Thanks so much to Jude Peppis-Clay (@gluingcheese) for this guest post on single parent stigma, and why we need to turn this negative stereotype on its head…
When I decided to leave my husband in 2017, one thing was on my mind. I would become a single parent. We cobbled together plans to co-parent our now three-year-old son, TJ, and have done our best to stick to that arrangement ever since. Although I knew without a shadow of a doubt that this was the right thing to do, I was concerned about single parent stigma. It’s definitely a thing – and it shouldn’t be.
The media has long loved the single parent stigma. It portrays single mums as desperate, slutty and a person to be pitied. Rebecca has documented this very well here on her blog with a long list of recent examples. I call bullshit on this stereotype. Single parents – I will specifically be talking about single mums here – are bloody amazing. Here’s why…
The early days
Not many of us pee on a stick and immediately envision that we will end up raising that little person solo in the future. The elation we are likely to share with our partners feels like it will last forever. Together, you have procreated an actual human person. That shag had a purpose and, in a few months, your lives will change forever. How bloody exciting (for most of us).
It took me and TJ’s dad ages to get knocked up. One year of perfunctory sex and nothing happened. Cue a drunken Saturday night at home and, then, Bob’s your uncle. My pregnancy was fine (ish) but my labour wasn’t. The first months of parenting crippled me both mentally and physically. My relationship with my decade-long partner was disintegrating before our eyes. It felt like there was nothing we could do to save it, either. Both of us had changed and there was no way back. We were still friends but even that felt like it was falling apart. So, to save that friendship and in the hope of keeping some form of parenting unit alive for our little man, we bought separate houses. We will be filing for a no-fault divorce in a few months’ time too.
When single parent stigma hits
I am an outspoken person and, outwardly, I was not ashamed to be single mum. I knew it was short-term sacrifice for the long term gain of all three of us. That’s far from selfish, lazy or shitty – as the media would like to portray us. It would have been those things and more if I had stayed in an unhappy relationship and let our son, TJ, be exposed to that every day.
So, I was proud of my strength of character in cutting my losses. I swapped a three bedroom home for a two-bed flat. I lost a lot of my network of ‘mum friends’ as I moved back to the town I grew up in. I had to admit defeat with my failed marriage, which was heartbreaking. How does this make me a bad person? It wouldn’t have been better to bury our heads in the sand about the problems which were multiplying around us.
I don’t believe in the ‘staying together for the kids’ mentality. I hope, as TJ gets older, he will respect both of his parents as strong role models. We didn’t settle for unhappiness and, instead, took on challenges in the strong hope of something better. That’s an awesome life lesson isn’t it?
But, inwardly, I worried about what people thought. None more so than walking around the affluent and leafy village where I am now living. The statistics say that one in four of us are a single parent. That demographic is not quite accurate in the radius around my home. It’s all Tudor-style houses with four bedrooms and a BMW in the driveway. In those surroundings, it felt like the whole world was staring at my naked left hand as I pushed TJ in his pram to playgroup, the park or any-fucking-where.
Smashing the single parent stigma
It was probably ridiculous. I doubt anyone even noticed. And, even if they did, who cares? They are strangers who will be gone again in the blink of an eye. I know my life and my reasons for the decision I have made and that’s all that matters, isn’t it?
Last year, I went on a weekend therapy retreat with Divorce Coach Sara Davison. It changed my life. One of the sessions we did was to draw a picture of something which scares us – then throw it into a shredder. I drew myself walking down the road with that naked left hand pushing the pram. The exercise was simple but so effective. Bin the shit that drags you down and hold your head high. I keep that in my mind and walk with a spring in my step now. I am strong and that should radiate from me. That’s what I want people to notice if they do look at me, not the sparkle of a fading diamond.
Single mums belong to a girl gang of resilient, powerful, dedicated, hard-working, ambitious, loving and bloody brilliant humans. The benefits we reap in our lives massively outweigh the drawbacks or even the sacrifices we made to get where we are now. We’re better parents than we would have been in we were still trapped in bad relationships. Could that smash the negative stereotype of the single mum and turn it into a positive one?
Me and my son, TJ, are a team. We adore each other and the minute we’re apart cuts like a knife. I am sure we’re closer than we would have been under different life circumstances because our time together is undivided attention. The time he spends with his dad – which is regular – has also blossomed his relationship there too. TJ is now surrounded – and a little spoiled – in two well-rounded, loving, happy homes with people who put him at the centre of their universe whenever we’re lucky enough to do so.
So, why or how could that makes us bad parents or even bad people? Single parenting is often called double parenting and never has a truer word been said. I am fortunate that my son’s dad plays an active role in his life. So, I have ‘days off’ to recuperate from the craziness of raising a toddler. There’s no doubt that is a lonely and upsetting time and I miss TJ so much it physically hurts. Many people do not have this ‘luxury’ of a break from parenting. It’s a non-stop cycle of keeping up with the inevitably fast and spiralling mess which raising small people brings.
But, that time off is far from a treat. The 24-hour cycle of parenting stops but the work, food shop, life admin and housework routine takes over instead. My whole life has to be crammed into the other days so that time with TJ is spent at the swimming pool rather than the supermarket. Our time is increasingly precious and I aim to make every day special in its own way for us both.
How the other half live
Mums and dads who live together may have a tag team and share the parenting duties. Other parents may feel that their partner isn’t always pulling 50% of their weight. That’s tough too. We all have our own struggles when it comes to parenting, relationships or whatever lifestyle we’re trying to navigate. We shouldn’t cast a shadow on other people’s life choices no matter what the circumstances. Single mums and non-single mums are all charting the same baby-shark infested waters with challenges constantly coming at us from sleep regression, to potty training, starting school and beyond.
So, let’s just support each other. I am all for single mums uniting – I have found great comfort in the familiarity of lovely Rebecca’s blog here. It’s warmth of experience and honest approach to life shows that although single parenting can feel lonely, we are not alone.
But, all bloody mums should enjoy being a collective. Fuck the labels, no matter what they may be – single or otherwise. We’re all just trying to do our best, teach positive life lessons and avoid our kids growing up to be dicks. So, let’s start that at home ourselves and set a beautiful example of non-judgement and unity for all. It’s what our mothers would have wanted.
And, anyway, it may not be the fairytale but single (and non-single) parenting is still a slice of fabulous.
Hear, hear! Jude Peppis-Clay is a 30-something single mum navigating dating after a decade out of the game. She has a new website at gluingcheese.co.uk where she shares her parenting and relationships experiences. You can also find her at @gluingcheese (Instagram) and @gluingcheese (Twitter).
While you’re here… Have you read my letter to single mums? Go on.