Britain has more single mothers than any other major country in Europe, with one in 15 homes occupied by lone women and their children. An official report has found that only Estonia has a higher percentage.
When this story broke a couple of weeks ago, one national newspaper's website had some 208 comments on the subject of single mums, in the main derisory.
'Keep your legs together, it's cheaper in the long run' was one particular pearl of wisdom, along with the usual rants about the cost of single mothers to the state, and the general perceived lifestyle choice, lack of morals, education and contraception that results in a mum being on her own with her kids.
I never thought that these days, and, given my age (almost 38) that I'd be judged on my marital status, or indeed, the fact I am a 'lone parent' or 'single mother'. (I don't actually consider myself either; I'm just a parent.) But its amazing how, even in 2011, some people still like to wrinkle their noses and express the teeniest bit of 'horror' at my predicament.
I met some people at a party a few weeks ago who inquired where my 'husband' was – I had been talking about my son to a woman who had a newborn. Her partner then joined us, and we chatted happily about holidays, work, state versus private education... the usual stuff parents tend to natter on about; the things that only parents have an interest, in.
Then came the husband question. 'Is your husband here tonight?' the woman asked, looking over my shoulder.
'I'm not married,' I said, for some reason starting to feel a bit uncomfortable. 'Actually, I'm separated from my child's father, and we were never married.'
'Oh, I'm sorry,' she said, in the kind of voice usually used for responding to news of a death or terminal illness.
'Er, don't be,' I said, not really sure how to react. 'I'm not,' I added, brightly, just because I wasn't really sure what else to say.
They kind of sidled off after that, joining a small huddle of smug marrieds at the other end of the room. When I passed them a little while later, they were gaily discussing the perils and pitfalls of hiring an au pair. One of the women was 'amusingly' chirping about 'knowing the kind of girl James wants to hire'. A tinkle of laughter spread through the group.
How odd that someone's potentially lecherous behaviour towards an au pair makes for amusing conversation, yet my light assertion that I was quite happy to be a single mum was met with an embarrassed silence.
Perhaps society likes to compartmentalize us. If I had been in floods of tears over my predicament, or cap in hand, a victim of some sort, a burden, maybe I'd have been better received?
Have you had odd reactions from people when you've told them you are a single parent? Are you surprised by how much 'society' still sits in judgment?