Being a single parent is relentless. My life brings challenges: money, work, loneliness, worry, stigma, childcare – and the constant juggling as you seek to manage all of that alone.
There are rewards too: a closeness with your children, a feeling that you and they are a unit, and a huge sense of achievement and pride. But since the pandemic, things have been extra tough. Being a parent of any kind in a pandemic isn’t easy, but being a single parent is even harder. In fact, I think it may be the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.
I am also the chief executive of Gingerbread, a charity that supports single parents. This means that I have first-hand experience of some of the issues that the single parents we work with are facing. Recently, many of those issues have become overwhelming for many single parents, me included.
I’m relatively lucky. Unlike many single parents, I haven’t lost my job, I haven’t lost my income, and I’m not facing poverty, foodbanks or homelessness. Real hardship and poverty has become all too familiar a reality for single parents – we’ve seen this at Gingerbread, with our helpline, forum and local groups all inundated with desperate pleas for help. My job was full on, to say the least, as we did our best to support all the single parents that reached out to us, to continue lobbying government for extra help for people like me, and to raise awareness and raise funds in an increasingly difficult world for charities.
I have four school-age children – my youngest daughter was seven at the start of the pandemic. I also have two older children: a daughter who was abroad travelling, and a son at university. They all ended up back at home, and so began the pandemic for us.
“My youngest two children don’t work independently, so we all sit at the dining table together, me with my laptop largely idle next to me, them being less than focused on their schoolwork.”
Like many people, I became overly acquainted with Zoom. Like many parents I also became more than acquainted with Google Classroom, and with learning fractions, about the Romans, about grammar. My youngest two children don’t work independently, so we all sit at the dining table together, me with my laptop largely idle next to me, them being less than focused on their schoolwork. My older two girls were starting to work towards GCSEs and A-Levels and had to deal with uncertainty about their future as well as the pressures of doing school-work at home.
Between us we have dealt with more anxiety than I expected. From Cecily, my youngest daughter, who had huge anxiety about lockdown, about me dying, about her dying. From my two teens, anxiety about their friends, their social lives, their exams and their futures. My eldest son, who has autism, began his first job from his childhood bedroom, the suit we had bought left hanging on the door.
I struggled with balancing it all. Needing to do schoolwork with my children. Having to do my job helping single parents, who have been largely forgotten during the pandemic. Needing to be on almost constant work calls and Zoom meetings and answering the never-ending emails. Worrying about our staff who were all working so hard. Worrying about my children. Having to cook, clean and shop.
And like many single parents, I was doing it all alone with no partner to support me or share the load. I struggled with my sleep, often waking in the early hours with anxiety. I was overwhelmed with work, with tasks, with chores.
“I may still be a little nostalgic when this lockdown ends, but I can safely say I really don’t want to do this ever again.”
But it wasn’t all bleak! My children more than rose to the challenge. We truly became a team, with a rota on the fridge for dog walks, cooking meals and helping with home education. Meal times were a pleasure as we experimented with our cooking and long conversations with no phones at the table. There was breadmaking, afternoon tea, PE with Joe, games nights. And for me, running on the Heath, Zoom nights with friends, and, when we were allowed, forming a bubble with another single parent and drinking a socially distanced G&T on a park bench. And, as I say, I am one of the lucky ones. I didn’t lose my job, or income, or have to worry about my rent or feeding my children.
When it ended, I was actually a little bit sad – as the girls went back to their friends, school runs started again, and I could have a Zoom meeting without having to talk about fractions, or intervene in an argument about the dishes. But I never wanted to go back.
Since then we’ve had tiers, isolating year group bubbles, and now, another national lockdown. Like many single parents, I heard the news with absolute dread. Google Classroom has returned, exams have been cancelled, and we’re all back at the dining table on Zoom calls. The rota is back on the fridge too.
Single parents have it harder than couple parents. Inequalities still exist which mean that they are more likely to be in poverty: they are more likely to have lost their jobs or income during lockdown, and they are twice as likely to lack the equipment to be able to home educate their children. And, again, they are doing it all alone, often with little support.
I may still be a little nostalgic when this lockdown ends, but I can safely say I really don’t want to do this ever again.
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