Leila Herandi 11th March 2018
Single-parenthood may seem like a minefield to some – going it alone in one of the hardest jobs out there wouldn’t necessarily warrant a lot of people to leap out of their seat to volunteer. But there are many pros on the other side of the list which are either not considered or are overlooked by the more daunting prospects.
Being a child of divorced parents, I can see the respective swings and roundabouts in having parents who weren’t together for a lot of my childhood. It’s harder, however, to appreciate how the shoe might feel on the other foot when I myself have no children of my own.
I did, however, have Lorelai.
Having religiously watched Gilmore Girls on Channel 5 after school everyday in my teens, I idolised Lorelai Gilmore’s refreshingly modern take on parenting. Her quirky relationship with her teenage daughter resembled that of friends or sisters more than parent and child, and I began to benchmark it as a go-to guide for my own future kids… Ok, it’s a fictional TV series, but surely it couldn’t all be false? Maybe not all mothers and daughters spoke five-thousand words a minute and poured filter coffee down their throats as if their lives depended on it (although, come to think of it, maybe it was this that fuelled their impressive high-speed talking and quick wit). I couldn’t help but think, though, that there must be some element of truth in their relationship. Rory was brought up single-handedly by her sixteen-year-old mother, and they were thick as thieves from the get-go.
Upon researching for this article, I Googled “single parent benefits” hoping to find someone’s personal list of the positives they find in single-parenting. What I instead found were web pages outlining the financial support one can apply for in the event of bringing up a child alone, and a calculator telling me how to determine my entitlement – not exactly what I had in mind.
Although the results were based on my poor choice of words, the lack of positive results wasn’t down to my terrible Googling skills. The kind of things usually written about single parents are judgmental and are done so through the lens of failure; whether they’ve “failed” to stay in a relationship or “failed” to keep within society’s mould of a normal family unit.
Being a single parent is always shown in a slightly negative light, however, there are so many positives and it can actually be really fun!
Single parents are often seen as the lesser, but this is by no means the case. Whether escaping an unhealthy or abusive relationship, using a sperm or egg donor or surrogate mother, being left with more than you’d expected after casual sex, or if you’ve come to the natural breakdown of a relationship – there’s no one way to come about single parenthood, and similarly no one way of going about bringing up a child by yourself. Having spoken to numerous parents going solo, there’s a lot to say in defence for going it alone.
As Ife Akintoye, a 30-year-old mum of one, explains: “Raising my little lady alone has been a tough job but totally worth it. Being a single parent is always shown in a slightly negative light, however, there are so many positives and it can actually be really fun!”
It seems that, for a lot of the parents I spoke to, one of the hardest parts of bringing up a child alone is how society views you, rather than the parenting itself.
Gilmore Girls references aside, being the only adult in the house can mean more one-on-one time between parent and child. Grown-up talk can be left at the door, allowing space for friendship to develop alongside the teaching and nurturing. For Kerri Watt, being able to spend all of her time with her child alone is priceless. “It’s hard to put into words how magical that is,” she says.
The bond that Lacy Hardicre, a 28-year-old from Woking, shares with her seven-year-old is closer to that of best friends than mother and daughter, with people often commenting on how rare their close relationship is. She puts this down to having her child at a young age, as well as having nobody to childmind when she goes shopping or runs errands – having done everything together from the get-go, allowing them to form the close bond they now have.
Another benefit most single parents find is in choosing their own parenting style – with no good-cop/bad-cop dynamic in the house, there is subsequently less drama. Lauren*, 23, appreciates that with her son, what she says goes. With no one to contradict her parenting style, bedtime means bedtime “and no, you can’t have any more sweets”.
By making decisions alone, there is no room for undermining from anyone else. This can be applied to everyday trivialities, and of course to larger issues if and when life decides to throw them at you. When her young son had some health scares, it was a tough and trying time for single mother Sarah, but she believes the two of them going through it together only strengthened their bond and brought them closer.
“He is totally besotted with me and I with him,” she says.
She also believes she is more focused on her son and what she feels is best for him. By not having to agree on others’ methods, her son is her only priority and she is left without the distractions of arguments with partners.
For Amie Sharratt, after trying to “give it a go” with the father of her daughter, and the relationship breaking down after three years, she realised “staying together for the kids” would have a negative impact on any child.
