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Our blog 19 min read

The Perils of Parenting Solo

21 Mar, 2024

Ever tried raising children? Spare a thought and give applause to those brave individuals who do it alone, often without a safety net to fall back on.

Rewarding overall, parenting children is a job generally considered more difficult to do than people first perceive it to be. There's a stream of sleepless nights, significant expense, more energy required, more thought and deliberation needed, more responsibility held, and more ability to multitask, think on the job and be a jack of all trades than ever.

These are only some of the requirements demanded of parents during the first few precious years of a child's life. Which is why early years professionals refer to the term "continuous care" in early year’s settings. Is it any wonder they say, "it takes a village to raise a child"?

So, imagine the same role falling on the shoulders of one individual? To have to parent solo? It's a mammoth task to undertake. No village, no emotional support, no security, no official day or night off come to that. Just perpetual parenting until they are legally classed as adults themselves. Although let's be honest here, the sleepless nights don't really stop as childhood ends. As caring parents, we continue to worry around the clock about our children's health and happiness whether they are young or old.

Statistically, there are approximately two million single parent families across the UK as we speak. Some of those are parents single by choice, some are non-married parents who split up. The number of single parents, and the reasons for being single may well have changed over the years, however, the fact remains the same: they are still doing the job of more than one person on a daily basis and in some cases, like myself, for years.

Most single parents didn't intend to be in this position when they first had children. Single parenting usually comes about through unfortunate or stressful events. So, to celebrate the unique circumstances and achievements of all single parents, as well as highlighting the challenges we face, back in 2018 the UK added a national 'Single Parents day' to the calendar (21st March) to recognise and reflect on the amazing work single parents do to constantly keep a firm grip of the reigns!

My own experiences as a single parent go way back to a time before single parents were exposed to the hardships of having to find and keep a job (or jobs), excluding the unpaid job of being a proud parent. We are raising the future generation and in order to do that effectively, lovingly and successfully, I believe we need to be emotionally available to our children as much as we possibly can be. Not over stretched and full of guilt and judged by a society that believes it's a doddle to raise children at all. How can it be with so much extra responsibility to juggle?

That's not to say I didn't want to earn a wage, contribute to a workforce, make more friends, have pride and self-esteem in who I was or what I did. A job could give me these things, however, at the expense of burn out. It was a terrible struggle to maintain a home and manage raising my children alone. Everyday felt like a battle and there wasn't even a war to win. Where was the fun and joy in any of that? I already had a failed marriage, I didn’t want to also fail as a parent. I felt like a “Jack of all trades but master of none”.

In contrast, being a stay-at-home parent allowed me to be the best parent I could be to my children. Once they were older, I took full advantage of parenting courses and vocational training, volunteered as a classroom helper, which I discovered I loved, and was really good at. My kids had great school attendance and behaviour, they have all gone on to study further and the older two have found good work they enjoy. My youngest is interested in studying further and takes an active interest in politics to the extent he's involved in a political party's youth branch and writes for a local newspaper. My middle son at his first 'proper' job interview, when asked who his hero was, quickly replied, "my mum because she's always got my back". My eldest definitely feels safe enough to confide in me about relationships and health issues that most parents wouldn't have to deal with in a million years.

Basically, being a stay-at-home parent also allowed me the freedom to train and study at a pace we could all cope with and eventually find a field of effort I loved and could easily do well outside of being a single mum. As the children became more independent, I became a volunteer with a national charity, supporting parents with young children to help them in the same way I was helped after fleeing an abusive partner.

Is any of that not benefiting society? I was giving back to the community. My children were a credit to society. Although there's still a stigma associated with single parent families. Society likes to blame them for increased criminality, generational poverty, unemployment and poor school performance, yet offers no solution. Because it's not their problem to fix, in their minds it's a lifestyle choice and a bad one at that. Why is that?

Let's start by looking at the "broken home" label single parent families are often still tarred with. Immediately it conjures up the notion of having a failed marriage or relationships, and you question whether you're a failure as a person. It's dehumanising, demoralising, damaging and don't we know it?

