SINGLE MOTHERHOOD IS EASIER
I am sitting with my friend Annabel having dinner together, our eldest sons, hers aged 13, mine15, are at the table. They are talking away to each other discussing the latest films to come out. Then Annabel leans back and says, ‘I’m so glad I brought Jo up on my own. It’s much easier being a single parent.’
I nearly fall off my chair. I too was a single parent of my eldest son Raymond. His father and I split up when he was two years old and although I went on a few years later to meet another man and have three more children, Raymond has always really been a single-parented child. It has always been a bit of a raw nerve with me. I used to spend a lot of time worrying he didn’t really have a father. His father and I were living abroad. I moved home. He stayed abroad and consequently, hasn’t seen that much of Raymond.
Annabel then goes on to say, ‘life as a single parent might be hard but it’s also very liberating. It leaves you free to love your child in the way you want to. No more rows about bed times or schooling or where your child should sleep. The negotiations cease. All the decisions are basically made by you. In a way, single parenting is far easier.’
Annabel met her son Jo’s father, Ben, 20 years ago and they were together for seven years before they had Jo.
‘I should have realised we weren’t going to work well together as parents,’ she says. ‘Ben was far more controlling than I was. As a baby, when Jo would cry, I was always desperate to put him in the bed. Ben insisted he stay in the cot. We’d have huge rows about it. I’d feel that I wasn’t allowed to be the mother I wanted to be.’
In the end, Annabel’s relationship with Ben fell apart. ‘I delighted in being Jo’s mother but Ben really couldn’t handle any of it.’ Annabel says her and Ben’s relationship lurched from one crisis to another until, finally, they decided to call it a day.
‘When Ben left, I realised I could finally parent Jo the way I wanted to. I knew it would be a struggle financially-speaking but I work. I had friends nearby who offered to help. I could see a future for Jo and me.’
Jo was three when his parents split up and he hasn’t seen much of his father since as his father lives in the United States. ‘But when he does come and see Jo, all the tensions come back,’ says Annabel. ‘That’s why I am convinced being a single parent is easier.’
She also lists all the other good things that happen to a single parent; friends rally round, people are a bit more sympathetic to you, you become more sociable, making yourself go out and do things,. ‘I also think it made me a better mother. If there was only me to parent Jo, then I needed to be the best parent I could be.’ She cut out late nights, drinking, smoking. ‘I became very focused. I worked hard to provide for us. Being a single parent taught me real moral lessons. I needed to be present in every way for Jo, to love him, look after him, protect him. In a way, I came in to my own. When friends would tell me how sorry they were for me and how hard it must be for me, I wanted to laugh. I saw them struggling looking after their husbands and children. I had freedom from all that.’
Annabel has since remarried to Daniel. They live together with Jo and Daniel’s three children, two boys and a girl, aged between 15 and nine, who stay with them half the time.
‘Daniel has a good relationship with his ex and with his children,’ says Annabel, ‘but he and his ex view the children in entirely different ways. They don’t seem to have any rules that are the same. Even the bed times are different in both houses.’ She says when she sees the endless effort and tensions that goes in to parenting alongside another person, she is relieved she had Jo all to herself. ‘Sometimes, two people with different outlooks on childrearing find it impossible to find a line that works and I find it very exhausting.’ She points out that if you are a single parent, there is no such thing as negotiation. ‘What I said had to be the rule,’ she says. ‘I never had to discuss how much television Jo should or shouldn’t watch or what time he should go to bed. If I said 8pm, it’s 8pm, no arguing with some other parent.’
‘I found I could parent with confidence because I was on my own. A single parent is a confident parent.’
Annabel does admit being on her own with a child wasn’t easy at first. ‘It was hard. I felt emotionally and financially wrecked but, gradually as I built my life back up. I knew I could be a good and effective parent to Jo on my own. I truly believe that one fantastic parent is better than two half-hearted ones who are constantly undermining each other.’
But what about all these reports we read; that single-parented children don’t do as well at school, that not having two parents at home is damaging for a child, that being brought up as a single mother with an absent father will lead to a feckless life for a child who doesn’t know a male role model. Does Annabel worry about these things?
‘No. I’m not saying I haven’t worried about them in the past. Every time you read something, it strikes the fear in to you. But I look at Jo now and I know I have done a good job. He is bright, confident, happy.’
Later on, I ask Jo how he feels about it. He tells me that he has never really worried about the fact that he has been brought up by his mother. ‘I am used to being with my mother,’ he says, ‘and I’ve never really known it any other way.’ He says that friends do often ask him if he misses his father or whether or not he is sad about not seeing him. ‘I tell them it doesn’t really bother me because it doesn’t. My mum’s amazing. She’s brought me up and she’s worked really hard to provide for us and I think she’s great fun so…I’ve never really felt any sense of loss about my father.’
He does, however, say that he is very happy Daniel is in their lives now. ‘I have my two new brothers and a sister and I have Daniel and I really like him.’ Does he see Daniel as being a father figure? He pauses. ‘We play a lot together and he takes me to football and he cheers for me and I like it because loads of other kids have their dad’s there and now I feel as if I do.’ Does he think that worries hi smother, his close relationship with Daniel? ‘Oh no,’ he says. ‘Mum never liked football.’ I ask him if anything else has changed. ‘Yes! My mother gets cross with Daniel because he’s tougher with me than she is!’
Annabel believes the very success of her son and his strong moral fabric and his ability to communicate effectively, stems from the fact that he was raised by a single mother.
‘I believe Jo is one of the best human beings I have ever met,’ she says. ‘I am extremely proud of him. I have no idea how he has ended up being so wonderful but it means the fact that I brought him up as a single mother hasn’t damaged him in any way – far from it. Being a single aren’t has made me brave, fearless, energetic. I think this has helped Jo to have a real sense of himself, of how much I struggled sometimes. He is generous-hearted, open, honest, able to deal with strong emotions. He is confident and has a real sense of himself and who he is. Had he been stuck between two warring parents, I don’t think he would have been this person at all.’