Why The Stigma Surrounding Single Parents Who Aren’t The Primary Caregiver Needs To Be Addressed
In 2016, there should be no shame about being a single parent who doesn’t have primary care of their child.
According to single parent charity Gingerbread, there are around two million single parents in the UK.
That accounts for a quarter of families with dependent children, which means there are many mums or dads who have children, yet may only see them part-time or on a fortnightly basis.
HuffPost UK Parents looked to find parents who aren’t primary caregivers to speak about their experiences and how they make it work.
However, most people we approached weren’t prepared to speak openly, as they felt an element of shame due to the stigma attached to their situation.
“I’m not proud of the fact I only see my daughter on a weekend,” one 33-year-old father, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Huffington Post UK.
“I feel like I am judged and to blame for not making the relationship work, which means I don’t get to see my daughter as much as I wish I could.”
The father said he didn’t feel comfortable giving advice to other parents in the same situation, because he wasn’t happy with his.
“I try to be the best dad I can to my little one, but sometimes I feel it’s not enough when I’m seeing her just two nights a week.”
Suzie Hayman, spokesperson for parenting and family support charity Family Lives, said unfortunately, this feeling is common for single parents who aren’t the primary caregiver.
“There is a societal attitude that you don’t belong to the family,” she told HuffPost UK.
“That’s one of the reasons why a parent [who is not the primary caregiver] feels ashamed.
“If they’re outside the family, they may feel exiled or like a failure. It’s a stigma in society – ‘You don’t count and you’re not a member of the family, because you don’t have your child living with you’.”
Hayman explained it is also common for these parents to put pressure on themselves and think they’re a failure because of the relationship breakdown.
“We need to talk about it more,” she added. “It needs to be pointed out how common it is.”
Penny Mansfield, CBE, director at OnePlusOne, a charity that aims to strengthen relationships in families, said all single parents can experience this stigma.
“Our experience of running online services for parents who have split up tells us that both parents – the main carer and the other who has less full-time involvement – can feel stigmatised and criticised,” Mansfield told HuffPost UK.
A spokesperson from Gingerbread agreed.
“Nearly three-quarters tell us they have experienced stereotyping or prejudice,” they told us.
“There is no such thing as a ‘typical’ single parent.”
Parents who are not the primary caregiver shouldn’t feel ashamed, the Gingerbread spokesperson urged, as a “conflicted home environment” is more damaging for children than separation.
“Research shows that it is stability at home, not whether parents are together, which matters most for children,” they added.
“Parenting is about quality, not quantity. We want to see a society where single parent families are valued and treated equally and fairly.”
One dad who is not the primary caregiver of his child and tried to steer clear of this feeling of “shame” is Ruben Vemba, 27, from north London.
Vemba is dad to four-year-old Thierry, who he sees every weekend from Friday evening until Sunday evening.
Vemba admitted he wasn’t “keen” on the arrangement when he and his former partner broke up, but had to get used to it.
“At the beginning I felt isolated,” Vemba told HuffPost UK.
“But then I joined the Young Dads Collective (YDC) and started to meet up with other single dads and their children to do things on the weekends with our kids – we’ve been to a farm, museum, the park – it’s great to see my son socialise.”
Vemba continued: “Organisations like YDC give you opportunities to tackle repetitive things you may do with your kids, so it doesn’t get boring.”
Discussing ways in which he makes his relationship with his son work, Vemba said he usually forward plans an idea of what they’ll do at the weekend.
“I want to make it exciting for him and it helps me navigate my days,” he said.
“On a Saturday morning, for example, we usually have an activity that helps with language or numbers, so I can be involved in that.
“We will go to the park or do activities in the day – I don’t want him to be bored and if I plan, it makes it easy for me.”
So how else can single parents who aren’t the primary caregiver make sure they get the most out of their time with their children?
Mansfield said: “Separated parents who can agree to put the kids first usually find that things settle down and a new kind of relationship develops with their child.
“The quality of the relationships between a child’s parents has a substantive influence on the quality of parenting a child experiences and on that child’s long term mental health and future life chances.”
Hayman agreed and offered the following advice for how parents can make it work:
1. Talk about it.
“Communicate with the other parent, so that both parents are singing from the same song sheet and supporting each other,” she said.
“Sometimes the leftover from a break up means the main caregiver does not support their ex, but this mostly hurts the child.
“Both parents should be supportive of each other and make it a positive situation.”
2. Communicate with your child.
“Ensure your kids feel able to text, phone or go on social media with both parents at all times.”
3. Do normal things with your child, too.
“When parents are not living with their child(ren) full time, it is incredibly important that they still do lots of ‘normal stuff’.
“Children crave normal stuff such as visiting grandparents or just watching TV.
“If you constantly do things that are a ‘treat’, it focuses on the fact it’s a ‘different’ situation.”
Family Lives: family support charity providing help and support in all aspects of family life.
OnePlusOne: UK charity creating resources like workshops, online training, and publications to encourage healthy relationships.