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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?
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.