An Epidemic


Yesterday morning a friend drew my attention to an article in the Daily Mail… don’t ask me what my friend was doing reading the Daily Mail; I will never know. She’s pregnant. We’ll blame it on Baby Brain and say no more of it.

The article was entitled, Fifth of UK Families has just one parent: Britain has worst record in Western Europe and went on to state that we in the UK have a higher proportion of single parent families than any other country in Western Europe, with almost one in five British families headed by a single parent.

Apparently, this is a terrible thing. How awful, that children should be growing up in single parent families. 62 per-cent of 16-year-olds are more likely to own a smartphone than live with both parents – an odd comparison, I thought. One researcher was quoted as saying it was “deplorable that we now find ourselves in the same situation as Eastern European Countries.”

Even more… er… interesting, shall we say, apparently these figures come “at a time of deepening controversy over the role of co-habitation in generating single parent families.”

I’m not sure I was necessarily aware of any controversy in the first place, much less its having deepened lately!

Basically, this article is saying “how awful that we have so many single parents; it’s because people are co-habiting rather than getting married, and then they just split up and go their separate ways…”

… as opposed to being trapped in a marriage they cannot afford to legally divorce themselves from.

I resent the insinuation that single parent families are a sign of a breakdown of society, that children being raised by a lone parent are somehow not as good or worthy as those in two-parent households.

Yes, in an ideal world, a child would grow up with both parents playing an active role in their life. This world is not ideal, though. Should we hold the two-parent family model above all other options, even if the parents are no longer in love? I would rather S had two parents to whom she could turn for love and support… but when the second parent is not up to the job, or is simply not there, what then? Is a second parent the ultimate ideal, regardless of all other considerations?

What if the parents have grown to hate each other, and bicker and fight all the time? Is that preferable to one of the parents moving out of the family home?

What if one of the parents is a drug addict or alcoholic, and indulges in these addictions in front of the child? Better that, than the child live only with the non-addicted parent?

What if one of the parents is physically or emotionally abusive – of the other parent, or of the child? At least there are two adults to turn up at parents’ evening, hey?

Yes, of course, there are people out there who have affairs and whatever else – but for the majority of parents, becoming a lone parent is not a decision anyone would take lightly. It is a decision that may come at the cost of financial security or other more worrying concerns – but with the child’s best interests at heart.


According to statistics (much like the Bible, you can make them say whatever you fancy), children from single parent families fare worse in education and such like… perhaps this has more to do with the poverty and limitations faced by lone parent families? Perhaps when a single parent is too busy trying to scrape together enough food to put a meal on the table for their children, they’re not concentrating so much on the Maths homework.

Trying to fit a job around school runs is almost impossible these days, especially when you consider that Reception classes now begin with weeks of half-days and all sorts of nonsense. If a lone parent has a job, how do they get their child to and from school? Take unpaid leave? Then where does the food come from? Who pays for the heating? What do you do during school holidays?


When the ideal of a white picket fence and two point four children cannot be upheld, surely the best option is the happiness, safety and stability of any children involved?

Many years ago, in my grandparents’ era, people got married and that was that. He beats you? So what. What goes on behind your front door is nobody else’s business. He’s an alcoholic? Make do with whatever money he gives you for food, and be done with it. She beats the children? So what, they’re her children. Isn’t it better that we have all moved forward to a position where we can remove ourselves from poisonous situations like these, and give our children a chance of a happy childhood and stable foundation for the future?


Furthermore, it is worth noting that the horse has very much bolted on this one. Single parent families exist; millions of children are growing up with one parent. There’s not much we can do to change that, other than forced marriages of all single parents (oh cripes, don’t give the Tories any ideas!). We single parents are in the position we are in. I can’t suddenly not be a single parent any more. S can’t just be un-born. She is here. We are here. The money and effort put into researching over-arching statistics about single parent families would surely be much better spent in helping all families, lone parent or otherwise, to do the best job they can of raising their children.

An argument I hear a lot is the old chestnut “you got pregnant, you had the baby, it’s your responsibility.” And yes, of course, S is one hundred per cent my responsibility. But to refuse to help single parents because of a facile, “you made your bed; you lie in it” argument, is frankly ridiculous. By stigmatising single parents and their children, we punish children for something that cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be their fault. Children with two, one, or no parents, are still children. They still need food and comfort and stability and to be given the best possible start in life.


When you bemoan the increasing number of lone parent families in this country, to me you are bemoaning my daughter’s very existence. You are complaining that I took the decision to keep her safe and happy – as if I should have fought to stay with someone who beats and abuses his children, encouraging them to wrestle on the kitchen floor for his drunken amusement. You are denigrating the hard work and grit put in by charity workers and shelter workers all over this country, to keep victims of abuse safe from harm. You are putting “the sanctity of marriage” high above the rights of any individual, adult or child, to be happy, safe, secure.


To me, it would be interesting to compare the “epidemic” rates of single parent families across Europe, with those of spousal abuse, domestic violence, child abuse. It would be interesting to look more closely than the bare face of the statistics, and see whether those people behind the picket fences are happy, their children well cared for, their lives as perfect as the Daily Mail would have us believe.


Now, go and wash your hands, lest you catch Single-Parent-itis off this blog and become the next to fall to this awful epidemic.

Vicky Charles

Vicky is a single mother, writer and card reader.


Bek Dillydrops · 07/01/2015 at 09:38

Absolutely agree with all of this. Very well said. Also, to me, it always seems that the lone parent gets the blame for all this. The absent parent is often not held as accountable. As a single Mum, food, Childcare, everything is my responsibility. If their Dad is too busy to see his children, he doesn’t. If he can’t handle them when they are tired, he brings them back to me. But it is me who is expected to work and like you say, get them to School and Nursery (having to put my career on hold to do so) and to feed them, clothe them, etc. I would do anything for my children and I enjoy my role but it is upsetting to see yet another article putting us down.

