My grandmother, the single mother

My grandmother, my Dad’s Mum, was a single mother.  Unbeknownst to my grandmother at the time of their marriage, my Dad’s father already had a family.  He already had a wife and four children.  He lied, and he and my grandmother got married.  My father was born.  The detail died with my grandmother in 1997, but I can only imagine how difficult the realisation of the truth and the subsequent divorce must have been in the 1950s and when my father was under two.

My memories of my grandmother are of a very difficult woman.  By the time I knew her she was hard.  She had very little warmth.  She wasn’t fun-loving or easy-going.  She was demanding and often jealous (of my Mum and of my other grandmother).  I think she struggled with my parents’ relationship; my mother had ‘taken her son away from her’. My mother hadn’t.  In fact my mother made a real effort and fought for us to see our grandmother often.

I always believed that my grandmother had led a difficult and sad life.  She gave the impression that she hadn’t achieved all she wanted to achieve.  Life had been a challenge and she resented and regretted it.   I also felt that she deliberately wallowed in this resentment.  Life had dealt her a cruel card and that is just the way it was.

I thought about my grandmother a lot a few months ago when I first became a single mother, when I made the decision to leave my loveless relationship.  My overwhelming thought was that I didn’t want to turn into my grandmother.  I don’t want to resent my life.  I don’t want the future partner of my son or his children, my future grandchildren, to find me hard, demanding or jealous.  I don’t want single parenthood to turn me into the lonely, regretful woman that my grandmother was when she died. 

I now feel guilty for thinking these thoughts.  The more I read about single mothers and particularly about single mothers in the 1950s and 1960s, the more I realise that my grandmother was a fantastic and strong woman who deserves recognition and respect.  Here’s why:

1.   She shunned societal disapproval:  In the 1950s and 1960s raising a child without a father was a humiliating ordeal.  This was the era when Mother and Baby Homes still took in women who had ‘fallen’.  In 1968 there were 172 homes for unmarried mothers who had ‘fallen’ pregnant.  These women were strongly encouraged to put their children up for adoption, such was the belief that children who weren’t part of a family with a mother and father in wedlock, ‘till death do us part’, would fail in society and would cause the failure of future society.   

My father remembers some of the pressure.  He remembers the children in the playground calling him a ‘bastard’.  Imagine what must have been said in whispers about my grandmother, a single mother in the 1950s, imagine the disapproval.  But worse, imagine the pain, struggle and guilt that my grandmother must have faced knowing that children at school were calling her son a ‘bastard’.  No wonder she was hard and strong.

2.  She worked full-time and received no support, financial or otherwise, from my Dad’s father: My grandmother worked full time as a chemist in a paint factory.  When my Dad got home from school he used to go round to the neighbour’s house for his tea and to wait for my grandmother to get home. 

My grandmother received no financial support from my Dad’s father.  In fact, all that my Dad ever heard from his father was a few letters, detailing complex structural designs for bridges.  My Dad’s father was too clever for his own good. 

3.   She had no support from her family:  My grandmother’s family fled Germany in 1939, just before the outbreak of war.  My grandmother’s father had spoken out about the treatment of the Jews and died soon after (cause unknown).  There was Jewish blood in the family.  Germany was not safe.  My grandmother’s mother later remarried and moved to Israel, her brother fled to Sweden, she fell out with her sister who had also come to the UK.  She was totally alone and had no family to rely on, no family to cook her son dinner before she got home from work, no family to help her parent her son.  My father still says that until he was 14 his mother was the perfect mother.   She spent quality time with him when they were together.  She explained things to him. She taught him about history and science. She took him to museums.  She was everything a mother and a father should and could be.

I no longer fear turning into my grandmother, in fact I would be proud to.  In her prime, she was a fantastic and strong woman.  I only hope that when I grow old I can recognise what I have achieved, be proud of myself and have no regrets or resentment. 

Life deals us all difficult cards on occasion.  We are defined by how we play them. 

Running in LavenderWhat Katy Said


  1. June 7, 2015 / 8:10 pm

    She sounds like an amazing woman. I can’t believe her husband deceived her like that! #HappyDaysLinky
    Emma’s Mamma recently posted…ToddlerhoodMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      June 7, 2015 / 8:58 pm

      Me neither and when I think about it she was. I feel guilty that I never appreciated it or asked her about it at the time. Thanks for the comment.

  2. June 7, 2015 / 10:11 pm

    She sounds like a woman before her time! So nice that you knew so much about her. I never met my maternal grandmother, and my paternal grandmother died when I was very young.
    Bored and Busy Mom recently posted…A fork in the roadMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      June 8, 2015 / 10:19 pm

      That is such a shame that you never really knew your grandparents. It makes me wonder whether we have a duty to tell our stories for future generations. We need to write them down. x

  3. June 7, 2015 / 11:40 pm

    This was an amazing story. Very touching and sweet. Thank you for sharing this with us. Single Moms are beautiful, selfless and a blessing.

