This is my fourth Mother’s Day as a single mum. No Daddy to buy me flowers or guide the pen in my little boy’s hand so he can sign my card – it’s just Mummy and Freddy. But not being a John Lewis ad nuclear family doesn’t make me miserable – on the contrary, every year we are alone makes us happier.
It wasn’t always like this. Rewind to January 2013, when I was unexpectedly pregnant at the age of 24. I was in a casual relationship with a man who I had always felt didn’t want me – a feeling that was proved true when he left me two months into my pregnancy. We’ve never heard from him since.
I was young, single, and pregnant. I felt like I’d signed up for life-long membership to the worst club ever. I was working as a video journalist at the time. I’d always wanted to have children but not for at least another ten years, when I was settled and, ideally, married.
Like many young women, I’d had late periods and pregnancy scares before. I had always imagined it would be so easy to choose an abortion and see the foetus as just a ‘ball of cells’ – but when I saw those two blue lines on the pregnancy test for real, it wasn’t simple at all. I made my decision immediately. My parents were shocked, but accepted it was my decision – I was 24 and living independently. I wasn’t a child.
I didn’t enjoy one second of my pregnancy. I was too busy worrying about the moment my son’s life would begin, and mine, supposedly, would end. Nobody once said “congratulations” to me. Most people thought I was joking when I told them. One friend even said, “It’s just shocking because, well, you aren’t from a council estate.” Most of the time it was a variation on, “What a shame, but you’ll cope.”
The stereotype is that young mums are promiscuous girls who have ruined their lives by getting knocked up at the wrong time. They’ve signed up to a lifetime of living off the state, getting fat and lamenting their lost freedom while their career prospects get flushed down the toilet.
That stereotype – all those judgements – got to me. Hospital staff said they, “weren’t sure whether I was going to be able to cope” as a single mum. My friends assumed my career had to stop. It felt like everyone thought my life was over now that I was a mother, that there was no way I could fulfil my potential. The subtext to every, “You’re doing SO well!” was, “People like you don’t normally do well at all.”
But I had to do well – for myself and for Freddy. We moved into my parents’ home, because, like any family, we needed support. But when he was two weeks old I was back on the red carpet reporting, just like I was before. He started nursery (which he loves) when he was six months old, and I went back to my job – just like a lot of single parents.
A real turning point was our first Christmas together. Waking up and spending the day with my parents there with us – everything felt like it had come together. I felt like my son had been planned all along, and I started to ignore the judgemental looks and comments. In fact, knowing people had written me off as ‘just a mum’ gave me motivation. When strangers stared at me, a young woman pushing a buggy down the street, I thought how wrong their assumptions were. I wasn’t a failure – the ‘young single mum’ you’re warned not to become – I was a young woman raising a child and building a career.
You can be a great mum at 30 or 20, as many of our grandparents know. The young mums I met through local networks and mum support groups are some of the most determined people I know. None of us depend on state hand-outs, as people seem to expect. None of us got a free council house. All of us are working hard to provide the best start for our children.
People seem obsessed with the idea that we young mums must be missing out on our twenties because we’ve filled them with nappies and Peppa Pig, but is that really such a bad thing? I haven’t spent my twenties clubbing and staying out late, but that doesn’t mean I’ve missed out on socialising. With the right babysitter, you will live to sip another glass of Prosecco, and I’ve found new friends with other mums. Besides, instead of going home at 3am and waking up with a half-eaten kebab, I wake up to the most love I could ever feel.
People say they find it harder to date when they are a single parent, but I find my parent status is an excellent arsehole-filter – if they have a problem with the fact I’m a mum, they’re immediately out. Freddy and I come as a pair, and I have no doubt that there’s someone out there for us.
Freddy has the most incredible relationship with his grandparents – something that wouldn’t have been possible if I’d waited until the age my own mother was when she had me: she was 43, and is now in her early 70s.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tired – I am knackered – but I can only assume I’m less tired than older mums. Plus, my biological clock can tick along as fast as it likes, because I’m very much done on that front.
Before I had my son, my self-esteem had hit a low, but having him gave me a newfound confidence in myself: if I could do this, then I could do anything.
In the four years since I became a mum, I’ve learned that any parenting journey is hard. No one of any age can be truly prepared for the challenges parenthood brings.
But the judgement needs to stop. A mum who is celebrated and encouraged will always do better than one who is made to feel like a failure. Besides, I’m yet to meet a young mum – single or otherwise – who isn’t striving to do her best.