What Being a Single Parent Feels Like

I watched Myleene Klass’s Single Parents On Benefits programme last night.

In fact, 24 hours before it aired I got cross when I read the title of the programme (mistake number one). And then, at 2am that night when I couldn’t sleep, I read the Daily Mail article slating all the mums on the programme (mistake number two). Which is why, at 7am the next morning when I was getting my single mum arse on an early train for a big work meeting in Manchester, I emailed my Editor full of vitriol; “WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO PREPARE A HEFTY REBUTTAL PIECE FOR THIS PROGRAMME COS I AM FUMING!”. Mistake number three.

You see, whenever anyone relates or equates single parents to benefit scroungers I get very defensive. Though we might be a section of society that, so often bound by circumstance, finds it difficult to work: FIFTY PERCENT of us have a job, FIFTY FREAKING PERCENT. And, contrary to popular belief, as Myleene pointed out only two percent of us are the ‘typical’ teenage single mum. Our average age is 37… take that, British media.

And so I calmed down and watched with trepidation.

Though the documentary may have had a ridiculous name – seriously ITV, this persistent benefits rubbish does nothing for public perception of Single Parents – it hit so many nails on so many heads for me.

***

When I became a Single Mum I didn’t like people to know about it. I didn’t tell people when I met them, I would let them assume whatever they liked, as long as their assumption was ‘married with kids’. Anything else made me panic; I didn’t want to admit that enough things had gone wrong in my life, enough bad decisions had been made that I’d been left in the role of a single mum. Like most of this country, back then for me that status had thoroughly negative connotations and blame, usually in the direction of the mother.

But you see, that’s not how it works. Not at all. Single parents don’t make bad decisions and then suddenly wake up one day to find themselves solely responsible for their little people. That’s ridiculous.

Single parents are victims of circumstance, of events that could have gone one way or another; and because these circumstances happen to them, as passive participants, they find themselves solo parenting. It’s sliding doors: a turn the other way and they’d still be happily coupled up. You just don’t know what, or when it can happen to you.

I like to equate Single Parent life to the Thug Life: you don’t choose it, it chooses you, am I right?

The thug life chose me

Anyway, I’d cried within the first three minutes of the documentary. As Myleene noted, I’ve long said that the hardest part of single parenting for me is not that I don’t have anyone to share the lows with, but that I have nobody to share the love with. And both thankfully and ironically there’s so much more love than there are lows in our family; It’s a very bittersweet feeling, that.

For example, Hux has just learned how funny it is to fart and blame his sister. A completely ridiculous rite of passage, but bloody hilarious, and one where a parent would normally call their significant other to chortle over their clever, funny son.

Instead, I store it in my internal box I like to call ‘things I might tell my mum or my dad or maybe Twitter’.

But this sharing of our love just between the three of us and the little extended family has made our unit all that much stronger. I am so proud of what we are together, our unconventional yet brilliantly functioning family of three, and widely my parents, too. It’s brought all of us closer together and that’s something I’ll always be hugely grateful for. So what if I have nobody to call and discuss my son’s farts with?

This sliding doors situation, though it seems undesirable at first, has brought some really great things in to my life. Like Myleene (I feel she and I are almost BFFs after this show – I’ve met her once, after all) it’s sparked in me a drive to make mine and my kids’ lives completely happy ones, a drive I had never felt before I parented alone. I have a need to make my career a success, admittedly one that is slightly too strong on occasion, but by making money I feel useful in my family, less like my children are missing a breadwinning father figure. Who needs one of those when mum can make the money AND the actual bread?

Like one of the lovely mums in the programme, sometimes the social isolation part of single parenting can be tricky. I don’t really know many other single parents, or even single people come to think of it, and having that reminder that everyone else on the planet is happily coupled up (or so it seems) can be rough. I’ve been the only single person at a BBQ, the only single woman at a wedding; I don’t go to dinner parties any more because I don’t have anyone to go with and that’s rubbish.

I find it difficult to spend time with my friends because I work all week like their husbands and their weekends are understandably family time – whereas my weekends are when I’d love to see my friends, and they can get a bit lonely.

That’s rubbish, too.

I’ve been the mum alone with the children in a room of families with 2.4 children and I won’t lie, it hurts. And it’s awkward. If one kid needs a wee in a restaurant, we all must go and the restaurant wonders if we’ve done a runner. If one baby can’t sleep at night it’s only me to comfort, if doctors appointments or sick days interrupt normal life it’s my work that suffers. There’s no-one to pick up the slack but you, and sometimes the amount of simple life admin you have to deal with is completely overwhelming.

Being a Single Parent royally duffs up any plans you had for an easy life. But it’s also the most singularly beautiful, strength-giving and satisfying job I’ve ever done. I am thankful that I’m able to play this important role in my children’s lives each and every day and though it sometimes doesn’t feel like it I’m sure my social life will eventually catch up. I wouldn’t change our situation for the world.

