Having stumbled upon A Mothers Secrets and reading that they are on the look out for contributors for posts on being a single parent I thought I would have a go myself.
Being a single mum is not something I ever wanted for myself, yet it was to be the outcome of a relationship I had when I was 19. Becoming pregnant in 2001 was the last thing that I had planned for, firstly I was 19 and enjoying my late teens to the full having recently returned from a stint as a holiday rep in the South of France and secondly my boyfriend wasn’t exactly father material. Yet it was the situation I found myself in having discovered I was pregnant and having told my boyfriend who refused point blank to have anything to do with me or the baby from then on.
The stereo type of the single mum came up on numerous occasions, not helped by my age of course. I remember ringing my father to tell him the news and his wife chipped in that I would be “just another scrounging council estate mum sat on my fat arse all day claiming benefits” – how helpful! My nan offered to give me her engagement ring when I was both pregnant and once my daughter had been born so that people wouldn’t think I was single and numerous people assumed I would be quitting my job to start my “new life” on benefits. Why didn’t they go the whole hog and lock me up in a mental institution like they did not so many years ago? In my job I often visit hospitals that work with people who have mental health problems and I have been told numerous stories of women who had nothing wrong with them except the fact that they were single mothers. Yet they locked these women up and they inturn became institutionalised, often the last ones left in the deserted wards when the hospitals closed down in more resent years, they simply couldn’t cope with the outside world anymore, they didn’t know how and they died like that, forced to stay somewhere like a criminal when all they had done was have a child on their own. It really is tremendously sad. The other stereo type relating to single mums is that we cannot possibly control our children and it is ours that grow up to roam the streets in packs terrorising the neighbourhood. Well let me tell you from experience, this one is definitely not true! My previous job was in the anti social behaviour unit at a police station and I ASBO’d kids (and adults) for a living, yes we had some children who had single mums, but we had even more who had both parents or who came from quite a well of background. I can only assume it was a man who said that single mums (and therefore women) cannot control their children, because we obviously need a mans help to do that don’t we ladies!
The truth about single mums is that we are all different, maybe we became the sole carer for our child through bereavement, divorce, choice, or like me the minute you announce the pregnancy off he trots into the sunset never to be seen again, but what we do have in common is the fact that for whatever reason we are bringing up a child, or children, on our own and that is hard work. Inevitably there are sacrifices to be made, whether that is your social life, your career or your love life, but ultimately any sacrifices we make are for the good of our children.
First you have the make the necessary adjustments to your life that having a baby brings, the difference is you do this own your own rather than supported by a husband or partner and that can be incredibly lonely. It starts when you are pregnant (if you are on your own at that time), you go to scans – on your own, you go to midwife appointments – on your own, you go to antenatal classes – on your own! Even if you take a friend or relative it just doesn’t feel how you imagine it should. More than anything I wanted to know what it felt like to have someone look after me when I was pregnant, talk to my bump or feel the baby kicking, to stare at that tiny image on the sonographers screen and share a look that says “that’s our baby.” Then there’s the actual labour, a time when you should feel totally supported by someone who loves you and who should be handed the baby for a cuddle after he or she is born, but you end up being deprived of that special moment too. As for the stay in hospital after the birth you’re made to feel like a leper during “dads only” visiting time. While all the other women are joined by their husbands or partners, cooing over their newborn it’s just you, with no one to share that time with. There’s plenty of times like that as your baby grows, first smile, first steps, first birthday………. The list is endless. All of which can feel quite bittersweet when experienced all on your own. This is the one thing about being a single mum that I most resented, the feeling of loneliness caused by having no one to share my beautiful little girl with.
Being a single parent presents numerous challenges, not only are you everything a mother should be, you’re also aware that maybe you should be somehow compensating for the lack of a father present in the family home. But, fear not my fellow single mums, a child brought up in a happy, secure single parent environment is free of the normal gender stereotypes associated with the home, so maybe us single mums aren’t quite as bad as we’re sometimes made out to be after all!
