Single parenthood: Three families discuss the pressures - and pleasures - of their situation

Forget the clichés about slack dads and feckless mums – life as a single parent is tough, as Charlotte Philby discovers

Who do you like better: mum or dad? For children of separated parents – that is, 23 per cent of the population – it is a question that will have probably have raised its head at some point. Maybe unconsciously. Maybe privately and with a degree of guilt. Maybe – not least for the four-fifths of those who were 18 or under at the time of their parents' separation – it was skimmed over as part of a wider list of criteria when assessing who to live with, along with "who will give me more pocket money?" and "who is less likely to spot me creeping in two hours past curfew?"

The answers to that question and more have come under scrutiny in a new survey which throws light on the way we live and love in Britain today. Five thousand people across the England and Wales were interviewed for The Way We Are Now 2014, a state-of-the-nation report by the charity Relate, which asked – among a number of questions – the children (and adults) of separated couples to describe their ongoing relationships with their mothers and fathers.

Women fared better than men, with 71 per cent of those whose parents split up when they were under 18 reporting that they had a 'good or very good' relationship with their mother, while less than half could say the same of their father. Interestingly, the difference was less marked when the parents had separated when the child was over 18, with > more than 56 per cent claiming they had a good or very good relationship with dad and 70 per cent with mum.

These answers were bought into focus when measured against the responses of those whose parents were still together, with 77 per cent of offspring of united couples saying they had a good or very good relationship with their father, and 80 per cent with their mother.

For the majority of the nearly 2 million single parents across the UK, 90 per cent of whom are women, wondering which parent their kid likes best is probably not something they have much time to ponder. Despite decades of supposed social progress and single parenthood cutting across every social divide – with less than 2 per cent of single parents now being teenagers and the average being 38 years old – single- parent charity Gingerbread claims there has never been a harder time to raise a child alone.

"Single parents are twice as likely to live in poverty as children in 'coupled' families," says Faith Dawes, a spokesperson for Gingerbread. This is because of a series of changes to the tax and welfare systems: from cuts in tax credits, to the introduction of universal credit, the infrastructure that once served to protect vulnerable children and families is being whittled away.

Add to that, Dawes says, "a desperate shortfall" in affordable, quality childcare, cuts to maternity pay, along with SureStart being stripped back and the slashing of child benefit, and the fact that there are now 400 fewer children's centres than there were four years ago, and "things aren't easy".

The need to find work that can be balanced with raising a child means lone parents often end up in low-paid, low-skilled, part-time work. Add to that changes to the maintenance system: separated parents are now encouraged to make their own arrangements regarding child maintenance – with fees applied to the parent who has custody in circumstances where an agreement cannot be met. This, critics suggest, will merely serve to punish those who are already vulnerable.

For a number of single parents making it work day in, day out, is not just a matter of financial pressure or even the logistical challenges of raising a child. It is as much about the emotional pressures: setting parameters, being a good role model, having enough time to listen, offering advice, sex education. Being everything to everyone, all the time.

So what is it really like to be a single parent in Britain today?

Edwin Haig, 52, and Connor Haig, 14

"When my son was five months old his mum died of Sudden Adult Death syndrome. There was no warning; she literally just sat back and she was dead. She was 34 at the time. My initial response to be honest for about three months was that I was in another world. I was in shock, disbelief, grief. But luckily most of my attention went on Connor, who was just going on to solids at the time. He was the one thing that kept me going and probably still is.

I continued with postnatal classes when my wife died, and eventually Connor ended up going to private nursery for four years so I could keep my job.

There aren't many single dads around and in the early days there were two men and 30 women in a single parents' group I joined. Most of the women were sympathetic and forthcoming with tips and advice. There is a social side, but I always think when I'm in McDonald's or somewhere with Connor they assume you're the divorced dad taking him for the weekend, which used to bug me.

I also think men are cut more slack than women. When people talk about single mums there is often the assumption it is their own fault. Because [single dads] are rarer, people assume there must be special circumstances to put them in that position.

Being on my own is all I've known. It's not like Connor's mum died when he was 10. It's difficult when he achieves something, those times you wish his mum could have seen this. He has never had to use the word.

The bond between Connor and me is brill, we've always done stuff together and go away on weekends, boys' sort of stuff. Now he's older he wants to be with friends a bit more, but there are lots of good things. We celebrate fathers' and mothers' days – he says 'you are both'. He's a good boy; he gives me hardly any trouble. He's grown up quite well-adjusted considering he's an only child and never had a mother. Lots of that is in upbringing and values. He is absolutely my best friend.

Lots of dads miss out. I know some who couldn't tell you anything about their kids – they're always out working. Now I'm self-employed and I've never missed sports day, or a parents' evening. He is the priority."

Roxanne Houshmand, 32, and Ilias, 5

"In 2008, I took a brief break from my job and went travelling, where I met a man who seemed to have all the answers. I was working full-time and had a tremendous amount of responsibility; I was turning 30 the following year and felt a sudden panic that life might slip by, we decided to have a baby, easy in the knowledge that I would go back to work and my partner would support me all the way.

In June 2009, my son was born. It was a complicated birth and I took several months to recover. During this time my partner had a change of heart and I found myself alone, a single mother. When my son was just a few weeks old, I went back to work. I didn't know what else to do and I was lucky to have an employer who let me bring him in with me; he became part of the team, he took his first steps at the office.

Roxanne Houshmand celebrates her son Ilias' birthday Roxanne Houshmand celebrates her son Ilias' birthday
My daily routine has changed over the years along with my son's needs, as he's become more independent. He has been in full-time nursery since he turned three. His needs have changed and I want to be there to help with his reading each evening, make sure he prepped for numerous activities at school. I made sure I squeezed my meetings in Monday to Thursday, leaving Friday to pick him up early from school. I enrol in any school trips too.

The words that hurt most are: 'Mummy I don't want to go to after school club, why can't you pick me up at the same time as the other mummies do?' There are times when I live with a constant battle in my mind that he has missed out on exclusive parenting time, although not having a partner meant our time together was special and I didn't have to compromise on anything meaning I have a very close bond with my little boy.

There are the feelings of envy when I drive past our local coffee shop on my route home and see the mums and dads sitting together having a coffee with the kids, chatting and talking about Woodcraft folk groups and similar activities, while I run to get my son from after school club.

Generally my day is filled with chaos, guilt, euphoria and waves of love for my son. I'm one of five children, my mum managed to keep all of us alive and work as well, so I have had it instilled in me that anything is achievable and to take every opportunity to build the life you desire no matter the obstacles".

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
One of the 'princesses' in the video
videoYouTube reinstates sweary video after takedown for 'violating terms'
Life and Style
Could you tell the difference between this and an organic alternative?
food + drink

Culinary experts in The Netherlands thought it was 'fresh' and 'tasty'

Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to US
Life and Style
tech

Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

News
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday

Actress sees off speculation about her face in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Arts and Entertainment
film

Marvel has released first teaser trailer week early after it leaked online

Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Accounts Assistant - Sales Ledger, Sage Line 50 - St Albans

    £20000 - £22000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful and w...

    EBD Teacher

    £120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a quailed Teacher ...

    Part Time SEN 1:1 Teacher

    £40 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an experience SEN Te...

    ICT/Business Studies Teacher

    £21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: ICT/Business Studies ...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?