And that’s what being a Single Parent really feels like.

 

21 Comments
  1. Hi Alice – good to hear your thoughts on being a single parent. I know certain things have really helped me over the last few years.
    Having a few single parent friends. Essential for support, being in a similar position with finances, just understanding the issues of dealing with ex-partners and negotiating with them. Company at weekends, both with and without the children. If there was one thing that has helped me gain confidence as a single mum this is it. I really adore my single mum friends. We have our own club. I get invited to parties and events where most of the women are married or coupled up. Having a single mum friend there can be so rewarding.
    Doing my inner work. I am currently on a training as a therapist to run early trauma therapy groups. This has helped me to understand myself in a way that no counselling or talking therapy has. The support I get from this group of people is invaluable, as we all share the same values about emotional expression and thriving as healthy adults.
    My “alternative” friends – a mix of men and women, who all love dancing, hanging out, yoga, clean living, being mindful. Another lovely group of peeps that I can hang out with, when I have the children or not. There’s a solstice celebration coming up and we are going, open fires, singing, food to share, children running around among the trees just having a lovely relaxed time.
    I don’t have a big family so I am so proud of myself for creating a world around me “peopled by those that understand me”.
    And having lost my big Greek family (my ex is Greek) I feel it is really important for me and the children to have a wider community around us.
    Being a single parent can be so isolating, let’s change that together. Maybe we should start up the equivalent of the NCT for single parents …. SPC (single parent community) that connects single parents together. I think single dads can really struggle as well, as they often don’t have the support of friends, or rely solely on parents.

    1. I think I definitely need to hunt down some fellow single parents – it must be brilliant to have friends who completely understand what you’re going through. This is going straight to the top of the to-do list!
      I have a few ‘alternative’ friends too and they are fab! I always thought they were a bit floaty before I got divorced but tuning in to my inner voice has helped me immeasurably.
      I LOVE the idea of the SPC. I know there are a couple of charities and online single parent support groups out there but they all seem a bit old fashioned and self-pitying to me. It would be fantastic to create a community that celebrates AND supports! xx

  2. Yeah – it sucks, and as you know I’m only a newbie to the whole game. We should get together. I want to go to a festival this summer… but none of my family-up’ed mates would be up for it! x

  3. Hi.
    I became a single parent when my eldest was 8 and my youngest was 5. They are 21 and 19 now.
    One has just finished his degree and the other is at college. I’ve done it and I’m so proud.
    Being a single parent is fantastic.

  4. I didn’t watch this, but read all the views about it on social media. That aside, I genuinely don’t know how you do it single handedly (without sounding patronising). I am actually in awe of you Alice, with a career and beautiful children and a superb blog. I think you’re doing an amazing job – your children are extremely lucky. Jess xx

  5. Firstly, I love your blog…it has the word ‘toast’ in it, a simple yet satisfying delight. I also really respect the use of the word rubbish and how ultimately this is a very positive corner of the Internet – how easy it could have become a rant. That shOwe talent.
    Keep going my lovely and dream big. X

  6. I hadn’t watched the programme as was put off by the title but now I’ve read you post I’ll catch it on itvplayer.
    I find it hard having very few other single parent friends, most of mine are happily married with kids. I’d happily hang out with couples but i think they feel weird having spare wheel me tagging along. I’ve got single friends but can’t afford to keep up with their weekend antics so I’m a bit lonely on my free weekends too. SPC is an awesome idea!!

  7. Hi Alice,

    Well said. I find the single mum stereotype so alien that I don’t feel like a single mum a lot of the time. I am not on benefits and despite my tight arsed ex I don’t struggle that much financially – principally because I work full time and my mum helps a lot with childcare. I do relate to the loneliness in the evenings when you are alone but can’t go out, only having my parents to share the love stories about my son with, dating sagas (that feels wierd to be a dating mother, never being able to go to the toilet on my own etc etc. I do find weddings challenging, principally cos I always get stuck talking to a boring couple who sympathise with my plight.
    I also LOVE the idea of a single parent community and if anyone from a SPC fancied meeting in London for tea and cake one weekend afternoon (with kids are with dads) I would be there with bells on. Love Pen xx

    1. It is weird isn’t it, not going out in the evenings? The thought that my friends with kids have the freedom to go out when they want kind of blows my mind ;)
      I relish my solo times in the loo when I am working!!
      I am definitely going to get started on making some kind of single parent community – it sounds like lots of us need it!
      Ax

  8. Hi Alice

    I’ve been reading your blog after stumbling apon you on Instagram, and it’s so nice to read such positive and real experiences.

