Read a tabloid newspaper or go online and the chances are you’ll find a lot of stereotypes and assumptions about what it means to be a single parent – headlines about how your child will grow up to be troubled, neglected and most probably a criminal now that they find themselves in a lone parent family. You’ll be presented with the image of yourself as a teenage benefit scrounger, sat at home alone, fighting over custody and desperate to bag yourself a new partner.
Surely this can’t be right?
According to the Office for National Statistics, nearly a quarter of all families in the UK are headed up by single parents – 1.8 million of them in fact. How can such a huge number of parents all fit these single parent stereotypes? The same survey shows that the average age of a single parent is 39 and less than 1% of them are teenagers, so where is the representation for all of these strong, independent single?
Frolo’s mission is twofold – to offer connection and friendship, and to empower single parents, to bust the myths around what it means to be a single parent family in the 21st century.
There are now over 20,000 single parents registered on the Frolo app, 20,000 people representing a diverse range of family models, incomes, lifestyles and more. There is such positivity, so many parents with amazing careers, solo parents by choice, single, gay adopters – Frolo is busting single parent stereotypes left, right and centre.
We spoke to a group of parents from the Frolo community and asked them how they feel about some of the common single parent stereotypes and how they feel their lives fall outside of these assumptions.
Let’s be honest, finances are a big issue for a lot of single parent families. Single parents face a higher risk of poverty, often due to barriers to enter and progress in work and the disproportionate impact of welfare reform, plus having to shoulder the costs of running a home on their own.
However, of the 1.8 million lone-parent families with dependent children in the UK, the majority are in employment and half are working full-time. There are also lots of parents running their own businesses and managing to pursue careers they love, even if it’s not always easy financially. Single parents like Natalie Ferrigno, who became a single mum when her husband left her suddenly with two children, aged 11 months and two years old at the time.
‘As a single parent of two teenage boys, (one with additional needs), I feel extremely grateful to have a thriving career that I’m passionate about which came into fruition AFTER becoming a single parent.’
‘I’m lucky that I work for myself,’ says Natalie, ‘so I can work flexible around my sons. I trained as an actor at university and knew I always wanted to explore it as a career but it wasn’t until I suddenly found myself single parenting that my previous employment as long haul cabin crew no longer seemed viable. I’m not sure if I would’ve had the guts to take the plunge into acting if I had stayed in my marriage. They say the worst things that happen to you often turn out to be the best. The grief from the breakdown of my marriage actually turned out to be the making of me and gave me the strength to chase my dreams.’
‘I now have a multi hyphenate career working as an actor, model, presenter, writer and content creator. Life is very busy and fast paced but I’m proud to be a positive role model to my sons. Being a mum is the most important thing in my life but showing my sons that women can be strong, independent career women is empowering and I think it’s important to break the stereotypes that come with single parenting. Like everything it’s hard work and often requires long hours and endless juggling but I wouldn’t have it any other way.’
There is definitely a single parent stereotype that has us all cruising around town, desperately looking for a new partner, but this is simply not the reality for most single parents. While there are plenty of single parents who didn’t set out to be bringing up their children alone, there are many, like Natalie, who’ve found that they’ve thrived as a single parent, finally feeling a sense of true freedom and independence.
‘I genuinely feel my year of total single parent life was the happiest year in a decade,’ says Emily. ‘It gave me more confidence and the ideas and self belief to start my own business and to publish a children’s book. This would never have happened if my ex husband hadn’t walked out.’
There are also a growing number of both men and women who are actively choosing to become parents on their own. There was a beautiful piece in the New York Times recently following the stories of four women embarking on the journey of parenthood alone, and we’ve seen from the Frolo community just how many people in the UK and Ireland are deciding to follow the same path.
‘When I was 38, I decided enough was enough with the dreadful app dates,’ says Dominique. ‘It was time to take things into my own hands and get pregnant on my own. Or at least with the help of a sperm donor. Two rounds of IVF and one embryo transfer later and against the odds, I had succeeded.’
‘Before I got pregnant, I worried that the happy moment I saw the two pink lines appear on a test stick would be compromised by the sadness of not having a partner to share in my joy. The reality was totally different. It felt magical – and anything but lonely.’
‘Before I actually got pregnant as a solo mum, I felt a lot of shame around the whole thing. Fast forward to today and I now love telling people about my unusual journey to motherhood. I’m proud of myself and all the challenges I’ve overcome to get here and I’ve noticed that people tend to mirror that attitude back at me. When I was filled with shame, people responded to me with pity and concern, now that I am genuinely happy and comfortable with my position, people respond with excitement and enthusiasm.’