If we look back, in ancient matriarchal civilisations, it could be argued that every child was raised as the village's child because the village understood the potential value and importance of who the child was and the benefits they would eventually bring to the village. This was a time when women were not dependent on a man for survival and men were not relegated to a 'lesser' position. In essence, equality amongst all.

As time went on, along came disease, plague, epidemics, maternal death in childbirth. It was very common for children to have lost one or both parents long before adulthood. Enter patriarchy, where wealth, power and survival were concentrated among men and their direct heirs. Where women become the property of their fathers, from birth then pawns as young women and commodified according to their skills, until they were the property of their husbands. Women, in particular those with the misfortune of being born into poverty or working class families, were a means to an end. They held no wealth or power of their own unless in rare circumstances. She was dependent on her husband for her survival, then her son/son in law.

All this sounds like ancient history, however, it was less than fifty years ago women were first permitted to open their own bank accounts without their husband’s permission.

Where were the children during all of this? Because the patriarchy model favours one's own biological offspring above all others, many children were left to flounder through life feeling as though they were 'less' than others, then seeing that belief reinforced in a society (still happening today) that treats single mothers as if they are lazy, irresponsible and ought to suffer the consequences of their own actions. How do these attitudes help them? (We see it manifesting in teens by their defiance of authority.)

Nowadays, they tell both women and men to get out of abusive relationships, but provide no pathway that doesn't include jumping through a million hoops while dealing with trauma. They expect a parent who's navigating parenthood alone to be able to get themselves in a financially responsible place, find adequate housing, (from experience it's getting harder to do!) have well adjusted intelligent well behaved children, get them to school on time, properly dressed and cleaned, bills paid, dinner made with at least three of their five-a-day. Never be angry, stressed, sad, tired. Be in therapy for mental health issues, even though there is NO mental health provision for about two years.

"And why haven't you had your child tested for special needs? Why are you consistently late to work? You need to manage your time and your life better. You need to get control of your kids, you're too controlling. You need to take parenting classes, but if you need parenting classes are you even capable of caring for your child"?

"You should make better choices".

Where is the village? Where is the wisdom of our elders that recognises the value and importance of each child because they will one day be an adult? Maybe all they needed was for someone to care that their parent was doing their very best with the very little grace they were given.

Where are these values now?

For me the hardest part in a lone parenting journey is the loneliness arising from having no direct access to reassurance, feedback, a touch of inspiration or a breather. I've had to learn to meet those needs for myself, however, had I needed to meet current benefit conditionality I definitely would not be where I am now as a parent. I would have been trying to escape the struggle by whatever means necessary. Now my children are older, I'm so grateful I brought them up at a time where I could immerse myself in my role and take pride in being a single parent, not feel guilt, not lose myself in the red tape of variable wages and it's uncertain impact on benefits, not battle to stay mentally afloat, avoid debt or wrestle with claimant commitments simply trying to please everyone but yourself.

I made a better choice to stay at home for my children. I didn't sacrifice my own needs for theirs, it made no sense for me to go to work, we went without holidays away, and other expensive lifestyle choices. But it didn't matter, because we were content enough to enjoy what we had. I know for certain my children have benefited from having me available to meet their developmental needs during their childhood years.

It isn't the single parent upbringing that causes problems, it's the stress labels and stigma attached to it that does. Attitudes need to change.

With the new increase in a single parent's working hours I worry we'll also see increased criminality and a rise in mental health issues. As things are there's no resources for either but no doubt there'll be plenty of blame ladled upon single parent families, yet again.

If we can learn anything from our ancestors, or child development experts, children need connection and security to flourish - not parents so preoccupied with everything else in their lives, their children suffer the consequences. Basically no parent should ever be left to raise their child/ren alone as it ought to be seen as detrimental to the community as a whole.

"The children are a part of the community and are respected in their attempts to contribute and subsequently learn that their participation is valued".

Acknowledgement: Written in collaboration with my village people friends, KF JHG and my son AR

Written by

Chris R

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