I’m single. I’m a woman. And lately I’ve been thinking some of my attitudes towards becoming a mother have changed a lot. I feel more like I’m interested in becoming a parent after years of thinking that it was not for me. This change is partly because of my training and work as a counsellor. Some people (myself included) view counselling as a kind of ‘re-parenting’ process where therapists help clients to transcend some of the harmful programming they received in childhood and explore new ways of being. Counselling also relies on skills which are crucial in parenting; empathy, unconditional positive regard, congruence, the ability to maintain boundaries, self-awareness and knowledge of diversity issues. My experiences as a counsellor have made me feel more confident about caring for and being a role model for a child. My commitment to feminism also makes me feel more assured about becoming a parent because I know feminist principles would be a large part of my mothering. I currently work for the NHS processing child mental health referrals and as depressing as this job can be (I’m continuously hearing about children in crisis), I do think oddly this is also making me feel more like I want to have a child. It’s making me aware that I have a lot of love to give and that I’d like to be a positive influence in a young person’s life. Whilst it’s true I can do this in my counselling work for other people’s children part of me is thinking, well why shouldn’t my own child get the benefit of my love, skills and awareness too?
Maybe you are thinking, ok then just have a kid. What’s the big deal? Well I’ve realised recently how much I have bought into the idea that families have to look a certain way for heterosexual women who wish to be parents i.e. mother, father, marriage, child/ children. I didn’t even realise how much I had been sucked into this ideal. I was seeing my own counsellor recently and talking about how I wasn’t having any luck whatsoever finding a romantic partner and was worried about missing out on my chance to be a mother. My counsellor pointed out to me that if I don’t meet the right guy in the next few years that doesn’t mean I can’t be a parent. Families don’t all look the same and one kind of family structure isn’t necessarily better than another. This may sound really simple but it was a bit of a breakthrough moment for me. I’d been hanging onto this idea that being a mother hinged on me finding a guy who was a great partner and father material. At that moment I realised that, yes I may need a man to get pregnant but I don’t actually need a man to raise a child with me. Single parent families are everywhere and are normal and valid. I knew this but still somehow social conditioning had got to me and was making me think my options were limited and that I couldn’t be a good mother without a father present.
It would be easy to assume I’ve been suffering from single mother stigma and I’m sure I have been to some degree, but the unavoidable truth of the matter is being a parent is hard and being a lone parent does have the potential to make it harder in many ways. I’m talking about financially and in terms of missing out on emotional and practical support. It’s obviously true that women in two parent families can miss out on these things too though. Having a partner is no guarantee that a woman will get appropriate help with parenting. Underneath the thing that has been bothering me the most is that I’ve been scared of not coping well enough as a single mother. But you know what, there are lot of single mothers who are coping just fine and there is no real reason to assume I couldn’t either. I think the key for me is to carefully plan out the financial, emotional and practical resources I and my child would need and would be able to access before becoming pregnant.
I recently watched the film ‘First Comes Love’ on Netflix which is a documentary about a 41 year old woman called Nina Davenport who decides to become a single mother. She hasn’t been able to find the right man to settle down with and decides she isn’t going to let this stand in the way of motherhood. She asks a male friend to donate his sperm and after some dithering about it he finally agrees. The film follows her from making the decision to become a single mother through to having her child and raising him alone. Davenport hails from New York and she highlights that the trend of women actively choosing to become single parents is becoming more and more common there. I’m wondering what the statistics are like on this in the UK where I live.
Interestingly the film continually cross-references Davenport’s experience of becoming an older single mother with her mother’s experience of getting married and becoming a young mother in her twenties, dedicating her life entirely to this. Looking at the experiences of both generations it can be hard to tell at times which generation has got the better deal when it comes to motherhood. Davenport also has to navigate the stigma of becoming a single mother, particularly with her father who is set against the idea mainly because he feels Davenport needs a more financially stable career (she is a filmmaker and the documentary is her own work). He also believes single mothers typically come from ‘the ghetto’ as he puts it. Davenport comes from a wealthy and privileged background which probably makes her choice easier in some ways, such as being able to afford the IVF treatment but also makes her choice hard to accept for her traditional and conservative father. Overall we can’t underestimate how challenging the stigma can be for all single mothers.
I’d recommend this film for any woman who is in their 30’s/ 40’s and considering becoming a single parent. I haven’t given up on the idea of meeting a partner and becoming a mother by taking the conventional route, but I think there is a lot of pressure that comes with dating when your biological clock is starting to tick, and for me knowing that actually there isn’t any rush to find a man so I can have the conventional family structure, has definitely made me feel a lot better. I have other options. It may be that I become a single mother and then find love later on in my life. It may be that I change my mind again and decide parenting is not for me! Ultimately, it’s 2016 and women should be able do motherhood in the way or order that suits their lives, not in accordance with society’s prejudices. And of course they are free to opt out of motherhood altogether.
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