Please, stop judging.

Everyone knows that when you're a parent. you face some incredibly tough challenges along the way. From breastfeeding to teething to the terrible twos. From financial worries to the dreaded teenage years. It's inevitable that in raising children, there will be times when you feel defeated or like you have failed. We all have moments where we feel clueless and like we don't know what's best or what's right. Parenting is hard. And it's made a whole lot harder because, even when you think you might be doing the right thing, there's always going to be someone who will disagree and do things differently. And sometimes, we end up feeling judged for our decisions along the way. 

Just like any other parent, my moments of parental pride are sometimes followed by moments of disappointment and despair. Like when my son is argumentative or can't play nicely with his friends. Or when he throws himself on the floor and causes a scene in public over a kinder egg. I'm sure we've all been there and I'm sure you'll all agree that it's embarrassing and it can make you feel like you're doing something wrong. We, as parents are held responsible for our child's behaviour and there will always be someone who feels the need to comment on that behaviour. Like the other day when I was in Tesco...

Etienne was having an almighty meltdown because he didn't want to be stuck in the trolley and he wanted a packet of chocolate buttons at 9am. I said no, and all hell broke loose. We were in there for around 30 mins and he actually screamed for that whole entire duration. Of course, everyone stared, as they always do. I'm sure that a lot of those people felt sorry for me in that moment, and that some even thought to themselves "been there, done that!" But, there was one woman who had other things on her mind. One, mindless, snooty woman who felt the need to go on a rant to one of the cashiers, knowing full well that I could hear every single word she was saying:

"Well, my children would have never behaved like that. They just didn't do that in my day. You know, even my grandchildren don't behave like that and they are smaller than that boy. My son only has to use a certain tone of voice with his children and the children know that it's time to behave, instantly. There's no need for all of this screaming business, it's all down to lack of discipline."

I'm actually angry again now having just written that. And at the time, she made me even more angry. But despite feeling angry, I also felt sad. Because she made me look like a failure. I felt like she was right, I felt like I was failing to "discipline" my "unruly" screaming toddler. Because, in this moment, he looked like a spoilt brat. And that's exactly what she judged him as. A brat. And me- a lazy, slacking parent who had obviously never taught him wrong from right. She'd judged us from one tiny snippet moment in Tesco and it infuriated me. Not only did she say all of these things casually as if my feelings wouldn't be hurt, but she also looked smug whilst saying it. She was looking down her nose at us. She thought she was above us.

I felt like screaming at her, I felt like asking her if she'd ever experienced being a single mother with absolutely no support from the father. I wanted to ask her if she'd ever tried to raise a child without anyone to back her up. I wanted to ask her if her children used their "please" and "thankyou's" at the age of 2, because mine does. I wanted to know how she would feel if her child's father had abandoned them before they were even born; if she could imagine carrying that weight whilst raising a young child. I wanted to know if she would have taken her words back if she had known that approximately 2 hours before her comments, my son was asking for his daddy who didn't exist. 

I wanted to put her straight back in her place and then it hit me, that her words were irrelevant because she did not know. She did not know me, she did not know my child and she knew nothing about our situation. She didn't know that I was already having a tough day and that she was actually extremely hurtful by what she was saying. Had she known that her words had later reduced me to tears, I wonder if she would have taken those words back; if she might have apologised, even?

It's a sad reality that probably all of us will encounter somebody like this in our time with young children. I know I've come into contact with plenty of these types of judgmental people (normally whilst using public transport) and it blows my mind that a lot of these people have raised young children themselves once upon a time and yet, they still make these comments. Have they forgotten what two year olds can be like? Have they not a moment's thought for how their comments might make a parent feel in that already difficult moment?

What's really frustrating is that none of these people know my story or the struggles we've faced along the way, none of them know that actually, I give every last shred of my energy to being the best parent I can be and that, despite my best efforts, my son probably does walk all over me sometimes because there's nobody else at home to back me up or to share the load with. 

They don't realise that their words will stay with me, that I will go home and question whether they are right and whether I am failing. And as they carry on with their day without even a care, I'm left with a day that's been ruined by their unsympathetic words. It's a sad reality that often I do not feel as though I can ask a stranger for help when I might need it, for fear of being judged for needing a bit of help. Times like when I'm attempting to lift the buggy onto the train without dropping my belongings/the baby down the gap between the platform and the train. I know I should ask for help and I also know that 90% of people wouldn't think twice about lending a helping hand, but I'm all too aware of the other 10%  of people. And its people like the aforementioned woman in Tesco who cause me to feel this way.

I see it all the time. People rolling their eyes when a young child is crying on the bus. People moving to a different table in a restaurant because they don't want their meal disrupted by the sound of young children. People tutting and disapproving at the toddler shouting "no" back at their exhausted mother. I even had a lady who asked to move seats on the plane when I sat down next to her with my 18 month old baby, purely because she didn't want to be sat near a child. Neighbours who believe that the slight pitter-patter of my sons footsteps on their ceiling during the middle of the day is disrespectful and is a disruption to their right of peace and quiet in what is a shared building, despite the fact that they regularly slam doors and argue at 11pm when my son is sleeping, causing far more disruption. But it's ok, because they have more right to a quiet life than we do, right?

Of course, they're just words and of course, these people's opinions are irrelevant and deserve no place in our minds but..when you're already facing a crappy day and your child has woken up in a grumpy, defiant mood and can't be reasoned with, it's easy to let these stranger's words get to you. 

And it's easy to believe that what they're saying is true.

