I watched Myleene Klass’ documentary Single Mums on benefits on Tuesday evening. She has since been criticised for being a rich single mum going round and interviewing other single parents who live very different lives. The benefits angle and the title were unnecessary in my view and no doubt chosen to reel in additional (Daily Mail reading) viewers. This was a shame.
Myleene did manage to portray a broad spectrum of single motherhood. She also showed the pride, the accomplishment, the challenges, the love and the warmth that single mums have.
I am proud to be a single mum … but I have always been afraid to say it.
That’s not to say that single motherhood isn’t without difficulties. My God it can be tough, but then motherhood, in fact parenthood, can be monumentally tough. Let us not forget that! The challenges that single parents face aren’t all due to their single status.
These are my three biggest challenges as a single mum:
Managing the guilt
As a single mother I feel guilty because I got it wrong. I chose the wrong ‘life partner’. I had a child with someone who wasn’t right for me. My now ex only showed his true colours after Cygnet was born. It was then that I realised that I couldn’t spend the rest of my life with him and still be myself.
I feel guilty because my bad decision means that Cygnet will never get the opportunity to live in a happy family with his mother and his father living together as a unit. This happy family environment was the childhood that I had and I feel guilty and a failure because I haven’t been able to give Cygnet the same.
But I am learning to cope with this guilt. I am proud of myself because I had the courage to take the decision to get out. I also know that I am a better parent to Cygnet because I became a single mum. I know that he has an authentic mother, a mother who is being herself and I believe that role models have to be authentic.
Although I would never dare say this to Cygnet’s father, I also firmly believe that Cygnet has a better father because we have separated. Parenting was firmly the mother’s job when Cygnet’s father and I were together. Now that we are separated Cygnet’s father actually spends quality time with his son. They have bonded. They have a relationship that they would never have had if we had stayed together.
Coping with the single mum stereotype
The stereotype is tough and it was the stereotype of single motherhood that made my decision to leave my ex so tough in the first place. The single mum stereotypes (on benefits, sex crazed husband stealers, failures, drab) are ubiquitous.
I went for a drink with a friend of mine last week. He insisted on buying my glass of wine because I am a “single mum on benefits”. “What?” I countered. I work full time, I own my flat (with a large mortgage from Santander but nonetheless), I probably earn more than my friend. I don’t qualify for benefits and it would be very wrong for me, in my situation, to receive them.
I am not for a second saying that there is anything wrong with claiming benefits. But I do firmly believe that benefits should be reserved for those who absolutely need them to keep their heads above water. I am fortunate enough not to be in that category.
Not having someone to share the joyful moments with
Myleene hit the metaphorical nail on the head when she said that this was the toughest thing about being a single parent. This is probably the toughest thing for me too and I think, as Cygnet does more and more exciting things, this will only get tougher.
There are only so many times I can send photos of Cygnet trying to climb into the bath, pointing at a digger, sticking his tongue out in a selfie, running round my flat like a lunatic before my younger brother decides to remove himself from my (very supportive) family whatsapp group.
Mothers and fathers who are together can sit down on the sofa together at the end of the day with a glass of wine and share the details of what their children did that day. They can have a giggle and they can share in the joy.
Evenings spent on the sofa alone, with two glasses of wine, watching again and again the videos on my i-phone of Cygnet walking out of the baby disco because he hated the Dirty Dancing number are not quite the same.
So Myleene, thank you for trying to bust some stereotypes of single motherhood. Thank you for sharing your biggest single mum challenges and thank you for allowing me to admit, in public, that I am proud to be a single mum.