Why we should move past our prejudice against single mums - and better understand the daily battles they face
- Credit: Archant
Ellen Widdup’s 2.4 Children
For the last three weeks my husband has been away on business and I have had a little taster of what life is like as a single parent.
I don’t recommend it – not that many have much choice in the matter.
Except for those few who choose to fall pregnant, knowing right from the beginning that they will be doing it alone, I don’t think there is a woman on Earth who faces single parenthood without some trepidation.
It is not usually part of the game plan, is it? But relationships fail, people die, fall out of love, cheat, move on and make choices, and the consequences can be immense.
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Now motherhood is tough at the best of times ? relentless, worrying, emotionally-draining work.
But, as I have discovered, when you are on your own, everything is magnified.
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In the last fortnight there have been the usual triumphs, happy days, kisses, cuddles, laughter and scribbled pencil drawings.
There have been funny questions, tousled hair, sweet-smelling skin and little feet.
But every moment of fun has been tinged a little with sadness. Because it’s lonely on your own.
There was nobody to creep down the corridor with me to leave a shiny penny from the Tooth Fairy. There was nobody to chat to over supper. There was nobody to go and investigate the thump in the middle of the night – which turned out to be a picture falling off the wall and meant I couldn’t sleep for days afterwards.
And there was nobody to share the little things with – like my daughter getting a gold star for reading; my son eating all his lunch.
Those are the things that, let’s be honest, no-one else cares about except the people who created that child.
By the end of the experience I was bored, tired and fed up. Frustrated that I was tied to the household at every turn.
There was nobody to reassure me that what I was doing was right. There was nobody to share enchanting moments with or to pour me a glass of wine and listen to me moan after a hard day.
Now, I am under no illusion that my temporary foray into this world did not come with all the extra worries single parents face ? childcare, the inability to take a sick day, money. And let’s face it, as a single parent you are doing the job of two at home, while managing the bills that are usually the responsibility of a pair.
My mother-in-law brought up my husband alone. He used to think her favourite meal was beans on toast because that’s what she would eat, day in day out, in order to afford to get by.
He remembers her struggling through paperwork, heating the whole house with a two-bar fire and going without for months ahead of Christmas so they could buy a turkey crown for two.
But he also remembers being very content, very loved.
And that is borne out in a recent study which found that children raised by a single parent are no less happy than those living with two.
Researchers found family composition has “no significant effect” and that the quality of relationships at home was most strongly linked to a child’s well-being instead. These results challenge the popular misconception that children in two-parent families are more likely to feel safe and secure.
They also go some way to combat that awful stereotype of the “broken” home.
And what a dreadfully demeaning expression that is.
Surely, for a country that has more single parents than almost any other in Europe, we can move past this great social prejudice?
Most single mothers are not in a situation of their choosing. They wanted the happy family; someone to share the load. To share the joy.
So it’s such incredible cultural ignorance that an attitude still exists that seems to blame a single mother for her circumstances.
I know men can be affected by this too. And of the two million single parents in the UK, 400,000 are male.
But often they are cheered for their dedication to their child in the face of adversity – spurred on by the horror of the unnatural abandonment of a mother. (We like to blame women, don’t we?)
Single mothers, meanwhile, are seen as somehow responsible for what has happened to them: a drain on society; a problem. And they are often deeply criticised for claiming benefits instead of going to work.
Now surely our benefits system is designed to support those most in need?
And it’s hardly surprising that one in three single mothers is unemployed is it?
Caring for a child is a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week responsibility and most two-parent families make career sacrifices somewhere along the way to juggle that burden.
A single mother has no choice, no support, no way to finance a childcare strategy, no back-up to pick up the slack.
Sometimes even I am overwhelmed by the incredible responsibility that is being a parent – and I have all that help in abundance.
As a society we place such incredibly unreasonable expectations on mothers in general, pushing for perfection.
And, as such, the last few weeks has given me a new appreciation and respect for single parents who strive for all this alone.
Luckily for me, my husband is now home.
When he walked in the door last night, I threw my arms round him in welcome before pointing him upstairs to deal with a sick child and a temper tantrum.
Yes, it was a huge relief. And no, I shall never again take our two-parent family life for granted again.
Find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup