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Single mothers are the canary in the coal mine by Alli Steen

This January I’ll be celebrating the first birthday of my passion project 'On Your Tod'. Tod is a positive, progressive and empowering space for those occupying the void between the nuclear family and singleness – the oft vilified single parent. I’d assumed the topics covered would be so niche and uninteresting to men, nuclear families, those who weren’t parents or had no intention of becoming so, but this has not been the case. The appetite for this conversation has come as something of a surprise this year, not only have single parents tuned in, but mothers specifically are hungry for thoughtful conversations on our own identity. It’s so important to tell our own stories.

When I abruptly found myself as a single mother 9 years ago, I wondered why I felt a sudden lack of confidence. I struggled to articulate or understand why I felt such a sense of failure and shame in those early days, but I felt it nonetheless. It’s taken the best part of a decade to figure out the reasons why and to find my voice in it all. And I’m pleased to say I’m no longer the reluctant member of single mum club anymore. Instead, I’m a proud, flag flying advocate wanting to challenge the stigma that makes lone-parenting so unnecessarily difficult. James Baldwin said, “the victim who is able to articulate the situation of the victim has ceased to be a victim: he or she has become a threat.”

I intend to become a threat to the stigma surrounding single mothers and to name it as that. I want to see single mothers portrayed as the resourceful and resilient people we so often are. And I want to encourage and promote new ways of existing that mean we are still able to aspire outside of family life.

Single Mothers are the canary in the coal mine. When an issue impacts single mums negatively, I’d put my money on it that same issue is ricocheting around causing damage to mothers everywhere. We may be first in the firing line, we may feel the benefit cuts harshest, the stigma appears to single us out, but this is all part of a broader threat to the place and importance of mothers in general.

At times I feared that motherhood would swallow me up and I’d get lost in the soft focus of sentimental Mummy representation out there, apologising continuously for my ‘mummy brain’ and surrendering a love of culture for a lifetime of attending children’s birthday parties. But if anything, being a mum has made me more stubbornly claim my lot as an autonomous individual, because I work hard to get free time and as writer Kate Moses said, “motherhood gives women more to think about, not less”.

Words by Alli Steen

Images one and two: The Nook and the Meadow, Photography by Rachel Marno Davis

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