Mother to join sons in higher education: The battered wife

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MARIE'S husband Tony started an affair with one of her friends while she was pregnant with their first son, writes Helen Nowicka. He broke the news of his infidelity three weeks after their second boy was born, and walked out a month later.

After Tony left in 1977 Marie had to cope with the emotional problems of being a single mother in a small County Durham town - and the practical one of raising her family on pounds 19 a week income support.

During their six-year relationship Tony beat Marie so severely she required hospital treatment. She suspects the attacks arose because she earned more in her clerical job then he did as a mechanic. Marie put up with the assaults, but Tony could not adapt to her leaving work once pregnant. 'He couldn't cope with me asking for money for the housekeeping and the mortgage.'

She did not seek work after Tony left. 'I didn't have my children to have someone else bring them up. I wanted to care for them myself.' Money was so short that she went to bed at 7pm, the same time as her sons, so there would be enough money in the electricity meter for breakfast. Even biscuits were a luxury beyond her means.

Marie stayed at home until her sons were at secondary school. She then took a part-time job and resumed her studies. Now 42, she is about to start a degree course at Teesside University, and hopes to become a teacher.

'At times it was difficult bringing up the boys alone but they are both going on to higher education. It makes me angry when people suggest the children of single parents are all delinquents,' she said.

'My sons had a better upbringing than they would have if there had been a violent husband in the house . . . If he hadn't gone I would probably be working in a supermarket, not about to start a degree.'

The names have been changed.