As much as I realise that other "non-single" parents endure these tough times, too, I have to admit, it's often made a whole lot harder by the fact that there's no support around. Because, besides the lovely comments from my family and friends and their reassurance that I'm a great mum, actually- there is not a single one of these people who is with us full-time. None of these people witness my parenting style all of the time and very rarely are they there to witness the hardest days because on the hard days, I tend to hide away and choose not to socialise. So, nobody really knows.

Unfortunately, alongside the usual judgments that we all face as parents, single parents have a whole load of other judgments made about them. I'm incredibly aware of the general stigma around single parents. Sadly, it's because of this that sometimes I'm too embarrassed or ashamed to admit that I'm a single mum, for fear of being classed as something that I'm not. 

Times like, when a group of married, home-owning mothers in the local park are discussing mortgages and their husbands promotions or the extension they're having done on their family home, and I'm stood feeling like a lemon, trying my best to exit the conversation; to slip away without them noticing my absence; wishing that the ground would swallow me whole as I'm feeling like an alien to their society and I'm too embarrassed to admit that I don't work and that I don't own our home.

An "outsider", a "scrounger", a "failure." I must be lazy, I must feed my child nuggets and chips every night and only bath him once a month. We must live in a messy, un-kept home and he must wear second hand rags for clothes. But mostly we must be envious of their life and their marriage. We must want all that they have, and we must, must, must be after their husbands......*rolls eyes and laughs*

There have been so many times when I've been asked the question "so, what does you husband do?" and it really pisses me off. Not just because I don't have a husband, but because, even if I did have a husband, what business is it of theirs what he does for a living? How is it in any way relevant? Is it a terrible example of awkward small talk in the park or is it because they want to be nosey and they want to compare. I fear it's the latter. I hate to say it, but I definitely sense there's a lot of competition between young families. At least there is where I live. Who has the biggest house? Whose career is most successful? Who is more qualified? Who spent the most on their child's buggy..

When you're a single parent, it's easy to feel secluded from these types of conversation. 

But what these people tend to forget, or even choose to forget, is the fact that, unlike "normal" families where there's two parents who support each other and share the weight of the hard times, I don't have someone to turn around to me at the end of a long day and reassure me that I'm doing a good job, there's nobody to intervene when they can see that I'm all out of energy or that Etienne is really starting to stress me and I need to take a few minutes out before I snap at him. 

I can't just wait for my partner to get back from work and hand my child over to him. I don't get a lie in once a week when it's "my partner's turn" to get up. I can't ask someone else to cook tonight. I can't turn to someone else when I'm feeling stuck and unsure what to do about a certain aspect of parenting or when I want to discuss my concerns or even when I need help in making a decision. 

But guess what? Despite the financial difficulties, the lack of support and the "single and pregnant" status I landed with in my early twenties, I'm fairly confident in the fact that I am no less of a parent than the next person and that my son is well looked after. I'll admit that we currently rely on the council for financial help, but this does not make me any less of a mother. This does not mean that I am a "sponger" or that I intend to stay on benefits long term. In fact, I'd say my position as a single parent only drives me to better myself and I fully intend to achieve financial security in the near future. 

Without sounding as though I am boasting, I am proud of my parenting style most of the time. I know that my parenting is far from perfect but I also know that what I have implemented so far has paid off. This is evident from my well mannered, caring little boy. I can't deny that he has typical toddler moments where he isn't very nice to his friends because he doesn't want to share his toys, but outside of these moments, he is such a kind and gentle little sweetheart.

As much as I remind myself of this regularly, I'm sick of the stigma, I'm tired of feeling like less of a parent because I'm on my own with my son. I'm fed up of feeling discriminated against, like nobody wants to rent their property to us because we rely on financial assistance and therefore we must be incapable of maintaining a clean, organised home. Just because my savings account totals the balance of a measly £20, does not mean that I am unable to manage the money we do receive. It does not mean that I have a heap of debt attached to my name or that I am guilty of fobbing off bills or responsibilities. I am organised and I make the very little amount of money we have, last us. My son has absolutely everything he needs and he still has brilliant opportunities; we don't sit at home in front of Cbeebies 24/7. I play with him, I interact with him, I have spoken to him in full conversations ever since he was a newborn and his speech  at the age of 2 is incredible.

 I asked a couple other single parents if they too feel the stigma surrounding their situation and whether they felt it affected their opportunities/ the way they were perceived as a person within society. Here's a summary of their comments:

  • "People think that children from single parent families aren't offered the same quality of life as children from two-parent families."
  • "Because I'm a single parent; I must be "easy" and sleep around."
  • "Mums at the school approached me with suspicion as if I was out to steal their husband. More often than not, their husbands would avoid conversation with me or wouldn't be allowed to be friends with me."
  • "A lot of people seem to think that single mums put themselves in this situation on purpose, in order to gain a council house or financial aid.Why would anyone choose to raise a child alone?!"
  • "Children from single parent families tend to be seen as "troubled" or "badly behaved." I felt that some parents disapproved about their child being friends with a child from a single parent household."
  • "Parents at the school are very cliquey and often seclude me from their group purely because of my situation as a single mum. I found it hard to fit in because I was viewed as different."
  • "I must be lazy. I must love sitting on my bum at home all day, sponging off the government."

Sad, isn't it? Just think about how these stereotypes might make a parent feel. Think about your hardest days as a parent and how much you already felt like you were failing in that moment, and then add on top of that these kinds of judgments. Imagine how it would make you feel. 

We need to stop judging one another. We need to stop tarring everyone with the same brush and start realising that times have changed, that families are diverse in our generation-whether you like it or not, and that nobody is above anyone else in this world. We are all just parents trying to figure this journey out; we all face hardships as well as triumphs of our own kind.

 My status does not reflect me as a mother, nor does it define me as a person.

Rant over.

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