Bringing Up Baby: Why We Need A Single Mother's Day

As here we sit, wedged between the twin card factories that are Valentine’s Day and Mothering Sunday, I would like to suggest a new mark for the calendar: Single Mother’s Day.

During the post-Thatcher years of my early adolescence, “single mother” became, somehow, a pejorative byword for the irresponsible woman; the drain on society, the feckless, sexually-negligent, morally-questionable hole where good, tax-paying people feared to fall. Since becoming a mother, I have realised with a burning, sour rage just how cruel and undeserved that portrayal really was. Since becoming a mother, I have realised that the single mother is, in fact, the most responsible woman there is. Because she has no choice to be otherwise.

Because this is a woman who has no one to hand a screaming baby to at 3.15am after six hours of sleepless, frustrated howling. This is the woman who has nobody else to ask if this rash looks normal. This is the woman who has to carry her toddler up 15 concrete steps with a rucksack full of shopping on the way back from an eight-hour shift because there’s nobody to help her carry the buggy. This is the woman who must eat her dinner at midnight, even though she knows she’ll be awake at 5.30am because she had to clean the kitchen and hang out the washing before she was able to cook for herself. This is the woman who has to remember every single upcoming date, appointment, meeting, event and deadline without assuming someone else will remind her. This is the woman who has to push a screaming baby around a park, in the rain, for an hour while being screamed at, kicked in the leg and hit with a recorder by her eldest child without, somehow, kicking them in the leg right back. This is the woman who has to be mother, father, teacher, breadwinner, cleaner, logistician, child psychologist and friend to her child, all at once and all the time.

Of course, there are many wonderful single fathers and they deserve all the help and recognition we can give them. But I am not a father, I will never be a single father and so I can only speak to my own realisation that what I am doing is made significantly different, and probably easier, by the fact that I’m not the only parent in my family. There are as many different types of single mother as there are single women; each story and set of circumstances and family is unique. But what unites this army of solo heroes is that they are completing, on their own, a lifelong job that was started with somebody else. Often with less money, less support and less status than those in couples.

My mother was a single mother for much of my sister’s childhood. My boyfriend’s mother was a single mother to him. How they navigated the financial stress, sleepless weeks, long-term decisions, life-changing accidents, nail-shredding irritation, unfathomable infant mood swings, the change of identity and overflowing washing up without a partner, co-parent, conspirator and confidante is beyond me. This week I ended up kicking a tree, clawing at my throat and swearing like someone trying to chew a mouthful of gravel, all because my child had been awake since 4.30am, would not nap and was eating handfuls of sheepskin fluff pulled out from behind his head. I’d managed 12 hours of single parenting and was already lashing out at hard surfaces. If I hadn’t known that in two hours my boyfriend was coming home and that someone else would be bathing my child’s tiny, adrenaline-stiff pink body for me, I might well be typing this from inside a wheelie bin.

Motherhood is a life changing process. Anyone who can do it without a partner and without losing herself entirely, deserves public recognition, public money and public respect. She’s earned it.


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