Breaking the single mum stereotypes

Since becoming a single mum six months ago I’ve reached a state of acceptance within myself. That hasn’t happened without first visiting feelings of guilt and shame though. Were they put there by others or myself? Either way, I feel there’s a lot of work still to be done on society’s attitudes towards single parents.

When you tell people you’re a single mum, some are sympathetic, some full of praise and others find it hard to conceal their judgement, if they’re even trying. Reactions range from the heartfelt “Oh wow, I don’t know how you manage,” to the congratulatory (if slightly patronising), “Well done for doing it on your own!” and asking how much I get in benefits. I’d love to be able to say, like water off a duck’s back, that none of this affect me. It does, because while I’m comfortable with my situation, I’m not ready for people feeling sorry for me, or worse: trying to fit me into a stereotype.

I spoke to other single mum bloggers to find out their views and experiences.

“I’m proud of the single mum label now,” says Alice Judge-Talbot, lifestyle blogger at More Than Toast and single mum to Hux, aged 4 and Elfie, aged 6. “I’ve achieved a lot at the same time as bringing up two lovely children, and it’s bloody hard work.”

Alice has been a single mum since the end of her marriage in 2013. She offered her ex-husband 50/50 custody when they split, but she now says she wouldn’t have it any other way. Her single parent status has helped her succeed, she says, and as well as blogging and working as a digital marketing consultant, she writes about divorce in her Telegraph column.

Gela is a blogger at singlemumstyle.co.uk and a digital communications manager. She has been a solo parent to her eight-year-old boy since he was three months old. Her ex-partner “wasn’t the commitment type”, but has always been there for their son.

It’s thanks to never having enough time, she says, that she has learned a lot of life hacks and how to adapt. And being single, she actually then found she had a surplus of time to work on things she might never have done if she’d still been cohabiting. And the biggest advantage of all? “The freedom to focus all my energies on my son. I really like days out with just the two of us. We have the same childish sense of humour so we are always laughing together.”

Like Alice and Gela, Vicky Charles, blogger at Single Mother Ahoy and a social media consultant, attributes her big achievements over the last few years to being a single mum:

“If I hadn’t had my daughter and felt so desperately alone during the evenings, I would never have set up my blog. If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have rediscovered my love for writing or learned how to use social media properly. These things now form the basis of my business, which I would also never have started if I wasn’t a single parent. I remember going back to my job after my maternity leave and sitting there thinking, ‘I really need to figure out how I can be self-employed and work my job around school holidays.’”

Vicky has been a single mum to her five-year-old daughter, who she refers to as S, since she broke up with her abusive ex-partner at the beginning. She recalls that once, after she appeared on LBC, a listener emailed her out of the blue to tell her she was damaging her child by not allowing her father to see her. “I think for some people any father is better than no father, which is just not true,” she says.

“Others see ‘single mum’ and ‘housing benefit’ and assume I’m living the high life on their taxes. They miss the part where I’m self-employed and almost completely off benefits these days. My daughter wants for nothing and is ecstatically happy most of the time. She’s not dirty, plagued with nits or behind in her educational achievements.”

As a single parent, you learn pretty quickly not to care what others think, says Gela. “I don’t think anyone has ever said anything really negative or unkind to me about being a single parent, but I do get the feeling some people have certain snooty views or they think you’re not a ‘proper’ family, but it doesn’t really bother me.”

The stigmatisation Alice felt came from within rather than from other people: “I used to feel that I had a lot of negative reactions when I told people I was a single parent, but thinking back I was projecting my own fears to the situation. I know there are a lot of preconceived ideas about how this can affect children but mine are just brilliant.”

While single motherhood isn’t yet completely free of stigma, the increased responsibility it brings can be a source of increased motivation and confidence.

“Suddenly becoming single put a fire in my belly,” says Alice. “Because I’m the breadwinner in my home, I work a lot harder than I would if I had the ‘buffer’ of a well-earning husband.”

By writing about being a single mum, Alice wants to show people that “[we] aren’t deadbeat people with no hope. We can be businesswomen, writers, feminists and intelligent human beings who not only raise wonderful, well-balanced kids but also make waves in their careers and personal lives.”

Another benefit of being a single mum, Gela says, is being her own boss at home. “Yes, I have to do everything but at least I’m not picking up the underpants of a grown man who can’t use a laundry basket.

“Although the responsibility is sometimes overwhelming, I think being a single parent can also be empowering. When I look back at the things I have dealt with on my own I think, ‘Wow, I’m pretty tough!’

“I’m proud of my resilience, but I am also very lucky because I have had the support and help of my parents throughout. I have also had a great employer that has supported flexible working. I don’t know how well I would have coped if I didn’t have that support.“

Between the extra time we have for our kids and professional endeavours, the additional motivation and a greater sense of independence, these single mums show that solo parenting doesn’t have to be the shameful, stigmatised experience it’s often painted out to be. We can be, do and have it all.

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