My reality of being a single parent was the same as anyone else’s: lonely, difficult, an uphill struggle at times, but now I can look back and say, ‘what an achievement’.
In 2000, as a domestic violence survivor with three young children, I moved to a strange area with no family or close friends, having to start afresh on my own. What was there for a lone parent like me? I found it hard to fit in with couples as they usually mixed with other couples. Even in a church setting, there was no solid recognition of the difficulties of single parenting and in some cases there was no strategy to create an inclusive environment for us.
I worked in an advisory capacity with the local children’s centre where I helped set up a new toddler group and since 2015 I have run Horizon Single Parent Group which meets in the former Surestart Children’s Centre. We meet weekly as a peer support group with a private Facebook page for those unable to attend. Once a month a couple from my church come to give housing, debt and some legal advice, and there is also a Foodbank.
One of the main challenges for those who attend my group is the perceived stigma attached to attending a group for single parents, but once they are able to break through that barrier they enjoy the peer to peer support.
Wikipedia defines a single parent as “an uncoupled individual who shoulders most or all of the day-to-day responsibilities for raising a child or children. A mother is more often the primary caregiver in a single-parent family structure that has arisen due to death of the partner, intentional artificial insemination, divorce or unplanned pregnancy.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_parent. Even within this definition lies a standard stereotype, that single parenting is caused by ‘unplanned pregnancy’. The means to which a person becomes a single parent is significant, but the support, care and consideration that is provided to that family is even more important than how they came to be. The absence of the other parent whether by choice or crisis should be enough for communities and individuals to become safety nets for these families.
It was reported in 2013 that ‘the cost to society and local communities is high- the children of unmarried parents do not do as well at school, [and] are more likely to have health problems and grow up in poverty.’ http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/382706/Rise-of-the-single-parent-family. So we need to do more. We need to fight the stigmas and stereotypes. We need to welcome and be more inclusive, and if we do not know how or understand them, we should seek out services who can help like Care for the Family Single Parent Support.
I started my group on my own with no training or support. How wonderful it is that Care for the Family has seen the importance of these groups for single parents and have developed a training day and manual to equip those of us who have a heart to help and serve single parents in our area. Starting up these support groups will in time help to meet the needs of single parents and build stronger families for the future.