One of the many challenges I encountered along the way was the financial implications of bringing up a baby on my own. When I feel pregnant I worked for a bank and continued to do so when my daughter was a baby. I did not choose to return to work when she was only a few months old, infact I felt forced into doing so because without a second income I couldn’t afford to stay at home any earlier. (I was so naive with regards to the benefits system that I didn’t even realise until I started my present job that I would have been entitled to housing benefit to cover my rent while I was on maternity leave and therefore could have actually remained off work longer, but there was no one there to offer support or advice that I could turn to at the time) I worked full time from the time my daughter was 3 months old until she started primary school and I burnt myself out from the constant guilt I felt for missing out on being with my baby as she grew up. Perhaps inevitably within a few months of returning to work I was signed off with depression for six months(luckily on full pay!). I was promoted several times after my daughter was born but that didn’t stop me feeling torn between my work life and my home life. Work suffered because I couldn’t just drop everything and work late if the business so dictated and I felt terribly guilty leaving my daughter at a nursery for almost ten hours a day. I literally dropped her off at 8am, went to work and arrived back at the nursery just before they closed at 6pm, took her home bathed her and put her to bed. To me I wasn’t a proper mum, how could I be when I only saw her for an hour or two at the most five days a week and when I did see her it was all I could do to stay awake! I decided after another bout of depression that I wanted to be able to take my daughter to school and pick her up every day once she went to primary school, yet still work to make enough money to get by on. By this time I was working in a police station and although I loved my job I was fed up of constantly having to justify why I couldn’t do evening meetings to my boss. The final straw came when I was given a warning and lost a promotion for taking a day off to be with my daughter after she seriously injured herself. Fate however intervened and during a conversation with a woman who worked for an organisation I often dealt with via the police station, I found the job I am still in four years later. I split my 17.5 hours a week over five days, or condense them into three, depending on what work I have on that week. Finally I feel like a mum, or at least what I always thought a mum should feel like! I’m no longer chained to my desk and spend quality time with my daughter, just like I always wanted to. I think the key to finding happiness as a working single mum is in those now infamous words – work/life balance. You have to be happy with both to find true peace within yourself, after all a happy child has a happy mum and all that!
Your social life if another thing to suffer when you’re on your own. All parents’ social lives will inevitably suffer when a child comes into the picture, but the difference is single mums can;t just leave their child with their other half – we don’t have one! It’s not just nights out, it’s days out, or even just five minutes to yourself to pop to the shops. To be honest I’ve got used to not having much of a social life over the years and instead have chosen to focus on spending time with my daughter and working on her social life by taking her to various clubs and play dates, with the odd night out for me if I’m lucky.
Then there’s your love life. Is it actually possible for a single mum to date successfully? Well, you can date, whether it’s successful or not is another story! I think the main issue that stands out for me is the lack of opportunity to actually meet men in the first place! If you have a social life that consists of 2 or 3 nights out a year you aren’t exactly going to reach your full pulling potential very quickly! Yes there are friends of friends, internet dating and numerous other ways to meet men, but if you do actually manage to find one that a) doesn’t look like he should live under a bridge, b) is capable of holding a conversation and c) has a decent personality, you will find that even then you don’t necessary get the boy! You see some men are scared of children false stop, some don’t see women with children as a viable option for a long term relationship and others are just complete morons! My favoured option for snaring a man has actually turned out to be Facebook! My other half and I have been together for almost a year now and we met on Facebook. Well, actually we didn’t, we met just over ten years ago (in person, in a club, back in the days when I had a social life!) and ended up living together for a few months, but went our separate ways when I landed a job in France, then out of the blue, having had no contact with him for the last nine years, he added me as a friend on Facebook. And the rest, as they say, is history! I’ve found that dating this time around has been made slightly easier for us because we have a shared history, but it’s the opinion your new man has of your child that worries you, and vice versa. Thoughts race through your head such as “Will she like him?”, “Will he think my child is some uncontrollable brat?” or “Will he think she’s just an inconvenience?”. Any man that “takes on” a single mum and her child needs to appreciate the unbreakable bond that exists between them and realise that there will always be someone else that takes up that special place in her heart, a little person always vying for attention, it must be hard to accept, but when the right man comes along he will do just that. Then all you can do is cross your fingers and hope for that happy ever after!
Being a single mum comes with it’s fair share of challenges, I know I haven’t exactly painted a pretty picture! It’s lonely and extremely hard work but it’s also incredibly rewarding. You are the one person who is responsible for the person that your child becomes and while that is a hell of a lot of responsibility to take on on your own, it can also be a wonderful feeling. I grow more proud of the beautiful, kind and thoughtful little girl that is my daughter every day, but I am also proud of myself for raising such a lovely child – and with not one ounce of help from her father!