The effects it would have on them while growing up and, eventually, the ways they might behave in their own relationships didn’t seem worth it to her in the long run. Sharratt and her daughter’s father are both now in separate relationships, which she believes is better for their child – to see them both “happy with other people, rather than miserable with each other”.
We have no one to answer to about any element of our life
In Hardicre’s harmonious household, the only rules which apply are her own. With nobody to interfere or undermine her choices as a parent, the home she has made with her daughter is free from arguments (as well as being “mainly pink and very girly” – an extra bonus). “We have no one to answer to about any element of our life, we’re never expected home at certain times, and there are no restrictions in place. It’s very freeing.”
Through parenting in her own way, the struggles Akintoye has faced when raising her daughter alone have made them both stronger. Her daughter is her best friend and they look out for one another, appreciating what they have – with “every day being an adventure” in their house — and she wouldn’t change that for the world.
Particularly in the days following giving birth, I just got time to bond with my son and recover
The absence of a second parent can, of course, also mean the absence of conflict – as explained by Lauren*. “Particularly in the days following giving birth – when couples sat around arguing in the antenatal all day about names, and husbands were getting on their wives’ nerves – I just got time to bond with my son and recover.”
There will always be disagreements between parent and child, but larger issues which often cause parents to lock heads can be left outside the everyday home environment.
And, if your child also spends time with another parent or guardian, there’s the time you find to focus on yourself. While her son spends time with his father, Lauren has been able to go back to university and continue with her studies, also giving her time to have a social life independent from parenthood. To her, this is vital – not just for her own development because she doesn’t want to simply be seen as “someone’s mum”, but in order for her son to have her as a role model.
“It’s really precious to me to have that time to make something else for myself, and for him to have something positive to look up to as well,” she says.
Being a single parent was fully planned for Emma Abbot, 42. She adopted now seven-year-old Alice* two years ago.
“I always felt that I wanted to adopt. I didn’t feel a burning desire to have my own biological child and it seemed there were enough kids in the world in need of a stable, loving home. After my marriage ended and I had got over that, I decided that I didn’t want to hang about waiting for my knight in shining armour and I would just get on with it and make a family for myself,” she explains.
It was so weird, seeing her picture, knowing she would eventually become my daughter
“A lot of people don’t realise that it’s possible to adopt as a single parent,” she says. It can be harder as social workers often prefer to place children in a traditional family unit but wanting to adopt an older child made things easier. Still, there was a lot of waiting and many conversations with foster carers, teachers and social workers before Alice could come home.
“It’s a strange feeling being an adoptive parent in waiting, knowing that your future child is out there already. I had one photo, given to me by the social worker. It was so weird, seeing her picture, knowing she would eventually become my daughter.”
It hasn’t been easy, Abbott says. “We have had a rollercoaster journey together, the trauma and neglect she went through in her early years has definitely affected her.”
However, being an adoptive single parent means building a history together. “Her background means there is so much she missed out on I have been able to introduce her to all sorts of things. And you make your own firsts. Her first Christmas with me was quite tentative, I could see she didn’t really know what to expect and she was quite worried about it. Our second Christmas was much more relaxed and it was such a pleasure to see her so happy.”
She did go off the idea when I explained that she would have to share me with a daddy!
The two have spent a lot of time talking about different types of family, especially after Alice had questions about not having two parents. “She did go off the idea when I explained that she would have to share me with a daddy!”
For Sarah, being a single parent was not a choice, but a necessity. She managed to escape an abusive relationship when she was 22 years old – just a week after the conception of her son. “Doing it alone is hard but to see my son grow into a fine young man and getting compliments about him makes it all worthwhile. I am forever being told how perfect his manners are, how kind he is and also how clever he is. I spend a lot of time teaching him all sorts which has helped him tremendously. His manners and kindness are down to me, I taught him. No-one else can take the credit for the way he is.”
From the way in which these parents speak about their children and the bond they share, it’s not difficult to see the ways in which they are grateful for bringing up their sons and daughters alone. From the parenting styles they adopt to the colours they choose to paint their walls, there’s a lot to be appreciated in their stories. There will always be hurdles along the way – different to those faced in a co-parenting household – but with a load of courage and a few leaps of faith, they’ve made their families not only work, but thrive.
And I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be brought up by a parent who’s had the courage and determination to get out of something they didn’t feel was best for them or me, than be able to get into Alton Towers for a tenner cheaper per head because we fall under the traditional “two adults, two kids” umbrella.
*Names have been changed.
Leila Herandi 11th March 2018