The myths of single mothers, as told by J K Rowling

Jojo Moyes,Arts,Media Correspondent
Thursday 05 October 2000 00:00 BST

She has become, arguably, the world's most famous single mother. And yesterday Harry Potter's creator, J K Rowling, donated £500,000 to try to improve the lot of "demonised" single parents.

She has become, arguably, the world's most famous single mother. And yesterday Harry Potter's creator, J K Rowling, donated £500,000 to try to improve the lot of "demonised" single parents.

In a speech to mark her appointment as an ambassador for the National Council for One Parent Families, Ms Rowling condemned their public portrayal. "It is definitely time we exploded the popular myth that most of us [lone parents] are feckless teenagers trying to get council flats," she said.

"Only 3 per cent of us are teenagers; 60 per cent of us have been married and are now separated, divorced or bereaved. I'd like to see widespread acceptance of the fact that families simply come in many shapes and sizes."

Ms Rowling, 34, who has brought up her daughter Jessica, seven, since her marriage broke down seven years ago, said: "Mine may be the smallest variety you can get, but we are as much a family as the Waltons, or the Weasleys [characters in her novels]."

But the author said that, as a professional woman with a degree, she had been shocked at the stigma attached to becoming a single mother. The practicalities were what had given her most difficulty in lifting herself out of poverty. "I had to borrow money ... no one was going to help me with child care."

Although she now earns some £20m a year, Ms Rowling spent the first years of her child's life living in poverty. She had assumed that teaching would be their way out, and admitted she often felt "selfish" writing about Harry Potter, her own personal ambition.

But she urged the public not to see poverty and single motherhood as inevitable and inseparable facts. Ms Rowling said: "Six out of 10 families headed by a single parent are living in poverty. But none of the lone parents I know want to live on handouts; just like parents living in couples we want the chance to provide properly for our own children."

Although Ms Rowling conceded that her own extraordinary success may be linked to "a certain wizard" she said she would have been lucky anyway in comparison to most, or some, other single mothers. "I had a degree, a profession and friends who were willing and able to lend me money when I badly needed it. So if I met obstacles in pulling myself out of the benefit system and back into employment, how much more difficult must it be for people who don't have the same advantages?" she said.

"If I experienced the feeling of utter, utter worthlessness with the CSA [Child Support Agency] and the benefit office, how many other parents are going through the same right now?"

While she said it was painful for any child to have to cope with the separation of their parents, she made a spirited defence of single parenthood. "I think that my daughter is happy the way she's being brought up and I'm resistant to the way people say that is second rate. My personal view is that it's better for my daughter to be brought up in a single parent family than in the context of an unhappy marriage.

"Single parenthood is not all stress and hardship. My flesh- and-blood daughter is the best thing that ever happened to me, including my fictional son.

"Jessica has been a constant source of pride, joy and motivation since the day she was born, but I don't want her to grow up in a society that tells her that her upbringing is second rate, nor do I want her to grow up in a society where children just like her are trapped in poverty because they have had the misfortune to see their parents split up." Single parents deserved "not condemnation, but congratulations".

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