Sunday, September 18, 2005

What's in a name?

I had a conversation with a friend on Wednesday in which she questioned my description of myself as a single mother. In my personal opinion, that's exactly what I am. I'm separated from my husband and soon to be divorced, so I'm not "married". Although I have a partner in the steadfast and under-appreciated Other Half (sorry hon), we don't live together and as such he has no "parental" responsibility towards Small Person. Don't get me wrong; they get on like a house on fire and he's becoming more than adequately adept at handling the convoluted logic that only a five-and-a-bit year old can bring to a discussion. I have no doubt that, in time, we'll become a solid family unit while also allowing her to recognise her father's role in her life (such that it is). For the time being, however, it's fundamentally me and her. As such, I have no problem whatsoever with describing myself, should the necessity arise, as a member of the much-maligned sorority of the single mother. At this, my friend looked positively horrified. "But you have [insert Other Half's name here]!! So you're not a single mother. (Helpfully, in her mind..) It's not a good thing, you know".

There's a deep rooted belief among the middle classes in Britain that there exists a sub-class of teenage girls hellbent on becoming impregnated, with the belief that an ever-constricting school uniform holds the key to a golden land; lavishly decorated with free accommodation in the guise of the almost stereotypical council flat, generous state handouts and a lifetime spent watching Trisha and smoking fags. These girls, in some dinner party perpetuated almost-myth, lounge endlessly around in a world that those (generally) more fortunate perceive as a utopian existence - no crying babies, no sleepless nights, no worries about the future. I have no doubt that, in every layer of society, there are parents who care so little about the welfare and prospects of their hapless offspring that they are oblivious to their needs. However, I suspect that the harsh realities of single-parenthood on state benefits is enough for even the most near-sighted of individuals to warn their peers that it's really not all it's cracked up to be. I know it's the hippy in me that believes this, and am sure that others may disagree - well, each to their own opinion.

As for the label, I have to say I wear it more with pride than shame. Why would I not - the most important part of my status is surely "parent" rather than whether I share the burden in a formal setting. The Other Half has been a revelation to both of us - he has resolutely not had children of his own and this caused more than its fair share of heartache over the years in his previous relationship. We have agreed that our mutual future holds no more small people and I am coming to terms with that. However, with each day that passes the relationship between him and Small Person strengthens and it's a joy to behold. He freely admits that he's very relieved to have skipped the whole puking-wailing-napalm-nappy phase, and that things may well have been very different for us had I had more than the one Small Person lurking about the place. As it is, he's experiencing things he never thought he would - Sunday morning cuddles in bed, great big sprawling unconditional hugs (although he gets those from me too), messing around in the park; all in all, the sheer joy and unbelievable frustration that comes with guiding someone through the part of their life when they need you the most. And he does a fabulous job.

And as for the "easy" life of the single mother - believe me when I tell you it's no more glamorous or relaxing than the life of any other parent out there. Since arriving home at 5pm, I have: unpacked two overnight bags - one that I took to the Other Half's, one that Small Person took to her Dad's; put a load of washing through the machine, hung it out and put another one on; cranked up the heating in an effort to ensure that uniform and PE kit are even vaguely dry for tomorrow; supervised maths homework (but that wasn't too bad since it involved Smarties - I'm a firm believer in practical learning, especially if chocolate is involved); made a toasted cheese sandwich and cajoled same down Small Person's neck; done dinner note, dinner money and payment for childminder; almost completed a job application (for myself - apparently we don't send children up chimneys any more - can't think why); bathed Small Person and supervised teeth and wees, read another chapter of that accursed book and composed this post. There's another load of washing about to finish, and the dishes to be washed. Then I can collapse, safe in the knowledge that tomorrow holds more of the same, with the added joy of a day's work and the Other Half's anniversary appointment with his neurologist.

Ah, the sweet smell of exhaustion. I wouldn't have it any other way. Except I would, obviously. There'd be less work and more new shoes.


Blogger Who is this Dave? chimed in with...

I suppose, being also in the separated-and-soon-to-be-divorced state, I could describe myself as a single parent too. So I shall.

My children are, though, just a little older than yours. Having just moved into their own houses (deposits provided by middle-class single-parent Dad).

