Like anything, being a single parent has its good points and its not-so-good points. For me, it’s just my life. I don’t often sit and think about how hard it is, or I would never make it out of bed in the mornings!
For the most part, I just get on with it. My daughter’s father left when she was around 3 weeks old so really, being a single parent is the only experience of parenthood I have had. I think this is actually a good thing for me as I have nothing to compare it to. I can imagine that if I’d had a good experience of being a mother as part of a couple, a relationship breakdown and subsequently becoming a single parent would have been very difficult.
I think if you’ve had that experience of having a second parent present, a second income, a second pair of hands – going it alone must seem like an insurmountable task. I have never had that; for as long as I have been a parent, I’ve been a single one. So the practicalities don’t bother me so much.
I am well aware that most of the things I find hard about parenthood are the things all parents, single or otherwise, find hard. I’m talking here about the constant worry and guilt over whether you’ve made the best decision for your child, but also the small things like navigating a trip to Tesco to do the shopping when your child really is not in the mood for such things. And, of course, everything in between. All parents have hard days; all children have days when they’re not feeling cooperative, and whether you have a partner or not, those days can be hard going.
The hardest part of being a single parent is not financial
I can deal with the financial aspect of being a single parent – of having only one income, and an ability to earn which is limited by school runs and school holidays. Having never had a second income, I don’t miss it. I don’t enjoy relying on benefits to get by, but I’m fully aware that these days many two-parent families with more jobs than adults in the home also need help from the government to make ends meet.
I am very fortunate, in that I am self employed and able to work from home. This means my ability to earn is more under my control – or at least, it feels that way. I can work before the school run; I can work after the school run. I can work all evening and into the night, if I need to. There is always the opportunity to go out and find a new client, pick up more work, earn more money. My daughter is old enough now to understand that I need to spend time at my desk during the school holidays in order to afford the day trips and outings we have when I don’t work. I wouldn’t say I necessarily have that balance exactly as I’d like it, but what parent does?
It is also worth noting here that from a financial point of view, it can be easier not to have a second adult in the home. I am the only person responsible for paying the bills, and I am the only one who makes the decisions. I decide which brand of washing powder to buy; I decide when the central heating is switched on. There is nobody to argue the toss over whether we should just put on an extra jumper; nobody who thinks we should spend more money on this or less money on that. You can’t really have arguments about finances with a seven-year-old, so there are no arguments about money in our home.
The hardest part of being a single parent is not the stereotypes, the judgement, the assumptions or even the pity
Yes, it is 2019 and there are 1.8 million single parents in the UK – that’s around a quarter of all families. Less than one per cent of single parents are teenagers, and the average age of a single parent is 39 – but still, the stereotypes and the judgement persist.
I have received emails from well-meaning members of the public who genuinely believe I am “damaging” my child by not forcing her to see an abusive father who shows zero interest in her. People have commented on my blog calling me a benefits scrounger and complaining that My taxes paid for your TV . There are still people out there who believe women “get themselves pregnant” (a biological impossibility, as far as I know) in order to get a council house and benefits. These are clearly people who have never tried to get pregnant without the involvement of a man; have never tried to get a council house; have never tried to navigate the benefits system.
As a single mother, it seems that many people don’t think I can have platonic friendships with men. Any time I post a photo of myself with a male friend on my social media, or am spotted in town with a male friend (I live in a very local city where everyone knows everyone), I get at least one message asking who he is – as if men and women are never, ever just friends. It can be irritating when I have to be careful about spending time with male friends, lest the entire world become convinced we are dating. This can be especially problematic when the male in question is in a relationship – especially if I am friends with his partner too. I often find myself refusing offers of help and keeping a distance between myself and my attached male friends to avoid problems. People do love to gossip, and perhaps by putting so much of my life out there in the public domain I have made a rod for my own back with this one.
And of course, there is the pity. The I-don’t-know-how-you-do-it brigade who usually have their heads on one side as they speak to me as if it’s such a terrible tragedy that I don’t have a partner. Nobody enjoys being pitied, but I especially dont like it when actually I have a good life with my child and don’t routinely wander about feeling that I need someone to feel sorry for me.