Although around 90% of single parent households are headed by women, there are plenty of dads in the Frolo community, both raising families alone as the primary carer and with shared custody arrangements. There are also single dads like Leon, a gay, black, solo adopter, who is completely cracking the mould as far as single parent stereotypes go. Leon joined Frolo because ‘it normalises single parenthood and acts as a community, which is super useful.’
Whether single dads are bringing up children alone or seeing them for weekends and holidays, the commitment and passion for their children can equal any mother, and it’s vital that we don’t just equate the label ‘single parent’ to ‘single mother’ or apply a different set of assumptions to fathers living away from their children.
‘People just assume it’s the mum who looks after the kids,’ explains Conrad, ‘because that’s the stereotype that is always played out – every other weekend and three hours on a Wednesday. This is why dads have to fight for 50:50.’
‘Personally, I am the chef, the dish and clothes washer, the taxi, and the shoulder to cry on. I’m the picker upper and dropper off, the one who puts in the routine and the discipline, the one who does the homework and the music practice and takes them to sports and activities and holidays and experiences. And I only get 50% of the time to do it in. It’s still a surprise when you turn up to bake sales. As a single dad. just as with single mums, we just don’t fit in. The world is designed for couples and 2.2 kids and a dog.’
‘Being a single dad, (I prefer frolo dad), is certainly different,’ says father of two Ian. ‘I couldn’t begin to know what people think but I’ve adopted the mantra not to care what others think of me and only care what I think about myself. I’ve only received empathy and positivity when I have explained my situation to others.’
‘In some ways I feel sad that my sons haven’t had me at home over the last few years but then when I remember how unhappy I was and how unhealthy a lifestyle I had I’m thankful for the transformation I’ve been through. My separation from my wife was like a reset and a kickstart for me. I found real happiness and I now know that I have enough.’
Next on the list of single parent stereotypes is the single mum restricting access to her children, the dad refusing to stump up child maintenance, and constantly having to manage conflict with your ex.
While some parents do struggle to manage their situation post-separation, a difficult relationship is by no means a given. Divorced parents Nadia and Simon prove that it’s completely possible to have an amicable separation.
‘Our marriage finally bit the dust when our youngest child was five years old,’ explains Nadia. ‘It had been a long time coming, but we’d persevered because neither of us wanted to leave our children and we wanted them to always feel like they had a stable home. Eventually we had to face facts – both of us were getting more and more miserable, and we knew that separating was the only real option.’
‘Making the decision to break up was the hardest thing either of us have ever done,’ says Simon. ‘Despite all the hurt and the sadness though, we both knew that the most important thing was the wellbeing of our two children. I found somewhere to live just two streets away, and we drew up a rota where they spent half their time at each house. We always try to be flexible and accommodating and despite everything we do still care about each other and get on well as friends. I would hate for us not to be able to comfortably spend things like kids’ birthdays or special occasions together – we’re still a family in so many ways.’
‘I’d say our secret is kindness,’ says Nadia. ‘We’re both just human beings, with feelings and flaws, and I think it’s easy to forget that in a break up. We both try to be kind and respectful in our relationship with each other. Apart from making life easier for everyone that way, it means we are still positive role models for our girls, even if we aren’t still a couple.’
That’s the stereotype isn’t it? The frazzled single parent, desperate to pack the kids off at the weekend, watching the time until it ticks round to wine o’clock. What we’ve seen over the last year within Frolo though is that despite the financial pressures, despite the responsibility and even in the face of a global pandemic, so many single parents are not just surviving, but thriving.
‘I became a single parent in April 2018,’ says Maggie, ‘which was a bolt from the blue and a complete shock. My children were aged two and a half and six months old. I discovered my partner of 10 years, (their dad), had been cheating on me, including when I was pregnant with my older child. I was shocked, a broken person. I left our family home and moved in with my Mom.’
‘Fast forward two and a half years as a single parent and I can honestly say my life has never been better. I have two amazing and happy children, I don’t have another ‘child’ to parent in the form of my ex-partner and our happiness is really down to us three – we set the tone – we are a strong unit with love and kindness a priority in our house. I can sleep at night knowing that we have each other and not worried about fighting, or the kids being upset or having to be home to have dinner ready for him.’
‘I am of course sad for the family unit I lost, but honestly, knowing and finding out that he was not who I thought he was has made me a different person and our family a better, more honest and true one.’
Do these stories sound like they represent the single parents you read about in the headlines? Absolutely not. The Frolo community is testimony to the strength, adaptability and positivity of single parents and proof that one family model definitely does not fit all.
Every family is perfect, in all its forms.
If you enjoyed this, might like ‘One year on: how the pandemic has really impacted single parents.‘