18 September, 2005 20:07  
Blogger Urban Chick chimed in with...

personally, i blame the daily mail for the perpetuation of these ridiculous myths

barely a week goes by without either mr chick or i sighing after a long day with the chicklets and saying 'imagine if either of us was doing this on our own?'

actually, according to the research, you are the stereotypical single parent: female, in your 30s, separated/divorced from your child's father

but hey, mr dacre, don't let that get in the way of a snazzy headline!

**doffs imaginary hat at surly girl as a sign of respect**

19 September, 2005 09:02  
Anonymous Other Half chimed in with...

I think the reason Small Person and I get on so well is that intellectually we're actually not that far apart !!!

19 September, 2005 13:15  
Blogger Kyahgirl chimed in with...

Your post really touched me surly girl. I have a loving dh who is a true partner in parenting and I still find it hard to do life and raise children. I admire the fortitude and will of single parents.
I'm sure your much admired other half is a huge asset, but the day to day drudgery still falls on you. That's a heavy load.

19 September, 2005 16:09  
Blogger surly girl chimed in with...

offset against all the positives that the other half brings is the negative influence of her father, who sends her home unwashed and without even a brush through her hair. so i spend a weeke re-instilling the discipline and then off she goes again...and all the time we're being careful not to say anything bad about him - she'll see him in his true colours when she's older, but that's her conclusion to come to.

i wouldn't be without her for the world, but i sometimes wish a piano would fall on him.

19 September, 2005 16:15  
Anonymous betty chimed in with...

Wasn't it Lynda Lee Potter who once made a really well-informed comment about "thick, lazy single mothers" or something along those lines? Funny how newspaper columnists who fall back on the idea of single mothers as the scurge of society are either (a) affluent and childless or (b) if they do have children, have a team comprised of nannies/home helps/a chauffeur/personal shopper/someone to wipe their arse etc. I would guess that it is pretty difficult to be a "lazy" single mother anyway.

20 September, 2005 15:42  
Blogger Whinger chimed in with...

Sounds like Other Half is a good half, and kudos for single parentdom. Much respect for you both.

20 September, 2005 15:44  
Blogger surly girl chimed in with...

he is a fabulous half, bless him. wouldn't be without him etc etc...

we're talking about lampshades over on the next post up - come and play...

20 September, 2005 16:01  
Blogger elvira black chimed in with...

I share Betty's thoughts. I have no children, so have no real right to talk, but If sterotype and New York magazine can be believed--and I think it can--very affluent, status obsessed parents (esp in NYC) do one or all of the below:

Spoil their kids rotten, which is cruel but usual punishment-- rendering them unprepared for any modicum of self-sufficiency in later life;

Give themselves and their children nervous breakdowns if they can't get their kid on the waiting list for the "top" Pre-K (pre-kindergarten) immediately following conception, since this, of course, is the first step in the wearying, exhausting process of getting said children into the best ivy league colleges, law schools, and med schools;

Having round the clock nannies et al who may very well be the only ones who witness baby's first anything;

And so on.

So there it is; my biased, uninformed, sterotypical opinion on the matter.

I think your little person is very fortunate indeed.

20 September, 2005 17:53  
Blogger surly girl chimed in with...

E - i thank you. means a lot, if you know what i mean.

and for the record, aside from her family's grief, i was glad when lynda lee poison-potter carked it. malicious old witch. if only the rest of the daily mail staff writers would also do the decent thing, the world would be a better place.

20 September, 2005 19:07  
Blogger spindleshanks chimed in with...

geez surly girl, this bit sounds scarily like me too. only i did the small person without getting married and me and the other half - having spent years living apart so me being single mum - had an unexpected second small and decided we better all move in together - it took seven years to get that far, who knows what the future holds. and that endless grind at the end of the day, you're right it sucks

21 September, 2005 21:22  
Blogger surly girl chimed in with...

ooh, the unexpected second did that work out for you?

22 September, 2005 09:19  
Blogger spindleshanks chimed in with...

second small is a star and somehow we are all muddling along happily in the chaos. living together was the big step - i thought i could manage the baby cos i'd done that before. wasn't sure i could manage the domestic life. but the man is also a bit of a star - guess i got lucky.

22 September, 2005 10:02  
Blogger surly girl chimed in with...

it's good when that happens, isn't it?

rare, but good!!

22 September, 2005 11:02  

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