I had been a leader of our Christian playgroup for nearly seven years. I met, I greeted, I played, I art-and-crafted, I read stories and I sung songs. Oh, and I took a register. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I always found myself wanting to do more, to add a bit more depth to caring for the parents who walked through the doors. So I started an exercise group with the help of my daughter’s cheerleading instructor. We wanted mums to have one evening a week with the offer of a crèche to come and ‘Dance Yourself Fit’. Following on from that, we set up a Wednesday lunchtime club, also with a crèche, so mums could have a bite to eat and some fellowship.
I had been a single parent to three young children since 2000 and was a domestic violence survivor. This resulted in me living in a strange area with no family or close friends, having to start afresh on my own. What was there for someone like me? A lone parent? I found it hard to fit in with couples as they usually mixed with other couples. Even in a church setting, there is no solid recognition of the difficulties of single parenting, and in some cases there is no strategy to create an inclusive environment for them.
I believe there is a real need for churches to develop support networks for single parents. They need to understand why a single parent may be running late for a service, why they can’t attend a service because they’ve been up all night with an ill child, or why they can’t attend an evening church social because they don’t have child care.
There’s also a need to help someone who is parenting alone understand that their value is not just in the role they have as a single parent – they are valuable in so many other ways as well. I’ve found that many single parents I meet – both male and female – do not appreciate how very strong they are. They are the sole decision makers, sole carers and sole protectors of their children, and they are doing the job of two people – yet they feel unworthy because they are no longer part of a couple.
I was able to move on to working in an advisory capacity in a secular setting with the local children’s centre where I helped set up a new toddler group. Later, when our small group of mums challenged the local council’s decision to shut the centres, we ended up running them ourselves through a community interest company called Spark. My burning desire to begin a support group on my own came out of this victory.
I started to run my group last year. It has been a challenging experience because my numbers go up and down, but we know the need is there, so we also offer support via our private Facebook page for those unable to attend. Once a month, a couple from church come to give housing, debt and some legal advice, and there is also a Foodbank. The main challenge for those who attend is the perceived stigma attached to attending a group that ‘singles’ you out, but once they are able to break through that barrier they enjoy the peer to peer support.
It’s been a hectic few months. Meeting up at play centres, we’ve navigated our way through teething, tantrums, absent partners, grief, children not sleeping through the night, and moving on to a new relationship – and that’s just since September 2015!