A new wave of books and TV shows are redefining the single mum stereotype for the better. Here, writer Sophie Heawood shares the unique struggles and unrivalled joy of single parenthood
When I found out I was pregnant, it came as a huge shock because the father and I weren’t in a relationship, although we’d been friends for many years. I remember trying to convince him about a girl’s name I liked, and it turned out he was against it as it was his mother’s name. I had no clue and yet we were having a baby together. Except, after he tried and tried to come round to the idea, he ultimately couldn’t – and so then I was having a baby by myself. That’s how it has remained for the past six years, just me and my daughter, and I only wish I’d been quicker to acknowledge the freedom it has given us.
I grew up in a happy nuclear family of four, but the closeness that Echo, six, and I share is something my mother and I will never have. Partly that’s just generational, but there’s also something about my child and me in our lovely, funny, giggly bubble – we go on holiday, run into the hotel room and bounce on the bed together like newly-weds. Well, like newly-wed children, perhaps. We are a couple of sorts, and while I’m always quite vigilant about her having other committed adults in her life in godparent-type roles, there’s a certain blissfulness to it just being us.
Of course, I don’t want her to be responsible for my emotional well-being. I’m definitely her mother, and she is a child. There are boundaries, and the responsibilities are all mine. But there’s nobody I’d rather sit next to on an aeroplane or share a milkshake with or even snuggle up in bed with, even though she hogs all the pillows and kicks me in her sleep. She’s a pretty well-behaved child, and I do like to think it’s because the lines of communication have always been so open between us.
Also in this series: Single motherhood and dating
Still, society can accidentally make you cry a lot. In my ninth month of pregnancy, I spent all the money I didn’t have on buying myself a decent bed, not realising it would still arrive in a flatpack. The delivery guy saw my dismay and said, ‘Don’t worry, pet, your husband will put this together when he gets home tonight’, and off he went. I just stood there and wept. When I go to parents’ evenings at school and the two chairs are waiting for me and my invisible husband, those same tears well up again. But then the other day, when I was reading Danny The Champion Of The World’s description of his dad (a single parent) as the most fun, brilliant person to be around, my daughter interrupted: ‘That’s just like you, Mummy!’ And then my tears were of a different kind.
We don’t hear about many happy single-parent families, so you start thinking you must be tragic when actually you’re not. Of course, we’re all knackered too, but show me a parent who isn’t. I always thought I’d get married and have a bunch of kids in a country house, but that turned out to be a fairytale. Once you let the fairytale die, you can let the living begin.