The hardest part of being a single parent is not childcare
… Though I would say if I’m honest, this one comes a close second! I don’t have much of a social life; my options when it comes to socialising with other adults are either to take time out of my work day (and therefore money out of my pocket) to meet friends for coffee, or beg someone to babysit for me, and then feel indebted to them for it.
I was talking to a friend the other day who doesn’t keep much food in his house; if he needs food for dinner tonight he’ll go to the shop and buy what he needs for that meal. I found that incomprehensible; I stockpile food as if preparing for the apocalypse. There is always at least a few days’ worth of food in the house at any given time – because I have been caught out in the past, with a poorly child who couldn’t possibly walk to the shops to get supplies. When my daughter had chicken pox very badly a few years ago, we were house bound for a week. There was no opportunity to pop to the shop for supplies; I couldn’t even get her to put on clothes most of the time, much less make the ten-minute walk to the nearest shop. It would have been useful then to have another parent here who could at least have brought shopping home – or stayed with my daughter while I got ten minutes of fresh air.
I’m not particularly close to my family; my siblings have lives and children of their own, and my mother is not well enough to take care of my child even if she wanted to. There is nobody from whom I feel entitled to expect this sort of thing – so I rely mostly on the one sibling who doesn’t have children, and on the few friends I know my daughter is happy to spend time with.
I have always felt very strongly that I didn’t want to leave my child with just anyone who would have her; I never want her to look back on her childhood and feel that she was dumped with people while I went out and enjoyed myself. I also have an irrational fear of other people feeling I take advantage of them by having them look after my child. Ultimately, I am the person who is responsible for raising my child, and if one of the few people I routinely use for childcare can’t make a particular date, I stay home.
This means I have missed out on numerous nights out with friends, but also events and performances I would have loved to see – and work opportunities that would have meant travelling and not being back in time for the school run.
I don’t tend to feel badly about this though; I am aware there are probably plenty of people who would take care of my child for me if I asked; it’s my decision to limit that group of people, and to put my duty as a parent ahead of furthering my career or having a night out. I am very aware that because my child only has one parent, it is important that she always feel connected, and doesn’t feel abandoned by me – because she doesn’t have the fall-back of that second parent to rely on.
The hardest part of being a single parent is being alone
For me the hardest part comes at the point where other parents would turn to their partner and say, What do you think we should do? It’s the bit where you sit down at the end of a long day and get to talk it all through with your partner. Or at the very least, make snide comments about how they weren’t there to help you with it!
Even if a child’s parents are no longer together and fight like cat and dog, both ultimately have an interest in making sure that child is okay. I do not have that, and more importantly: my daughter does not have that. She only has one parent; one person on whom she can rely 100%, no matter what.
When I was young, I can distinctly remember preferring to hold my mum’s hand when we walked anywhere, because my dad held my hand too tight. When it came to sitting down after dinner to watch TV, I preferred to sit with my dad because he gave the best cuddles. I had a choice. I could fall out with one of them, tell them I hated them, and run to the other for comfort. Even if my dad was away with work, he was still present in my life and someone upon whom I could rely.
Eighteen months ago, my daughter was found collapsed on the school field, and we ended up in the back of an ambulance with blue lights and sirens. It was the single most horrifying time of my life. The worst part came when we arrived at the hospital and they asked if there was anyone they could call. There was nobody.
I went through a list in my head of the people one would normally call in this situation. I have a problematic relationship with my mother; my siblings would all either be at work or on the school run; any friends I would potentially have called would also be on the school run at that time of day. They all had their own responsibilities, and although I received many calls and messages from people offering support, there was nobody I could have expected to come and sit with me while they tried to figure out why my child wouldn’t wake up.
Yes, I have friends and family who are there when I need them. S and I are incredibly lucky to have friends who have been there for us time and again when we have needed them, for the big things and the small. But when it comes down to it, there is not a single person on this planet whose job it is to care as much as I care; to worry as much as I worry; to love as much as I love. That is the hardest part of being a single parent. Not only that I don’t have the mental and emotional support of someone who is as invested in this as I am, but knowing that my child doesn’t have that either.