I was very much a reluctant member when I joined the single parent club 8 years ago.
There are a multitude of different routes that take us into single parenthood, often they are difficult journeys strewn with pitfalls of heartbreak, loss, grief and a sense of powerlessness. My journey was a special cocktail of all of these.
Anyone who has overcome an unexpected life transition will tell you that feeling sad and overwhelmed is a legitimate response. However, there is a major source of anguish that need not be accepted as part and parcel of becoming a single mother. And I’m finally learning to reject it and fend it off at every turn – The unwelcome opponent is stigma.
The shortage of positive representation and perpetual characterisation of single mothers as social pariah no.1 is our greatest adversary, but it’s one worth fighting. We’re fighting a narrative that tells us we’re the dregs of humanity, breeding rioters and future inmates, sponging off the system, wearing our pyjamas to school drop off, stealing our friend’s husbands, the list goes on. Before I was a single parent I never thought I harboured these negative attitudes. But when I abruptly found myself as a single parent I wondered why I felt such a sudden lack of confidence and a sense of failure and shame. All of this I struggled to articulate or understand in the beginning but I felt it nonetheless.
Stereotypes aside, let’s deal with reality. One in four families with children in the UK are headed by a single parent and there are 13.6 million single parents in the States. It’s plain and simple, we are mainstream, we are not a tick box called ‘other’ and we aren’t going anywhere.
This year we have celebrated 100 years of Women’s right to vote, with that milestone in mind it may be surprising to learn that only in 1987 were rights granted to [what was then called] ‘illegitimate’ children, nineteen eighty seven! Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ was charting and we were only beginning to acknowledge the rights of single parents and their children.
As Feminist discourse (rightly) infiltrates the news, matters affecting single mothers (and indeed mothers in general) are often excluded from the conversation or indeed considered irrelevant altogether. With 90% of single parents being women, surely the single parent struggle for equality should be a priority for feminism?
With confidence, we the single parents, those who love and support us and, I would argue, the women’s movement in general, need to speak up and ensure that the single mothers pursuit for equal opportunities and inclusion is an integral part of the conversation. We must challenge the narrative that we are the broken version of a ‘real’ family. Because we aren’t broken and we don’t need fixing. What we need is representation, we need cheered on as we learn to hold our heads up high and we need equal opportunities, so we can participate fully in public life and flourish.
The best part of a decade has passed and I’m no longer a reluctant member of the single mum club. In fact I’m a proud, flag flying advocate wanting to challenge the stigma that makes lone-parenting so unnecessarily difficult. James Baldwin said “the victim who is able to articulate the situation of the victim has ceased to be a victim: he or she has become a threat.”
I fully intend to become a threat to the stigma surrounding single mothers and to name it as that. I want to see single mothers portrayed as the resourceful and resilient people we so often are. And I want to encourage and promote new ways of existing that mean we are still able to have aspirations outside of family life.
It hasn’t been easy to find spaces where these conversations are happening, but they are, dig enough and you’ll find them. With the intent of amplifying voices and uncovering some hidden gems I’ve started a platform affectionately named ‘Tod’
‘On Your Tod’ is for those occupying the void between the nuclear family and singleness – A positive, progressive and empowering space for the oft vilified Single Parent. A website is in the works, but for now ‘Tod’s presence is purely on social media (Facebook and Instagram) where you’ll find regular posts celebrating our heroes, challenging stigma and sharing wisdom from academia, trailblazers and wise souls.* I’d be delighted if you joined the conversation and gave ‘Tod’ all the love via likes, shares and follows, there is much work to be done.
*for those who would like to lend their talents (writing, illustration or web design) please contact Alli at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bold Women Blogging is a public submission blog. Posts do not necessarily represent the views of WRDA but rather operates as a platform for open discussion to encourage younger women’s participation in social and political issues. To find out more visit this page.