It's hard, lonely, draining, rewarding

Feckless benefit-chasers or underprivileged martyrs? Some single mothers are neither. Librarian Lynne Styles should know. She's one of them
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Indy Lifestyle Online
I was married at 20 but it didn't work out. Now I'm 30-something. I work at Newcastle University and live down the coast with the children. I've been bringing them up alone now for eight years; Faye is 13 and Mark is nine.

The prospect of bringing your children up on your own is very frightening at the beginning; it's a very lonely moment when you think of it at first. But when you're a parent and you have children you have to find an inner strength - draw on your resources. You have to get on with it. For me it was never a case of feeling "I can't do this", it was more "I'm going to have to. How am I going to do it?".

Society makes rules that mum does this and dad does that, and you're conscious that when a split comes you have to take on both roles. You have to start doing new things. It was hard at first, but because the children were so young I think it was easier for them and for me to adapt. I've always been quite strict on discipline, that's always been something I've done anyway, so that was all right. But you have to take on the father's traditional role of taking children to things like football.

When you are a lone parent one of the most difficult things is giving up your time with friends and a big part of your social life. You always know that you are fully responsible for the children, you can never hand them over to your partner even for a few hours or a day and go off and do other things. You give up that bit of freedom and independence that you had. You have to develop a whole new network. My parents have been incredibly supportive, both practically and emotionally. They've always been there for the children. I don't know how we'd have coped without them. It's made a massive difference. And you rely on your friends - long- term friends, friends around the area - so you've got someone to talk to when you're feeling lonely or isolated, which does happen. I don't regret not having found another partner - I just don't have any time and, to be honest, I'm quite content with things the way they are. The children are my friends and companions, and, though it sounds corny, we look at our life together as an adventure: it's everything I need. They don't consider themselves disadvantaged, in fact I think they feel a lot luckier than many of their friends.

I have always worked, even when the children were small. Financially I didn't want to give it up and luckily I was able to rely on support from my mum and dad. It takes determination, but you have to do it to survive. There really isn't any other way. My parents' patterns of work were such that they were able to have the children after school, and a good friend of mine is a registered childminder. It was just a case of trying to pull everything together and be organised. It was crisis management from one week to the next; if a child was ill you'd have to reorganise the whole thing, try and take time off work or find someone else to look after them. When they were a lot younger it really was one crisis to another. As a parent you always want to give your children 100 per cent of your time, be there after school every day; you are particularly conscious of it when you are on your own. On the other hand you have your own needs as well, and if you can satisfy them professionally and personally that helps you with the children. It's a difficult question to answer, staying at home or not. But I think if you have some space you're a much more fulfilled person and the time that you do spend with your children is better.

Watching the children grow up and not having a partner to share it with can be very lonely. But it's something you have to become accustomed to, a way of life that you take on and the children take on, too. We just get on with it, and we share, the three of us. We're a good little unit now - a team.

It makes me feel angry when people use phrases like "lifestyle choice" for single parents. We were watching the television last week and Rory Bremner was on, doing a sketch that referred to single parents as poor and socially inadequate. Poor didn't bother me too much because there are a lot of single parents out there that are poor, but we are not socially inadequate! My children are not socially inadequate! Faye is very sporty, she also likes geography and the humanities, that's what she wants to do. Mark is very inquiring, he wants to be a scientist. They both love computers. Mark's a keen runner, and they both do karate. I ferry them round to everything. Being a single parent doesn't mean you don't want the same things for your children as couples do. It does not mean that you bring them up in a different way. I get cross at the stereotypical picture of the single parent.

For the vast majority of lone parents it is not a choice. It's something that they have to cope with, something if they had the choice they wouldn't be doing. There are all sorts of circumstances where people end up bringing up children alone, and I think if most had the choice they wouldn't choose to live that way at all. It can be very hard, very lonely, very emotionally draining. If one of them is sick and they're tired and you're tired, or if both of them are sick together, that's really fun. Those are times where you think "It's just me, there's nobody else, I have to do it".

Starting school was an awkward time; they start feeling independent and saying "Oh, I'm at school now, I don't need you." Other children are tolerant, mine have never had any problems with being part of a single-parent family. But you do always think, if things should go wrong at all, that people will say "Oh, it's because she's a single parent". You feel that other children can misbehave for the sake of it, but that yours will be tarred with the single-parent brush. I always feel I have to try twice as hard.

It can be incredibly rewarding as well. My two haven't had any problems at school, I've been very lucky. They are very good children. They are hard-working, popular, helpful - all the things I would like them to be. When I last went in to Faye's school for parents' evening, her head of year said she'd be one of the school's achievers. I just feel incredibly proud of them both.

And I think we are closer because there is just me. I'd like to think that it means I am more open, tolerant. That the children can talk to me about anything. Any parent would, but I'm conscious of the fact that there is just me. I have to be a lot more amenable, approachable. Being a parent is a learning curve, it's constant, and as the years have gone on I've gained more confidence that I can be both parents. Faye and Mark are close and supportive of each other, and close to their grandparents. I think we have all grown in tolerance and acceptance.

I keep promising myself that I will never make the children feel guilty even if I'm on my own when they leave home, because they have to have their own lives when the time comes. I think positively: when they leave the nest it will be my time for myself, the time I don't have now.

A number of my close work colleagues have been in the same situation. We've been able to share the gripes and complaints - and the pride. We've all been through the same and we can say, "Yes, I know exactly how you're feeling". It angers me that there is this stereotype that we are the kind of people who don't want a job, aren't interested in getting a job, don't want to move forward, don't want our children to achieve. All the single parents I know, whether it's through school or work or just socially, they are all doing all that - they and their children are doing incredibly well. It might not ring true because of the vision people have, but a lot of us out there are managing.

I know that a lot of questions about how successful I'm being as a parent won't be answered until the children are adults themselves and have children of their own, and can reflect on it all themselves. But I'm not unique, my children are not unique. We are just getting on and making the best of it.