myself for doing it too. Between us, we’ve recreated what the family is. For me, my version of my family is me and them (plus our 3 cats, 2 dogs and our slightly chaotic house!).
Single parents or superhumans?
You have to have a lot of resilience to deal with everything that life throws at you – whether it’s practical or emotional stuff – you have to be able to bounce back and get on with it.
You have to be supportive of your children all the time even if you’re feeling exhausted and just carry on. Working, maintaining friendships, maintaining hobbies and parenting all at the same time – you’ve got to be pretty much superhuman!
It’s so important to celebrate the strength and the achievements of single parents because people forget that and they remember the negative stereotypes. There’s a lot of blame put on single parents for being in the situation they find themselves in. We cling on to the idea that two parents are better than one but it’s not always true and actually it shows incredible strength to parent alone.
When I came to Gingerbread, I didn’t know how discriminated against single parents are – how disadvantaged they are compared to coupled parents – and it’s that that makes me the most angry and drives my work. The fact that a child of a single parent is twice as likely to be in poverty as a child of a coupled parent is so unjust. It’s immoral and there’s no rationale for it.
Knowledge is power, community gets you through
If you’re at the start of your journey, or you’re worried about what the future holds for your family, just know that it’s ok to be a single parent – you’re not failing your children, you’re not failing yourself. It’s a different kind of family and a different future than you thought but remember: you can and will be really happy again. You’ll have a great family and you’ll build a bond with your children that you might not have had in any other situation.
Information and advice are so important, particularly at the beginning, and if you’re navigating legal issues, getting expert advice is vital because knowledge really is power. Find out everything you can.
Most importantly, get support from other single parents because they will be able to give you the information and support you need, and get you through those times when you’re sitting on the sofa late at night worrying about everything!
Single Parents’ Day – a celebration of strength
I want Single Parents’ Day to be a step away from the doom and gloom, and a chance for us to celebrate ourselves for once. To say ‘look, I’m not perfect but I’m doing a really, really good job!’.
It’s a chance to show the world that single parent families are just as valid and just as successful as the traditional coupled setup.
It’s a celebration of the incredible achievements of single parents: our strength, our resilience, and our all-round amazingness!