The following Guest Blog has been submitted by the incredible Ellamental_Mama. This piece shows that even the toughest Single Mothers struggle behind closed doors. Yet the strength and determination that can come from such difficult times, can bring out resilience that will affect not just one but many Single Mothers and their plight to make their voices heard and break the stigma.
Like many single parents during lockdown phase 1, I spiralled downhill fast. My two boys, then aged one and six, and I all began self-isolating before lockdown was announced when, one-by-one, we developed Covid-19 like symptoms. Isolated from friends, family and practical support, my mental health quickly suffered. The constant demands of two young children with no break, not even a trip to a local playground, exhausted me. The pressures of work initially (I was later furloughed), the expectations of home-schooling and the fears of what the pandemic meant for us as a family and our country were too much. Despite being allowed to go out for exercise daily, I rarely found the physical or emotional energy to do so, and even when lockdown began to ease I struggled to reconnect with people.
Parenting my children alone 24/7 through those first weeks of lockdown was one of the most challenging times I’ve faced. I knew I was failing my children but with no one to lean on or support me, it was hard to flip the script. Then the guilt kicked in. Having been told numerous times by my ex that I was a terrible mother, looking in the mirror I became convinced he was right.
So, you can imagine how I felt when, nine weeks after our ordeal began, Dominic Cummings (advisor to the PM through the Coronavirus pandemic) addressed the nation to explain that his circumstances were “exceptional” when he’d driven to Durham to be near family following his wife being taken ill. Caring for your child alone was merely akin to a single parent’s daily life. Did Cummings’ think single parents had disappeared? Or were we just invisible?
Over the six years since I became a single mum when my eldest was a baby, I’ve tried to raise understanding of the single parent life by writing blogs, starting petitions and lobbying the government. Unfortunately I’ve found that very few people listen, I mean really listen. As Cummings’ words rang in my ears – along with the noise from my sons – I decided to write him a letter in the hope I could provide some insight into the experiences of the single parent in lockdown and beyond. Little did I imagine that two days after hand delivering it with my children by my side, I would receive a reply. Cummings was interested to hear what I thought would help single parents during lockdown. Two weeks later I was speaking with a policy advisor from number ten about the needs of single parents and two days after that, Johnson announced the support bubble policy with a special mention of single parents.
Many others – single parents included – were lobbying for this change via MPs, select committees and government ministers. My experiences go to show how the personal – together with the formal – can help to influence policy change and bring our stories to life. Policy change, especially in the midst of a global pandemic, comes from all angles and many single parents are directly impacting this daily.
With the fast paced policy change of this pandemic the unforgotten status of single parents’ is being constantly highlighted. This tendency for government – and other institutions – to forget about single parents when they develop policy is in part because we don’t have our rights enshrined in law. Currently, whilst it is illegal to discriminate against a married person, single parents are fair game because we aren’t a protected group in the Equality Act, 2010. By having single parents’ incorporated into the Equality Act policy makers would need to consider the impact of their decisions on single parents before enacting them.
Together with other single parents I am campaigning to change this oversight of single parents’ rights. We are conducting a survey into the views and experiences of discrimination amongst single parents; if you haven’t yet filled it we would love to hear from you. We have also started a petition to ask the government to update the Equality Act so single parents are protected from discrimination in areas such as the workplace, housing and government benefit rules. The campaign has already garnered great support with organisations including Single Parents Wellbeing, Save the Children UK and The Childhood Trust supporting us. You can find out more and get involved in the campaign here. Together single parents have the strength to change things for the better, for all of us.
Ellamental mama writes a raw, honest and occasionally funny blog under her pen name at www.ellamentalmama.com on the trials and tribulations of life in London as a single mother to two young boys. She covers an eclectic mix of topics including mental health, divorce and donor conception. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram: @ellamental_mama and Twitter: @EllamentalMama. The New website dedicated to the Single Parent Rights Campaign can be accessed here.