How I Became A Single Parent …

I was nineteen and in the second year of my A levels when I found out I was pregnant. To say it was a surprise, would be an understatement. My boyfriend of two years – a soldier who was frequently away – was equally surprised, but initially supportive. I decided – in the iconic words of Madonna in ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ – hmmm, I’m gonna keep my baby. As she also sang, I decided, we can raise a little family, maybe we’ll be all right, it’s a sacrifice. Then my boyfriend changed his mind when I was six months pregnant. Aside from five minutes in a courtroom a year later – trying and failing to get maintenance for my son – I have never seen him since.

And so I became a single parent.

Just like that.

I lived at home with my single mother and three other siblings, in a small council house. I had no savings. Of course I didn’t. I was nineteen. Though I’d had summer and evening jobs since I was fourteen, I’d never expected to be a mum so young, and so suddenly, and on my own. I put my name down on the council housing list as it was the only way I might be able to move out and not have to pay a huge deposit. Nothing happened. No offer of anything. I wasn’t ‘desperate’ enough, which is absolutely fair, since I had a roof over my head, even though I was sharing a bedroom with my mother – not the best experience with a heavy drinker – because my twin sisters shared a tiny room and my brother, being now twelve, had to have the other.

My brother with my newborn son, January 1991.

My son Conor was born at the beginning of 1991. I fell completely and utterly in love. Despite a thirty-six-hour labour, and a whopping 9lb 9oz boy, it felt like magic to hold him in my arms. I’d been looking after my siblings since I was four so, really, it was the most natural thing in the world to me. He slept in a Moses basket baby on the landing. (My mother didn’t want to be disturbed by him in the night.) In January. In a council house with no central heating. But I’ve always felt this made him the hardy creature he is, very rarely ill. I’d often fall asleep there, next to that basket, feeding him in the night on the landing, both of us wrapped in a duvet, the sweet scent of him something I can still smell now.

Eventually, when Conor was nine months old, I’d saved up enough for a deposit and got a cheap rented property. There was no heating apart from one small gas fire in the living room, and no double glazing. But I made it homely. I looked for work. This was a time before the CSA enforced maintenance from absent fathers and so I had to pay for everything Conor and I needed. It was also a time before Tax Credits at least topped up low incomes and helped with childcare. Whatever I earned would have to pay the rent, childcare, bills, food and clothes – for two of us. There was no job I had a hope in hell of getting that would cover it. I had no experience. So I went on benefits. I got £80 a week. That was for everything. I wasn’t a scrounger. I wanted desperately to work. I went every month to the job centre to see if there was something that paid enough.

My gorgeous, smiley boy, aged about five months.

At times, I was lonely and depressed. All my friends were at university or travelling the world. My own father had not been in life since I was fifteen. Now I had a son with no father too. I had zero self-pity though. I’d made the decision to have my child, and that came with all the risks of ending up alone. But very few single parents end up that way by choice. Very few are scrounging or lazy. I used the words single parent rather than single mum as I know it can happen to anyone.

Once Conor went to nursery and then school – when childcare was therefore minimal – I went back to college and then got a job in a hotel. I eventually met my husband and had our daughter. And finally, when my son was eight, I got maintenance payments from his father.

My sister, me and Conor, aged five months.

Now, when I’m on the bus and see a very young mum with her baby, I feel huge compassion for her, and if there’s a chance, make a fuss of her child. She may not be alone. There may be a partner. I don’t know the full story. And this is the thing. We never do. But the fact is that behind every single parent there is an absent parent. And which is worse? A parent who is there – or a parent who isn’t?


  1. I was mesmerised reading this. You did a beautiful job and your baby was absolutely gorgeous. It must have been so tough. I am a mother of a nine month old, and am not a single parent and yet I find it very tough. My husband is at work for long hours, travels a lot, so most days it is just me and the baby doing everything together. Our families live quite far so I do often feel very alone. I cannot imagine how you did all of that. You gave a perspective that people don’t often see, they just judge.

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  2. Great read, and interesting, I was married at 19, had my son at 21, as he was 3 months in Boxing Day my already abusive husband told me he had been with someone whilst I was working nights and wasn’t sure if he was the father of her child, once he told me he thought it would all be wonderful, obviously it wasn’t, we were going to try and make a go of it but he abused me once to often so I said no more and spent the next 3 and a half years as a single mum on £90 a month in a pokey one bedroom flat with my son in the same room, only heating was in the lounge, a gas fire. Where I lived until we got a council place 5 years later, I then met my second husband had three more children, but may as well have been a single parent to all of them as he was always working away, but I suffered a different type of abuse from him, which led to me trying to take my own life 5 times. Until I managed to leave. My children are all now fully grown and living their own lives. Life can be tough but I guess we learn how to adapt to things that are thrown at us. But there does seem to be a culture now who deliberately get pregnant in order to get a council home, and some do get them. It’s not something I would have ever chosen.

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  3. What a beautiful peace! I am not a single mum but I am a wife of a soldier. He was away in Afghan when I was pregnant and the first year she was born I was on my own in an army town, no friends, Post natal depression, depressed and a lot of anger. Somehow I muddled through. It’s stories like yours that make you realise how strong us mums, single parents are without knowing our own strength sometimes xx thank you for sharing x

    Liked by 1 person

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