Monday, 12 May 2014

Single Parenting

There is a particular image painted by Government and Media around single parents.  They would have you believe that we are all teenagers trying to get a council house and just sponging off society.  Well here are a few facts and figures courtesy of Gingerbread (single parent charity):
  • Just over a quarter (26 per cent) of households with dependent children are single parent families, and there are 2 million single parents in Britain today. This figure has remained consistent since the mid-1990’s
  • Less than 2 per cent of single parents are teenagers
  • The median age of single parents is 38.1
  • Around half of single parents had their children within marriage – 49 per cent are separated from marriage, divorced or widowed
  • 60.2 per cent of single parents are in work, up 15.5 percentage points since 1997
  • The employment rate for single parents varies depending on the age of their youngest child. Once their children are 12 or over, single parents’ employment rate is similar to, or higher than, the employment rate for mothers in couples (71 per cent of single parents whose child is 11-15 are in work)
  • There are 3 million children living in a single parent household (23% per cent of all dependent children)
  • Around 8 per cent of single parents (186,000) are fathers 
  • The average duration of single parenthood is around 5 years 
  • Only 6.5 per cent of all births are registered alone, and 10 per cent are registered to two parents who live apart 
  • Single fathers are more likely to be widowed than single mothers (12 per cent of single fathers are widowed, compared with 5 per cent of single mothers), and their children tend to be older 
  • Just under half of couples divorcing in 2009 had at least one child aged under 16. Over a fifth (21 per cent) of the children in 2009 were under five and 63 per cent were under eleven 

Not quite the story you hear in the tabloids is it?!

People may have their own reasons for being quick to judge, but we have to accept that the presence of single parent families in society is really just part of life.  And families where one parent has died and who therefore have not made a conscious decision to become single parent families still form a sizeable chunk of the total.  We know times are tough for everyone on low incomes at the moment, but with changing benefit systems and expensive childcare, it really is tough on single parents.

And it's not just the financial pressures of course.  Weighing up working more with being there more isn't easy.  When there are problems; ill health, behaviour issues or just exhaustion, there is no back-up from a partner.  No-one to take over and give you a rest.  You are on duty 24-7 and it often seems as though there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

Having said this, children in a widowed family at least have some stability.  Another fact from the Gingerbread site says: "Parental separation by itself is not considered predictive of poor outcomes in children. Parental conflict has been identified as a key mediating variable in producing negative outcomes in children. A comparison between couple families experiencing high levels of conflict with single parent families found that children fared less well in conflicted couple families, demonstrating that family functioning has a greater impact than family structure in contributing to child outcomes".  In other words, an unstable home with two parents not getting on is worse for children than a single parent home on the whole.

So the children of single parent families are likely to grow up to be rounded characters after all.  Even though the growing up may come a little earlier as they are given more to deal with and some of the innocence of childhood may be lost.  With grieving children there is a terrible extra issue to deal with - the loss of a parent. 

Sophie has mostly been quite matter of fact while talking about her father.  We have always talked about him openly and I encourage her to ask questions - though these don't always pop up at the most convenient times!  But she never met her dad and so perhaps doesn't feel the same loss as other bereaved children.  To her, living with just me is normal.  But that's not to say she doesn't feel the loss.  She sees her friends with their dads and at school she often feels like the only child in her situation.  The other side of it is she knows how to get around me and that there is no other parent to tell her off and be back-up to mummy.  She also enjoys a few extras from the family perhaps - though that could be because she is the only grandchild and maybe not just because her daddy isn't here to spoil her himself.

I actually believe - though hard on children - it's a worse deal being the single parent.  You are doing the work of two and mostly with less money.  Bills don't half when there's only one parent.  Holidays are difficult and can be more expensive.  You are regularly vilified in the press and by Government.  Emotionally the strain can leave a single parent exhausted.  You are always the one cooking, washing up and doing all the chores. 

I'm not saying I never get help.  I have some lovely friends and neighbours who will babysit occasionally and my folks are often down to help out too.  But there isn't that other person there who you can turn to and say guess what so-and-so's done now.  Or someone to cook while you give the kids a bath.  Or someone just to give you a hug and say things will be fine.  And weekends become scary as venturing out means being among apparently happy families. 

But it's not all bad.  I have a wonderful bright daughter to nourish and enjoy.  I am building a special bond with her that I hope will make us much closer and bring about more mutual respect.  We may not have much, but we have each other which is worth more than any income or holidays and cars.  If Robin could miraculously come back to us we would be whole and as perfect as a family gets, but as he can't I will continue to bring up our daughter the best way I can and we will continue to find our own version of perfect - and even though we may be an inconvenience to the Government (who think I should have found a new partner by now) we will be happy being us and we will do the best we can at living because that's all we can do.

Big love to all the single parents out there!  Keep strong.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Making Decisions

Sometimes it's the small things that are the most difficult.

I have made some pretty big decisions since Robin died.  The decision to move away from family and my job for example.  But in many ways those things are easier than the small things - like working out the best way to discipline a toddler.  Or what to cook for dinner.  Or even what to wear.

I think I've always struggled a little with these small decisions, but when you were used to having a second opinion on pretty much everything (even if it only made you realise your own idea was best), when that is taken away it leaves you feeling truly lost.  A lot of the time it has meant some things just didn't happen because there was no one to make a decision.  If I hadn't been pregnant, and hadn't had to take care of myself and Sophie I often think I would have not bothered with a lot of things - like eating or getting up even.  But thankfully I did have Sophie and that has helped a huge amount because I have had that reason to live, to eat, to make decisions.

It's not that I can't make decisions - I must have made thousands of the sort where you are actually conscious of deciding since that fateful day in 2005.  What to call my company, which web provider/energy company/phone and broadband package to chose.  Along with what school to apply for, which house to buy, where to go on holiday.  (And the one I haven't had much success with - who to date!).  In all these things I have made my decisions and done my best at that time.  But what I would have given to have that valued second opinion from Robin - to be able to speak to him - not just imagine what he might think.  That is a huge part of what I miss.  A burden shared.  Someone else to share the blame (lets face it) when things don't work out quite as planned! 

It's tough having to be the one that's in charge - the grown up - the boss of my own life.  I know I have family and friends I can talk things through with - and don't get me wrong - their advice and counsel has been very important over the years.  Maybe that has replaced what I had with Robin - mostly.  It's easier to research online these days, and there's usually a mum friend who's been there with any child-related problem I find - but that's not quite the whole story.  I'm not sure it works quite as well unless the person helping make any decision is very close; intimately knows you and what makes you tick.  They need to know all the nuances of your behaviour, signs of stress or excitement or of just needing a hug.  That only comes from a partner I think.  That has been missing in my life for 8 and a half years now.

However, these days I am perhaps getting a little better at making those choices.  I have taught myself to rely on just me again.  Learned to stand alone.  But I don't always get things right and that's why I will look forward to the day when I might again have a trusted special someone there to be my sounding wall and that all important second opinion.