The Single Parent Debate

Last week, my cousin wrote a comment on her Facebook wall directly after I posted something about having a takeaway, that really offended and upset me. I’ve tried to rise above it and ignore it but today I figured that if it’s still bothering me after five days I should say something.  I remembered one of the five regrets of the dying that really struck a chord with me. Regret number 3 ~ “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.” We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end, it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.” 

This is what my cousin wrote on her wall. ‘No offence to single parents on benefits that really cannot help their situation, but it makes me bloody sick reading of the ones who CAN help their situation, when I read of what they have bought themselves, where they have been, what takeaways they have had, what expensive meal they have had out, etc etc, me and my hubby work hard to just about scrape by, we go to sleep worrying about how we will pay for all we have to pay for yet these people who cannot be bothered to get off their arses and work to pay for it have a better flipping lifestyle than I have, oh did I forget the holidays they have too? Perhaps me and my husband ought to lose our jobs, go on benefits and have a better life, what a good idea, but then I would lose my self esteem.

I replied . . .

“Until you have been a single parent you cannot judge fairly. You can sit at home complaining about how unfair life is but maybe while you’re doing that you can stop and consider all the things you didn’t think about in your accusations. How being a single parent brings challenges that you will NEVER face as part of a couple. How most people, including me, don’t choose or want to be single parents but often it’s awful circumstances that make it happen, sometimes so awful your self-esteem is at rock bottom and you have to spend years dragging yourself up from the gutter, often with no help or support. Maybe you can consider how we do the job of two people on our own, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and that even during the worst, most stressful times in life we will still be doing it all alone. Even when your child is laid in intensive care for 5 days, you most probably will still be alone with literally no shoulder to cry on and no-one to hold you up when you feel like your knees will give way from sheer terror at what’s going on in front of you.

Bear in mind then, that after all that, after days, weeks, months or years of doing the work of two people, and I’m talking about the real work of raising good, well behaved, polite, intelligent, well rounded, balanced and hopefully happy children as well as all the housework, all the DIY, the gardening, all the money management, all the taxi runs that the kids need at all hours of the day and sometimes night, all of the illnesses, operations, emotional support, everything that children need you for, after all of that and more, you’re alone.

ALONE.

Every night you climb into bed alone. There is no-one to talk to, no-one to cry with, no-one to take your anger and fears out on. The biggest fear that keeps me awake night after night is, ‘What if a fire starts. How will I get all of the kids out of the house alive on my own? What if I just can’t do it because that really is more than a one-woman job?’ Do you want to think about that for one minute? There is just you and you have to deal with not only your feelings of stress and fear on your own but your feelings of loneliness, alone too. The odds of not being alone in the future are slim because you’re a good single parent that doesn’t abandon her kids to go out chasing men all the time, and even if you were, you most likely wouldn’t find one because a lot of men have been conditioned to think that all single mums are only after a man to support her and her kids. So you know, this is it. This is my life for the long haul.

On top of all of that, what you want most in the world, more than love, more than riches, more than flat screen TVs, more than holidays and takeaways, is for your children to be happy even though they know something is missing from their world as well as yours, and you do all you can to make that happen. You make the choice to be the parent that didn’t go off to have a fun life only seeing the kids when it suits, or not at all, in some cases and you think that the best way to do that is to mostly be a stay at home parent because at least that way, you’re showing your children that you love them unconditionally and you will be there for them whenever they need you, every single time they need you, without exception. Before school, after school, when they’re home ill, when they have numerous days off for teacher training or polling day or whatever else the schools or government decide is a good enough reason to shut the school and of course, the long holidays for which you can’t afford childcare and you can’t leave them for because you’ve made a vow to always be there for them. You feel deep down you’re doing the right thing even though the government doesn’t support your choice, your family doesn’t support your decision and your friends don’t either. Can you imagine how alone us single parents that ‘bleed the system’ must feel in this world? Can you imagine for one second how hard it is to stand for what you believe in more than anything else yet have no-one supporting your cause? Can you imagine how tiring it is to do the job of two people on your own, to do it with no support and with accusations and hate flying towards you constantly? How shit it is when people ask what you do for a living and you hold your head up high and say, ‘I’m a Mum.’ to then be shot down with a look as if to say, ‘Is that it?’ and you know what they’re thinking . . . the same that most people think, the thing that you think about single mums. It doesn’t matter how good a Mum you are, in this world if you’re doing it alone and worse still, asking for some financial help to allow you to do a good job, some people will not see beyond that point.

Do you know what some of us try to do in an attempt to pay back a little of what we receive to enable us to be the best parent we can be given our circumstances? Do you know what I do? I help others with no expectation of pay or reward, I do it out of the kindness of my heart and because I want to do what’s right. I babysit for other mums when they need help. I help out people in need, some in desperate need. I shop for people, I call on neighbours, I use the skills I do have, that I may have learned from being a single parent, to help those that may not have the same skills. I may only be a single parent but I have skills that are not recognised traditionally in the workplace but which do benefit others so I use them to volunteer help where I feel I can. I help out where I see help is needed, I just don’t shout that from the rooftops, until now because I fear I’ll still be criticised for it in some way.

Sometimes, some of us even spend our time studying and learning all that we can so that we can try and start our own business working from home so that we can get off the system and so we can still be that one parent that can be relied on not to let the kids down, but that doesn’t happen overnight, it can take a long time to learn the skills you need or to get a business going properly, so in the meantime you have to put up with various friends and family (you’re not the first, you won’t be the last) making assumptions and thinking the worst. Whether your status was aimed directly at me or not is irrelevant because it affected me deeply. Do you know, sometimes you start to think, ‘I’m going to put me first and I’m not going to cook tonight. I’m physically exhausted, I’m emotionally drained and we’ve gone without the things that really matter for years and years so I’m going to buy my children a takeaway and then I’m going to have a (cheap) night out because I’ve bloody well earned it!’

No matter what I do, no matter what choices I make which I think are best for my family, I still get attacked for it. Try living in my world, it’s not as rosy as you like to think it is because a takeaway or a night out does not even begin to make up for all that is missing from mine and my children’s lives.”

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