    Vicky Charles · 07/01/2015 at 10:09

    Thank you Bek, glad it’s not just me. I just feel like: yes, it’s sad that families break down and it’s sad that there are people raising children on their own without as much support as others. But we’ll never stop the rain by complaining and articles like this do more harm than good. They’re basically saying how awful it is that families like yours and mine exist… when I’m sure there are plenty of two-parent families out there where the children are not as loved or cared for as yours or mine x

Rachel @ Parenthood Highs and Lows · 07/01/2015 at 12:22

I think it is very sad that there are so many single parents out there – in an ideal world everyone would grow up with two happily married parents, but in reality, it’s so very different. I’ve been very lucky in that my own parents are still together and so are me and my kids daddy. I don’t think many mums (or dads) set out to actively choose to be a single parent – but when two people don’t make each other happy, or there are issues such as DV, it is better. I note you mention that it has been said that co habiting is to blame. My other half and me have been together almost 12 years and aren’t married, and we’ve had the whole ‘you’ll end up as a single mum’ thing – I resent this, not because there is anythin wrong with being a single mum, but that unless you are a happily married couple, you’re pretty much seen as screwed in this country! As long as everyone is happy, it shouldn’t matter what your relationship status is!

    Vicky Charles · 07/01/2015 at 12:47

    I completely agree Rachel. By that logic, marriage is a trap which keeps people living together who would otherwise have gone their separate ways. I hate this idea that marriage and 2.4 children is the only way to raise a happy, well-rounded child. As if any other way of doing it is wrong.

Suzanne · 07/01/2015 at 12:30

I agree totally. As a single parent it really upsets me that others are quick to make assumptions about my morals and lifestyle. I did not choose to be on my own (or a widow at 39), but that was what life threw at me. I do look at some of my friends and wish they would separate to make everyones lives more bearable. Happy single parent children have a far better life than some children with two parents who refuse to acknowledge and act upon their problems.

    Vicky Charles · 07/01/2015 at 12:49

    Agreed Suzanne! I often think when people stigmatise single parents, they’re lumping in those whose partner has died – suddenly you’re a rubbish parent because of something entirely beyond your control.
    To me the only thing that matters, the absolute top of the list in all of this, is what is best for the children, and whether they are happy and being raised well. If that box is ticked, I don’t care how many parents, of which sex, where they live, who else they see, whatever.

Spidermummy · 07/01/2015 at 13:53

What a lovely juicy post this is. One of my best friends has been a primary school teacher for about 15 years, and she recently said that the children in her classes who’s parents have split amicably (or only ever had contact with one parent) are way more stable than those who’s parents are together who shouldn’t be. I thought this was really interesting. It’s not about the number of parents, it’s about being raised in a loving, secure home that makes loving, secure people xx (Washing my hands in case I get DailyMail-itis)

    Vicky Charles · 07/01/2015 at 15:22

    Thanks Spidermummy! I agree, definitely. For me the happiness and stability of a child is more important than the number of parents living at home.

Kimmie · 07/01/2015 at 18:49

Bloody well said !

Amy · 09/01/2015 at 05:57

How sad that people make a living from writing such drivel! I’d love to know where they get all their statistics pfft!! X

Abby Boid · 10/01/2015 at 20:45

More so called ‘experts’ answering the wrong questions.
“How can society, including the media, support all families flourish regardless of how they are formed” would surely be a more constructive starting point. Although perhaps that doesn’t sell papers?
Ignore them.
By the way, by grandmother left her abusive husband, raised her only child in a single room in landlady accommodation, and my mother and all of us turned out pretty darned OK thank you very much. I believe another article form my Mum’s MA is due to be issued very soon.
Great post.

    Vicky Charles · 10/01/2015 at 21:08

    Thanks Abby, your mother is one of many who are living proof that children from single parent families do not automatically take up drugs and petty theft!

G Knight · 25/01/2016 at 20:58

Dear Vicky –

Whilst I recognise that some families break-up and for the many reasons we find in Society, I must ask is your website about you or mothers? And why concentrate on mothers? Why champion “Mothers” when “parents” are equally important? Gender equality equals Parental equality. I see no ‘balance’ in your website reflecting this basic tenure of equality and I am sure you will want to redress this matter and equally consider a less polarised vantage of parenting.
This being said, you should be mindful of the research published by the BMJ last year (citation: Bergstrom M, et al. J Epidemiol Community Health 2015;0:1–6. doi:10.1136/jech-2014-205058) which places children into 4 categories:
1. Nuclear Family
2. Separate parents 50:50 split
3. Separate parents 80:20 split
4. Separate parents 100:0 split
The data from Sweden – which recognises equal joint parental responsibility including Parental leave at birth- is large at 150,000 children and the conclusions are compelling:
Group 1 children suffered the least Mental Health concerns and this deteriorates progressively to Group 4. Group 4 – and especially girls – are signifcantly more prone to Mental Health issues than Group 1.
Whilst opinion – often personally vantaged and made without clear objectivity – is all too readily available, it is clear that the break-up of the parental Nucleus has significant effects on the well being of the children involved. Too many single parents – justifying their own actions – claim contra to this. However the evidence is not at all supportive of this, often self-serving, comfort blanket.
For the sake of our children, equality must be upheld, the rights of parents equally respected and protected and in cases where Alienation becomes overwhelming, the Courts decisively used to protect the welfare of the children involved. They are innocent, had nothing to do with mummy and daddy’s break-up yet stand to loose the most by the exercise of rights rather than the obligations that parents should reflect more carefully before pressing, what in many Children’s eyes, the Thermonuclear Button.

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