    I’m a newly single mum with a 5 month old (something I never thought would happen to me). I too have lots of married friends with kids (I was one of them) but now find myself the only single parent, so completely feel where you’re coming from in this post.

    I’d love to connect with some fellow single mums just to try and make this whole experience a little less scary and lonely.

    Thanks for sharing. X

    1. Hi Elly,

      Lovely to have you here, but sorry to hear you’re going through this. It’s so tough, isn’t it, being the only single mum in a sea of ‘happy’ families? Who are you on Instagram? I’d love to connect if we’re not already! Seriously considering this idea of starting some kind of community for us mums, I think there’s a definite need for us to have somewhere to get together and chat x

      1. Thanks for replying! I’ll send you a message on insta to introduce myself.

        I read an interesting article the other day (think it was on The Pool) about how a new mum wanted to find her mum group so turned to social media and set up a whatsapp group that’s now 1000 strong… Not sure I’d like that many group notifications though! X

  9. Dear Alice,
    I love your blog and kudos to you for being a fantastic single mum and woman in general. One small point I would like to make – I think it’s really important to give fathers who are still involved in their children’s lives credit where it’s due. I find that your blog seems to fluctuate in that sometimes you mention that your ex is still very much involved in your children’s lives but other times I think a reader would infer that you are doing it entirely alone – I know you are the primary cater, but the kids father is involved, financially and in the sense that he regularly sees them and maintains a relationship. I don’t mean to criticize you, I just think it’s a very important distinction. And I guess a bit personal to me at the moment – my former sister-in-law has recently been talking about her single mum status in a way which I think is very unfair on my brother. He contributes, helps out and would actually love 50/50 custody, but she doesn’t want them not living with her half the time. I get that, but she shouldn’t be implying that she’s shouldering a huge thing which she has actually chosen! To clarify, I’m not suggesting you are doing this! I just feel that it’s really important to distinguish between mothers who really are the only parent in every sense and those whose children have an active and good father in their lives.

    1. Hi Ela,

      Thanks for your comment! It’s always great to get a bit of insight into other people’s situations – it’s so easy to assume everyone is doing it similarly to me and they never will be!

      I try not to mention my ex if I can, simply because he doesn’t like me to. He lives quite a distance away and has the children two nights in every 14. Your brother sounds like a great man – I would have loved my ex-husband to stay closer and see the children more (I offered him 50/50 custody with no financial support needed but he chose to support us financially and do roughly 85/15). It breaks my heart that one day he may have other children and they’ll be the ‘part-time kids’, and I can’t imagine how rough it must be for your brother to be denied seeing his children as much as he wants.

      I think I do mention him a fair amount for the involvement he has. I’d never want to mislead anyone into thinking I am ‘THE single parent’ because those parents are rockstars – I’d have a nervous breakdown within weeks if I didn’t have my occasional 48 hours to catch up on sleep and work. But I do think he gets a fair nod when it’s deserved, and he is a great dad in the times he spends with the children. I guess I make an assumption that people reading here are aware of the situation there is a part-time dad involved and so, when I would have to shoehorn the fact into what I’m writing, I find it unnecessary.

      I have to say – when my ex moved on with his life so swiftly after we’d broken up I did feel a modicum of shouldering the responsibility. He went back to London for six months and was able to focus on a career, a relationship, a social life. I hated that I didn’t have this (it’s SO HARD to start a new relationship when you have such little child-free time – I’ve heard horror stories of women who take kids on first dates!!!). If your brother is present and close by his kids will know that – they are lucky children – and his ex will surely want a bit more freedom as she finds her way, and will loosen her hold a little bit.

      God, sorry about the essay! I guess, in a nutshell, I just would never want readers to think I was misleading them.

  10. Hi Alice, I know this isn’t your most recent post by I’ve just come across your blog. As a fresh to the scene newly single Mum of a 5 and 2 year old I’ve found myself completely overwhelmed by the situation. As I assume for most single mums, this wasn’t the path I had mapped out for myself. Navigating through the murky waters of separation, whilst raising two small children and dealing with your own emotions is exhausting, nerve-wracking , terrifying and dare I say it, slightly liberating. I am drawn to people who can shed any light on the reality of this unfamiliar territory I have found myself in.
    So reassuring to hear people’s honesty and to also know there are others like me out there, as I sometimes feel I am the only person in the world this is happening to. I Iove the idea of an online community, it would be lovely to know that there is support out there from others who totally get it!
    Anyway just wanted to pop by and say hi! I’m @lovelucylu on IG. Great article and a whole lot of respect for the awesome job you’re doing.

    Much love Lucy xxxx

    1. Hi Lucy, great to have you here! You sound so much like me when I first started on this journey – it was so difficult, so overwhelming and scary yet at the same time completely liberating. Huge good luck with it all, it’s not easy but it’s certainly a journey and I’m so happy I made the decision to take this path xx

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