So here it is, better late than never, my sum up of the Stigma surrounding single parents, written after the Independent Mother: Breaking Stigma event.
If you’ve read my pre-event blog post you’ll know my reasoning behind wanting to set Stigma as the first hard hitting topic to address.
In short, after feeling totally overwhelmed by the perception that comes with the role of the uncomfortable term of Single Mother, I had begun to question whether it was society that still saw it as an issue or if I’d somehow internalised it… Maybe it wasn’t such a big deal after all.
The reason I’d joined the scary world of social media in the first place with @not.just.a.single.mother was to be an extra voice for Single Mothers and play my part, however small it may be in helping to break the way in which I believed we were perceived.
After spending months sharing daily posts of my thoughts, feelings and circumstances for anyone that could relate, in the hope that they may feel less alone and isolated in their situation, I felt it was time to see if I could do the same in person.
The more I became engrossed in the community, the more I realised that not only was being a Single Mother not as uncommon as I’d first felt but that so many others are struggling with identifying and living as one. An event that could connect us in person would surely be worth a try.
So here I was, after pulling my anxious arse way out of its self isolating comfort zone and attempting to pull off the second event of my life with no experience other than to avoid social occasions where possible. I’d gathered up a cracking line up of women who’d agreed to speak at the event and worked my butt off to get the word out to as many people as I could with limited resources and my own government-funded breadline budget.
After 50% of the attendees were a last-minute no-show it was a total relief we still had a buzzing room of down to earth Mums who’d been brave enough to take the risk and come along.
After lots of chat, croissants and cooing over children we were ready to get down to business.
…and we’re off!
Before we got started I asked everyone to think about the most common perception of a Single Mother. I did this in the hope that we’d all start out with the same thought process that would then be overcome and replaced with the true reality, backed up by the evidence and mixed in with a dose of empowerment.
Of course, when asked, the room all agreed that the visual representation of a Single Mother was that of a young, possibly teenage girl that lived in a council home and was supported by state benefits. She’d made a naïve decision and was now stuck in her circumstances attempting to raise a child alone.
Jump to Chloe our first speaker who hit us with the essential data that Single Parents make up 1 in 4 of all households in the UK.
The average age of a Single Mother is 38 with 8 out 10 typically being aged 25-50.
So, within the first few minutes of the event that was our perceptions quashed.
We went on to discuss more facts, figures and help that’s out there, including the UK’s leading charity, Gingerbread who have been around for 100yrs proving this is not a new phenomenon by any means.
However, I and many others have reached out to Gingerbread to get involved but for unconfirmed reasons have been unable to get very far and ultimately felt let down by the charity we’d hoped was still the beacon of hope it used to be before the red tape was added.
Not to be disheartened though, Gingerbread website, along with other forums and a huge online community across social media platforms means there is support out there in many forms. All of which you can chose to be an active part of or just spectate and gain insight from afar.
We concluded from our chat with Chloe that there was most definitely an unjustified stigma but that opinions were changing, very slowly. It’s largely down to the media to recognise and support the efforts undertaken by Single Mothers and therefore change the way we are represented.
The mention of social media and media portrayal was the topic I was keen to discuss with the next speaker, Rebecca. Having worked across many fields as a journalist, she had used her platform to look into the stereotypes that are often used in films when casting Single Mother roles for her blog (The Mother Edit).
She had concluded that they were often quite scatty, stressed out and slutty women who were waiting for a man to come and rescue them from their unorganised existence.
On the contrary Single Fathers had got away with being divorcees that were doing their best and shown in a positive light.
Although many of us could relate to the chaos that ensues in the reality of our day to day life, it most definitely is not the main characteristic we would associate with the role.
Rebecca herself was brought up by a Single Mother for her whole life and saw the traits of strength and resilience that stood out most when thinking of the successful job her Mother had clearly done.
So why were these traits not highlighted when building a realistic, relatable character or publishing a story that includes a Single Mother?
We concluded that evidently heroic, empowering stories unfortunately don’t sell as well as dramatic tales of benefit scrounging lottery winners.
Characters living life on the edge and struggling to keep hold of sanity ultimately make the general public feel better about their own lives.
Unfortunately, we have been conditioned into being judgemental spectators of fake news and reality TV set-ups.
If journalists and those responsible for what is put out in the media and for viewing pleasure, take better care of prioritising changing the way demographics of people are portrayed, then we will be acknowledged in a positive light. We will instead have empowering examples of women who are doing incredible jobs each and every day without the recognition they deserve.
It will take a conscious effort from more people to be more aware of the stereotypes they are feeding into and instead contributing to help break them.
This led nicely but purposefully onto Sally who is not only a magazine editor but is also in the process of writing a script for a Single Mother sitcom.
I began by asking how these sterotypes and misconceptions of Single Mothers play into the character traits she chooses to create.
Having also been brought up by a Single Mother herself, she had a completely different lived experience to Rebecca and therefore wanted to draw on these circumstances to purposefully not replicate the same predictable characters.
Instead she aimed to create a diverse group of women whose traits depict the true and such varied realities of today’s single mother community.
She echoed the previous speakers by reminding us that while we all know how tough life is when juggling the unexpected predicaments of Mum life on your own, we do such an incredible job just getting through the basics at the best of times that we need to be prouder of our achievements in the face of adversity.
At this empowering moment, we took a break to bask in all the uplifting moments we’d shared while topping up the tea and cooing over the babies that were making themselves known. The sight of a room full of women bonding and laughing that only a few hours previously had been strangers, was wonderful and showed that anything you put your mind to is possible with enough passion and determination to see it through.
It was shame to break up the engrossing conversations for the second part but knowing the intended content to come I was sure it would be worth it.
Read more from Chloe @thepolishedthinker Rebecca Cox @singlemotheredit and Sally @mcsalface on our speaker page or head to their Instagram pages for more links.
To listen to the live recording of the event, head to the podcasts section on this website, the links on Instagram or search for us directly on Spotify, Google Play and Anchor.