I finally realised how under-represented single parents are in our society when I last upgraded my iPhone’s OS. The Emoji keyboard updates caused celebrations on Social Media because AT LAST! Alternative families were finally represented in teeny tiny cartoon form. Two mums and a child – brilliant! Gay fathers with boy and a girl babies – excellent! But where were the single parents? Despite a quarter of children in the UK being raised in one-parent families, according to my Emoji keyboard my family type does not exist. I can’t text my friends a miniscule cartoon depiction of my two children and I and that makes me sad. *insert crying face Emoji*
The UK media and entertainment industries are guilty of sidelining single parents, too. Think of the last thing you read about single parents in the papers: I fully expect the piece had a negative slant or was some blathering about single mums struggling on benefits. Or the last single mum or dad you saw on TV… mine was Doctor Foster, who started off in a marriage but became a single mum because the alternative was to murder her philanderer of a husband, whoops.
She had great hair and a banging wardrobe though, so we’ll forgive her.
I feel there is always a negative portrayal of single parents – particularly mums. They’re benefit scroungers, lazy, work shy. The contestants coming from single parent families are always the sob stories on the X Factor, they’re being evicted from their homes on debt collector documentaries, they’re spending their benefits on TVs in the Daily Mail.
But what about those of us who are holding it together? The ones who work hard at being single mums and bringing home the bacon? The ones who run homes and raise families and start businesses, who make sure their kids don’t lack for anything – but singularly, not part of a couple? Why is this such a foreign concept in our society?
I have to admit I don’t watch soaps (I’m a single parent so don’t have the time ;) so don’t know what the portrayal of us lot are like over there. But I have found myself on the Daily Mail’s sidebar of shame once or twice and can report it’s no single parent party.
We are definitely lacking coverage of positive single parent celebrity role models – remember Chantelle Houghton, who instead of being praised for the dignified way she handled her transition to single motherhood got roped over the coals because of her ex’s trans-dressing preferences… or Myleene Klass, whose divorce was seen to be way more newsworthy than the fact she’s a strong single working mum? Quite frankly, it stinks.
In my opinion the way single mums are portrayed definitely has a knock-on effect of single mothers feeling embarrassed about their status. I think I would have been quicker to face up to my marriage breaking down had I not felt terrified of becoming a single parent – something I saw as shameful, hopeless and in the bottom echelons of society.
In actual fact it’s been a growing experience, an empowering and important time that has taught me to work hard and love my children fiercely. I will never say that I am a mum AND dad to them; they might have to FaceTime those important milestones with their dad and spend limited time with them but he is still an important presence in their lives. However, I think I represent more strength and omnipresence in my love to them than I would had I still been married. They don’t want or need for anything in their lives and that is down to me.
Single parenthood has also forced me to push myself to success in my professional capacity and I’m proud and happy to support our household on my earnings rather than relying on the state. I don’t have Myleene Klass’s millions (or her abs, let’s face it) but I do believe we share a hunger to succeed for the sake of our children’s future.
I wonder what I can do to change the way the world thinks about single parents. Start a Twitter hashtag movement? Write to the Prime Minister? Write a positive single parenting screenplay and sell it to the BBC?
For now I am happy to write in my own little bubble, telling the world our story and feeling happy in the knowledge that we’re doing it right and positively. The rest will follow.