    Staying amazing,
    Team Single Mom Planet

    • thesingleswan
      June 8, 2015 / 10:16 pm

      Thank you very much for your comment and encouragement. x

  4. June 8, 2015 / 3:51 am

    What a beautiful tribute. It reminded me of my own grandmother, to an extent. She wanted to move to the big city of Chicago and get an education, but her parents demanded that she stay in the country and marry a local farmer. I know she loved my grandfather deeply, but you can tell she resents the people who held her back from her dream. Obviously, she didn’t face the extreme hardships your grandmother did, but I think all of us as women can relate to strong ladies who society hindered in some way. Great piece, Pen.
    Helleanor Rigby recently posted…Here’s Bookin’ At You, Kid: A Bi-weekly Bibliophile BonanzaMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      June 8, 2015 / 10:15 pm

      Thank you! I wish now that I could talk to her about how things were. I don’t think I ever appreciated the hardship that she went through until now. Your grandmother’s story sounds really interesting. It does make me wonder what our grandchildren will say and think about us. Will history repeat itself in some way, or do societies move on and the challenges become different. Are the themes cyclical? One to ponder for a future blog post perhaps. Thanks for your comment.

  5. June 8, 2015 / 7:00 pm

    Lovely tribute to your grandmother, its a great story I can only imagine what she went through. The threat of having your child taken away must have been horrific. Thank you for sharing. #Happy Days
    Mudpie Fridays recently posted…Alphabet Boxes for PreschoolersMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      June 8, 2015 / 10:11 pm

      Thank you! I only wish I had appreciated her achievements more when she was alive. x

    • thesingleswan
      June 10, 2015 / 8:05 pm

      Hi Debbie, Yes, on reflection she was an amazing woman, and I can also understand why she came across as hard. I wish I could share a bottle of wine with her now!

      Take care. xx

  6. June 10, 2015 / 4:34 pm

    This is a wonderful post on so many levels. I love your honesty and reflective tone. Times were different and I’m sure your grandmother had to deal with so much discrimination and hardship in those early years of motherhood. It’s a shame she didn’t make peace with her past and be proud of her achievement. It’s also sad to think that the love of her life (other than your father) deceived her in such a cruel way.

    I hope that things are different for you and that when the time is right, you’ll find love again. Thanks for linking up to #SundayStars xx
    Heledd – Running in Lavender recently posted…Sunday Stars – 7th JuneMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      June 10, 2015 / 8:04 pm

      Hi, Thank you so much for your comment. Yes, I think she had a load of really difficult stuff to deal with and I only wish I appreciated it more when she was alive. I would love to talk to her about it now and to really understand the challenges that she faced. Thanks for your support. xx

  7. June 12, 2015 / 9:53 pm

    I don’t know that I would have coped back then. Thanks for sharing. I hope you have had happy days this week and look forward to hearing about them when you next link up. #HappyDaysLinky x
    Katy (What Katy Said) recently posted…My weekly list #15My Profile

    • thesingleswan
      June 13, 2015 / 9:27 pm

      Hi Katy, THanks for your comment. And yes, I will be linking some happy posts soon. x

  8. June 13, 2015 / 6:37 pm

    Gosh what a hard life and amazing story. Must have been tough then and we do not realise how lucky we are these days do we? What a woman and a very important lady. Thanks for sharing, Jess x #sundaystars

    • thesingleswan
      June 13, 2015 / 9:21 pm

      Hi Jess, thanks for your comment. Yes, now that I know more about her I realise that she was quite incredible. I just wish I was able to talk to her about it. X

    • thesingleswan
      June 15, 2015 / 7:37 pm

      thank you!

  9. September 5, 2015 / 9:36 pm

    Your posts are always really thoughtful and considered, and lovely to read. I think as we grow older we gain a new appreciation for our parents and grandparents. My grandmother was a divorcee and it’s difficult for me to understand what this must have been like for her in the 1940s as society is so different today.
    Min recently posted…The Mummy-Guilt Starts HereMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      September 7, 2015 / 10:17 pm

      Hi again,

      I feel like we have a bit of a mutual appreciation society going on here. I am really glad that you like my reading my posts. I really like your writing style. You have a conversational tone and a sharp wit which I like. I however am probably thoughtful, introspective and generally quite morose. I am working on it though.

      Interesting to hear that your grandmother was also a divorcee. I bet she had a really interesting story too. You should do some research. Take care. Pen

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