Having been a single parent for most of my children's lives, the stigma of single parenthood is not something I even think about much anymore. Yet every now and then the media raise the subject and I feel forced to stop and defend myself and the millions of other single parents who, like me, are simply doing their best to raise their children.
In 2008 when I separated from my children's father I didn't really give becoming a single mother a second thought. It wasn't a choice, it was just something I was going to have to do. I don't recall feeling any stigma at the time, and I certainly haven't ever received any abusive comments from anyone that I know. Unless I was just too busy 'getting on with it' to notice.
Being a single parent hasn't ever fazed me anymore than 'being a parent' has. In fact, if I'm honest I feel a certain relief knowing that I can handle any 'issues' that arise with my two boys my own way.
I have many friends who have children and who aren't separated. Despite strong marriages, their different parenting styles are often apparent. I watch the children of these friends, quite understandably, play each parent off against the other. They have learned quite cleverly where each parents' weakness lies and which parent is best to approach for which outcome. I spy the ''I'll talk to you later'' looks that pass between mum and dad after one has given into a child's demands. And I secretly congratulate myself that I don't have to have those conversations.
No - single parenting is just not an issue for me, but is it for my children? They both say not.
They have friends who are single parented too, and they have friends who are not. They recognise the advantages, like having two Christmas days. And they recognise the disadvantages, such as not being able to do something with both parents together and having to choose who they do what with. But they don't seem to dwell on either. They are actually far too busy being children.
Is it possible that us parents are 'overthinking' the whole single parenting thing? If I ask my children about it, they look at me like I've grown two heads. To them it's as silly a question as my parents asking me whether it bothers me that they're still together.
If one of my children makes a 'poor choice' with their behaviour I don't immediately blame myself and presume that it's because they come from a broken home. I actually immediately presume it's because they are children who are finding their way in life. I know just as many children who regularly make poor choices who come from a family that is not separated as I do from single parented children. And I see amazingly bright, conscientious children from both backgrounds too. Similarly, we all see examples of poor parenting in the news, in our neighbourhoods and in schools, and those parents are sometimes single parents and sometimes not.
I think it's time we stopped giving single parents a hard time and concentrated on the children instead.
Maybe instead of putting each other down for our different circumstances we could all work a little harder to create warm communities that offer help and friendship to each other, especially to those who may be vulnerable.
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