I recently joined an exclusive group of people - the two million other single parent families in the UK.
I’m in some great company too – Sienna Miller, Angelina Jolie and Madonna are all flying the flag for single mamas – so why are we still being portrayed as some kind of sub-class?
Every one of the single mums I know works hard to provide a loving and stable home for their kids. Most of them (where possible) work hard to have an amicable relationship with their ex-partner – again, for the kids. They all work beyond hard juggling jobs, housework, homework, school clubs, making meals, playing peacemaker between siblings and/or ex-partners. Single mums (and dads too) are one of the hardest working groups in society – and it’s time we stood up for ourselves.
Now, I’m used to being judged over my parenting skills, so this really was nothing new to me. As a mum of an autistic child who can’t really cope with crowds or public spaces, I’m used to getting that look from people who know literally FA about me.
I would shrug it off – usually. What I’m not used to is people making a judgement call on my abilities as a mother, simply because there is no man in my life anymore. There’s no doubt that since becoming a single mum, society has viewed me differently.
I’ve just moved into my first rented home. It’s important to my son to keep things as stable as possible so I rented a home in the middle class area we have been living in. That in itself was no walk in the park – I had to either provide a guarantor or six months rent upfront as I'm self employed I hadn’t rented privately before. So I went cap in hand to my bank and took out a loan to be able to pay for a nice home for me and my kids.
Unfortunately, what I didn’t count on was how neighbours might view a mum and two little kids moving in. With no man! The two other times I’ve moved as a parent, I’ve had a husband in tow. When neighbours see two small children and two parents move in, they may roll their eyes a little about the undoubted noise, but they are generally happy to see a catalogue-ready 2.4 kid family move in. How very suburban.
“Suddenly I’m having to be some kind of financial wizard – making one salary go into three
Try the same move without a man and it’s a whole different story. The neighbours have made it blatantly obvious they don’t appreciate my kind on their middle class estate. (I’m assuming it’s the single mother thing rather than the journalist thing, but who knows.) “No dad then?” one said, as I struggled in with a billion boxes, looking around as if a live-in father would suddenly spring out like a ridiculous, life-size jack in the box.
As far as I know I haven’t been chosen by God (or whoever) to carry the second coming so yes, there is a dad. But for reasons that have nothing to do with you, nosey stranger, we have decided not to live together any more. Then there’s…
Let’s get one thing straight. Papers and magazines seem to think that career women, women of a certain age and women who just haven’t met a man they consider worthy of fathering their children are popping along to sperm banks like they’re picking up kale at Waitrose.
As far as I know, no one sets out to raise their kids alone. It’s something that happens through unfortunate circumstance. Of course, in the happy hypothetical world that some people seem to live in, we’d be in a lovely detached house complete with picket fence, friendly dog and dreams of a two-storey extension.
But the real world isn’t like that. Spouses sometimes die, leaving a family behind. Sometimes mummies and daddies who once loved each other very much realise that living together is actually creating a toxic environment for their offspring and make the decision to live separately. Sometimes there’s abuse and a parent makes the brave decision to take their babies away from it. None of these scenarios are easy. None of them are desirable. This is the real world and not a cosy Sunday evening melodrama.
The money stuff
Suddenly, I’m having to be some kind of financial wizard, trying to make one salary go into three. Let’s just say numbers have never really been my strong point. I’ve had to relearn how to budget, rediscover the joys of pasta, baked beans and other cheap student foods so my kids can get their five a day (ten a day experts, just jog on) and learn to put on extra layers when we’re chilly, instead of turning the central heating up a notch.
My kids haven’t loved this aspect of it. AT ALL. Gone are the spontaneous trips to Toys R Us just because. We have a lot less TV channels. And sometimes, sometimes they’ve had to eat own-brand cereal. I know. But I’ve really tried to make the sacrifices small, for them.
On the plus side it’s meant they’re discovering the value of money. Before, they had everything they wanted – and didn’t appreciate the hard work that went into getting it for them.
They were – I hate to say it – on the verge of being spoiled. Now we have rewards charts where good behaviour earns them the things they want. They earn money for ‘helping’ me with chores (I use the term helping very loosely here, btw) and we count it, working out if they should spend it or save it for something they really want.
It’s been a learning curve for us all, and sometimes it’s really not easy. In fact, it’s the hardest job in the world. The hours are long. The pay is paltry. It makes demands of you that you would never have thought possible – 12 hours of tag-team vomiting, followed by a full day at work anyone? So please, if you know a single mum or dad – still got your backs, fellas, just let them know they're doing great.