Writing a blog and a book about raising my son alone was, for me, a chance to try to dispel some of the vicious myths that surrounded the term ‘single mother’.
It wasn’t the 1950s, but I still found myself face-to-face with judgement and hostility on a regular basis.
Twelve years after having my son, in the comfortable echo chamber of my lefty Twitter feed, single parents are respected and celebrated as brave and strong.
I’m painfully aware, however, that there’s still a long way to go.
A quick glance at the comments of any article that mentions ‘Single Mum’ in its headline shows that tired old stereotypes still exist, and it’s clear that policymakers have little regard for single parent families too.
Myth 1: Single mums get pregnant deliberately to get a council house
Come on, guys. Firstly, finding out you are unexpectedly expecting is terrifying.
You don’t sit there in the loo with the pregnancy test and think “YES! I am going to get a council house!” I have never lived in a council house.
There is not enough social housing in the UK and waiting lists are a mile long. I have lived in private rentals, including one that was so damp snail trails streaked the sofas and my son’s books went mouldy. Most landlords enforce a ‘No DSS’ rule, which shows how outdated they are, given the fact the Department of Social Security hasn’t been a thing since 2001.
I work, but I still need help towards my rent from Housing Benefit.
Over the years, reactions to my enquiries about rentals have varied from laughter to hanging up.
Once, my son and I fell in love with a house. I put down a deposit there and then and we began to make plans to move, only for me to receive a call two days later to say the landlord had decided to let to a couple instead.
In summary: finding somewhere to live as a single mum is really, really hard.
Myth 2: Single parents don’t work and don’t want to work
Over two thirds of single parents work. Out of those who don’t, 84 percent would like to. Many can’t, because of a lack of flexible working or affordable childcare. I have never wanted to not work: there’s only so many Cbeebies jingles and parent-and-toddler groups a person can take. And ‘living off benefits’ isn’t living: it’s existing. But even working doesn’t make things much better. ‘Paying the Price’, a recent study by single parent charity Gingerbread, found that half of all working single parents regularly found themselves with no money at the end of the month, and that one in ten have had to turn to emergency support like payday loans or food banks.
Myth 3: Single mums are looking for no-strings sex
There are a lot of ads, usually connected to porn-streaming sites, that promise viewers ‘no-strings sex’ with ‘horny single mums’.
This is the epitome of objectification of and hatred for single mums and it makes me furious. Sure, being a single parent is a lonely business, but that doesn’t mean women want to tuck their kids up in bed and have sex with a pervy stranger off the internet.
They’re far more likely to be washing uniforms or making packed lunches or, you know, having a well-deserved rest.
Myth 4: Single mums are criminals (and absent dads are not)
If someone who is a single mum commits a crime, her status will almost always snake its way into the subsequent newspaper headline.
If an absent dad who has chosen to abandon his child(ren) does, this isn’t mentioned, because there isn’t a label for people like him.
A prime example of this is a headline I saw recently on the website of a local newspaper. “Two Single Mums and Man Caught Fighting on CCTV,” it said.
Seven paragraphs into the piece, it emerged that the man was also a parent.
Myth 5: Single parents sponge off their exes
Actually, 62 percent of single parents don’t receive child maintenance.
If an absent parent doesn’t want to pay maintenance, they know how to avoid it.
Child maintenance is often viewed as a luxury, money that resident parents splash out on fancy cars and trips to the salon.
In reality, child maintenance, on the rare occasion it does get paid, is a meagre contribution.
The current government has introduced an application charge for new child maintenance claims, as well as taking a cut of the maintenance if and when they’re successful.
They did this to encourage separating parents to come to an amicable arrangement, thus totally ignoring the fact that many single parents don’t even know where the absent parent is.
Myth 6: Single parents have loads of kids and they are all delinquents
Like me, most single parent families (55 percent) have just one child.
And like me, most of them are just making the best of a difficult situation.
There’s a widespread belief that children need two parents, a mother and a father, in order to know how to behave.
My son is mature, polite, confident and doing well at school. Granted, we’ve yet to navigate the teenage years, but so far, so good.
Children thrive on love. Love and library books. And when there’s nothing else in, beans on toast.
Whether they get what they need from two parents of the same gender, or one doing their level best, really doesn’t matter.
My Sh**ty Twenties by Emily Morris is published by Salt (£8.99). All statistics courtesy of Gingerbread.
The story first appeared on our sister site iNews.