Facing parenthood can be scary at the best of times, but the anticipation of single parenthood can be particularly frightening. In today’s world, however, an increasing number of women – and men! – are finding themselves as single parents – for a variety of reasons. Modern Mum takes a look at how – and why – many women, in particular, are opting for single parenthood.
Going it alone
Hardly a day goes by, it would seem, without some celebrity or another announcing that they are ‘delighted to be pregnant’ without a partner in sight. Equally, an increasing number of celebrities are going down the line of adopting a seemingly endless number of babies and children – again without a significant other in tow.
The message that such actions is repeatedly giving is that single motherhood can be just as rewarding and enjoyable as that spent in the bosom of a secure relationship or family.
There have been single parents in ROI for over a hundred years. Previously this would have been put down to the fact that mortality rates tended to be higher, but the numbers of single parents in Ireland is definitely on the increase. Thirty years ago there were about 3000 single parents. This number has now jumped to around 100,000. In the year 2000, non-marital births accounted for 31.8 percent of all births (Vital Statistics 2000) and the majority of these births were to women in their twenties and older, with the average age of unmarried mothers 25.
In Northern Ireland there are around 92,000 lone parents with 150,000 kids and it is estimated that between 20-25 per cent of families in NI are one-parent families.
Forty-six per cent of these people have become lone parents due to separation or divorce (Census 2001), with seven per cent becoming lone parents due to bereavement (DHSSPS). Perhaps most interestingly – and contrary to media portrayal – less than three per cent of lone parents are teenagers, while 80 per cent are aged between 25 and 49! (Census 2001).
It is estimated that about one in five pregnancies is unplanned. For any single woman, who is not in any form of committed relationship, finding out that you are pregnant cannot help but lead to a major life change!
Sometimes a woman will find herself pregnant just at the point when she is considering ending a relationship. Taking on the sole responsibility for a child can be difficult, but can be ultimately rewarding for both parent and child.
The modern choice
Choosing to be a single mother – or a Choice Mum as the Americans call it – wouldn’t have been even considered a few decades ago. Yet a recent YouGov survey found that two-thirds of women questioned found it acceptable for a financially secure, single woman to have a child by herself!
It would appear that many women, particularly those in their thirties and forties, are now choosing to enter the world of motherhood alone: whether by a partner, with whom they have no intention of creating a family environment, or with a perfect stranger.
If you do decide to go down this route, the first thing you need to do is consider how you will deal with the questions your child may ask as he, or she, grows up, so it’s essential that you have it all well worked out in advance whom and how you’re going to tell about your decision. Your child will, naturally, be the most important person, so you need to know how you will respond to the inevitable question – ‘Where did I come from?’
Whether you are widowed through illness or by an accident, the process of coping with grief is a long and difficult one for both widow and children. The loss of a partner means that a woman not only has to cope with her own grief, anger, frustration and even guilt, but also has to parent her children and ensure that life carries on to point where she shapes her children into competent, successful adults.
Being deprived of a loved one and all that a relationship entailed can cause a sense of isolation. Feeling isolated can be particularly difficult for introverted personality types, so, if you are a widow or widower, who is feeling increasingly isolated and lonely, it is vital to seek support on a social level. Immersing yourself in your children is perfectly understandable for a while, but you must remember that life has to go on and re-immersion into society is healthy for all concerned.
When daddy works away
Due to new working practices and extended working days, more and more parents are finding themselves forced to work away from their home and families, and it’s probably fair to say that the stresses and strains of today’s working patterns are adversely affecting families.
For many families, even if daddy does come home at night, it’s very often long after the children have been put to bed and, in many households, he’s away again before the kids have even been wakened in the morning! This leaves children often feeling that their father is a stranger to them, since they can often go without seeing him for days at a time. It also leaves mum feeling alone and frustrated at having to cope with everything by herself. The situation can also leave dad feeling frustrated and depressed at not seeing his children for long periods.
If you find yourself in this type of single motherhood, the following may be of some help:
- it’s very easy to subconsciously deliver the message that life isn’t sweet unless daddy’s around, so try to remain positive and view it as a temporary situation. If you aren’t coping with the situation sit your partner down and tell him how you feel
- when there’s no-one coming home to help with baths and bedtimes, it’s tempting to lash out when you do see your partner but try to turn having the evenings to yourself to your advantage. Seek out other mums, who are in a similar situation, for some company. Or why not study for an extra qualification?
- Talk about your partner every day and encourage your child to talk about their feelings
- Take lots of photos – for him as well as the children
- To help a small child work out how long it will be until daddy comes home, cross off the days on a calendar
How many of today’s parents grew up listening to their own parents say ‘we’re only together for the sake of the kids’? The pros and cons of remaining in a loveless relationship have been played out on screen for decades but, while it may have been a ‘given’ for our mothers and grandmothers, it’s certainly true to say that an increasing number of women today would prefer to go it alone rather than make the same mistakes that their own mothers made.
The important thing for any child is that it grows up in a secure and stable environment, and it is just as easy – sometimes easier – for a woman – or man – to do this alone, rather than try to raise a child in an atmosphere, which is tense and uncomfortable for all involved. Indeed, a recent study by the Economic & Social Research Council showed that, while shared parenting could be a happy experience for many children, it was not always their preferred option. In some cases children actually found that, having tried a shared residency arrangement, they actually found that having a main ‘base’ with one or other parent suited their lifestyles better.
Of course, as the figures quoted at the beginning of this feature confirm, it’s not only mothers, who embrace single parenthood for one reason or another. An increasing number of men are choosing to take on the role of mummy and daddy – usually due to relationship breakdown or bereavement.
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