There was a time where the only label I gave myself was ‘Single Mum’. Wherever I was – at the supermarket, out to dinner with the kids, mid-Tinder conversation – I always felt the shame of it like an albatross across my neck.
It was something I was sure would be the first thing people saw when they looked at me. The same as the fact I have brown hair and a big smile, I thought the single mum label would be one of the most obvious parts of my person, so much that I hid my left hand when out with the kids in case of judgement and deftly steered all marriage-based conversations with acquaintances elsewhere lest it was discovered I was husband-less.
Six years it has taken me to realise that single mums, we are so much more than this label.
The realisation came to me quietly.
I slowly realised that worked and fought to get by day-to-day. I moved us into a new house, then a couple of years later another slightly bigger one. As the children grew older and started school I could work more, and so it got busier.
All of a sudden I wasn’t worrying so much about money, and we went on a couple of holidays. I spent time in a relationship that didn’t make me happy and so learned exactly how important it was to prioritise my family’s contentment. I got myself out of the situation and felt stronger, knowing that if I’d bounced back once I could do it again.
All of a sudden I started feeling proud, really proud, proud of all I worked for and all I’d achieved.
One of the turning points was earlier this year, funnily enough on the same day of an event that would change the entire course of said recently ended relationship. I was visited by the photographer Alice Dempsey, a student who had chosen her final year project to be a study of single parents and their children in honour of her mother who raised her alone.
Having felt like I grew up quickly in a short space of time – I was only 24 when Elfie was born – it was such a pleasure to spend time in the young and exuberant company of Alice and her assistant Georgie, discussing our thoughts on feminism, relationships and parenting. Running through the experiences I’d been through as a single mum these last six years, and talking about how I’d slogged hard to make it work for us, I felt content. Happy. Proud of the family I’ve created, proud of the happy home we live in. Protective of our bond and our brilliance together.
A few months later that feeling was solidified on the holiday we took together, a holiday I worked hard to pay for out of my single parent salary. On the same holiday three years ago I would have felt nervous – apologetic, even – to be on a break with two children and no husband. But this time I was proud of who we all are, the three person family, the partners in crime bond we share.
We were the only single parent family in the resort that week but I looked at our tight little unit and didn’t feel one ounce of shame. I was happy that, although I’d booked the holiday last year as part of a couple and was expecting to travel as such, it was just us three. Our family happiness as a magic trifecta is paramount, and nothing will step between that.
Half way through our holiday one of the other mums asked me, indicating the children in the pool with her hand, “do you always travel alone?”
I smiled. “Yes”, I said, feeling proud. “It’s just the three of us”.
A couple of years ago I would have stammered my answer, dreading her judgement or scorn. But now? I only felt joy.
And Alice Dempsey, the creator of these wonderful images in this piece, the well-rounded, intelligent, friendly feminist we were all delighted to meet and share pizza with in our garden on a beautifully sunny early Spring day? She got a first for her single parent photography project, which she called Seva. A beautiful Sanskrit word which translates to “the act of selfless service“, I couldn’t be happier to be considered commensurate with this meaning.
Visit Alice Dempsey’s Instagram page here – she’s brilliant.