Google 'Single Mum'. Go on. Actually, don't bother, because I can tell you exactly what results you'll get:
- First off, sponsored results: Dating sites specifically for single mums. Cynical implication: we can't survive on our own.
- Second, a ream of financial advice sites. Cynical implication: we're all broke, and can't manage our own budgets (which by the way, is blown to pieces in this ridiculous piece which implies that we're all on £70k a year. We're not. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/8049211/The-benefit-of-being-a-single-mother.html)
- Third, a couple of single mum blog sites (I like this one:http://www.oldersinglemum.com/)
- And a whole stack of articles on JK Rowling, our poster girl and saviour, and proof that, even when you fall in this most heinous section of society, you can pull yourself up by the fingernails and become phenomenally rich. And have your hair done properly.
This woman - yes you, Katie from Wiltshire - compelled me to write this piece. She sums up the whole Daily Mail ethos of single mums. In case you lose the will to live before reading the entire piece, the nuts and bolts of it is this; single mum on benefits, ensnared by the pressure of The Christmas Cosmos, felt like she had to spend money she didn't have on her children. Took out 8 'payday loans' and now can't pay back the money.
She's been a bit of an eejit.
Katie overspent beyond her means - as many of us do, particularly at Christmas. I bet she is a good mum, but is under the misguided impression that she needs to give her children things to make them happy, rather than telling them the cold hard truth that, actually, she doesn't have the money to buy them a huge amount and they'll have to make do with a bat, a ball, an orange and a £10 iTunes voucher this Christmas. As well as some boxes and a whole heap of wrapping paper to play with.
I bet they'd have as good a time.
But I'm getting off the point a bit. My point being that, according to the Daily Mail, 'Single Mum' = stupid and poor. 'Single Mum' also = pitiable. And finally, 'Single Mum' = lowest echelon of society.
Which is a pile of poo and one of the reasons why I don't write for The Daily Mail. (Not that I've ever been asked. Which might be the main reason. Harrumph.)
Anyway, I feel compelled to write a list of ten points on why us Single Mums should not be pitied, thought of as stupid, seen as benefits scroungers, or banned from couples-only dinner parties. Here goes.
1. As a single parent, I've seen the bond with my children strengthen. To be honest, when I was married, I felt like I wasn't a very good parent. I thought that my unhappiness was because of my parental shortcomings; in fact, it was because of an unhappy marriage. I'm not saying that now I'm a single parent, I'm the best mum in the world, but my parenting is more relaxed and - um - holistic. I feel responsible and sometimes this weighs heavy - yet I roll with the good times too, and bask in the reflective glory of my kids. Every time they make me laugh, are polite, try their hardest, are kind, say sorry, are clever, are brave...or sometimes just look lovely - I am proud. Because I helped to shape that.
2. Being a single parent means that you are forced to develop a 'have-a-go' attitude. Or at least, find help if the problem defeats you. In other words; that drain isn't going to be unblocked by the man of the house - it's down to you to don the rubber gloves and get stuck in. The Internet has become my best friend; YouTube tutorials exist about practically everything in the universe. And as a back-up plan, I suggest making friends with a plumber.
3. Having a job as a single parent is a good thing. Admittedly, it squeezes you - 99.6% of your time is either work or kids related - but your job gives you a welcome valve for letting off steam about your home life (and vice versa, of course).
I get very tired. But I feel that I am supporting my family. No one else. Just. Me.
4. Money. The first article which burbles on about a single mum earning £75k, and implying that most of this is through benefits - is complete hogwash. I earn a pittance at work, compared to my salary pre-kids, so I do get some Child Tax Credit, equivalent to £400 per month - and very grateful I am for it. I also get child benefit (£113 per month) and some child maintenance from my ex. I am NOT swanning about buying Ted Baker dresses; I do have a summer holiday, but it is camping in Wales and staying at my mum's. Christmas was mostly courtesy of The Pound Shop (and quite marvellous it was too). I get my kids' clothes in the sales - and mine too, come to that. I rely on birthdays to get vouchers to replace any white goods.
I am certainly not complaining though. Having less money is not an issue, because now I am in control of precisely what I spend. I can switch broadband providers if I am unhappy. I choose my own car insurance. I do not have to go cap in hand to my husband if my phone has broken and I want another one. I just save up, and sort it out myself.
It doesn't sound exciting, but being in control of your own finances fills you with a sense of power. You just need to be sensible and a bit boring - unlike Katie from Devizes, who has sadly learned her lesson the hard way.
5. It's peaceful at home. I am under less stress. I don't feel like I have to hide from my husband, and that actually, it's ok to spend time with my kids playing board games or the xBox or watching The Big Bang Theory - but it's also ok to say 'no thanks boys, I'm tired, so I'm just having a rest in my room for a bit'. They get it. My husband didn't.
6. Raising kids alone gives you a massive sense of fulfilment, and achievement. They will pretty much always follow their own path but your advice and mentoring will have constant effects on the decisions they make. Of course, it's not just you that they look up to - they are surrounded by all sorts of adults in their daily lives - but you are their rock solid foundation. And it feels like that. And that is good.
7. I am happier as a single parent. The boys pick up on it. I can honestly say that they are happier too. Don't believe people when they say that splitting up a marriage is harmful to the children; if you are loving and honest with them, and act like a grown-up, they will be fine.
8. I don't have to see any in-laws any more. I know. I am a bad person.
9. Holidays. I admit it - I was scared of going on holiday at first, with the kids in tow. The sense of responsibility was all-engulfing; so many things could go wrong, and I imagined them all. And we were only going to Wales.
But we had a fantastic time. Yes, it was tiring - physically and mentally - but my mindset was that, if they were happy, then I was happy. So we just did what they wanted to do, which was pretty much constant body-boarding. And making fires. And playing hide and seek. And reading. And digging holes.
It works because you love everyone that you're with. There's no tension because you agree to do what they want during the day - as long as they help you with the evening meal and the washing up. That's the deal and everyone knows it. Add to this the odd hot chocolate and marshmallows round the camp fire, and you've got the perfect holiday.
10. A sense of personal success. Of course, it doesn't go as smoothly as I've suggested in all of the points above. There are arguments, sticking points, sad times and illness. But overcoming these, finding solutions yourself and generally muddling through, is ultimately hugely satisfying. If there were a single mum's badge, it would say "I've had a go and mostly succeeded. My kids are everything to me. I work hard, am shattered, but am proud. And I don't have to see my in-laws any more."
Obviously it would have to be a big badge.