As a new report by single parent charity Gingerbread finds a third of children with a working single parent lives in poverty, former nurse Judith Healy shares her story.
Make no mistake, I like many others, didn’t set out to become a single parent.
I was married and unfortunately my marriage broke down, back in 2005.
I had moved abroad with my two-year-old daughter and my husband was meant to join us a few months later. However, it wasn’t to be and I became a single parent.
After a period living abroad, I realised it would be better for my daughter Niamh and I to return to the UK. And that is when life began to get tricky – because I had no job, that meant I couldn’t rent a house, despite the fact I had a guarantor and could pay six months upfront.
I eventually found a place and we moved in on a cold snowy day in February 2007. I remember there was a problem with the heating so the house was bitterly cold.
I was so grateful when my mum came with us for two weeks to help us settle in and look after my daughter.
I used to be a nurse, but I immediately knew because the hours weren’t nine to five they weren’t compatible with being a single parent so I was forced to look at other options.
I was delighted when within months I found a full-time job that was home-based, but the role only lasted six months before I was made redundant.
I started looking for work while being supported by benefits, but most roles were simply incompatible with affordable child care.
At this point I began to think about self-employment and with my experience in telemarketing set up as a sole-trader.
For me the key advantage of self-employed homeworking is definitely the flexibility, and I can’t stress that enough. Being self-employed means that if my daughter is unwell I can look after her, take her to the GP and adjust my workload to fit this in.
But as anyone who is self-employed will tell you, it is never easy and at times you are overwhelmed with work and other times there is nothing.
Last year I had very little work for a two-month period and I was forced to use the money I had saved just to live on.
Like many single parents I receive help with my rent, but unlike many people my level of housing benefit fluctuates, because I am self-employed. Some weeks I earn nothing and other weeks a reasonable amount (well enough to live on).
The feelings of despair at that time and failure were overwhelming.
As a single parent, at times I have found it extremely difficult, saying “no” when your child asks for things you just can’t afford. Putting food on the table and paying for our electricity and heat are my priorities.
Once the door closes at night it can feel very isolating, and even more so when your children are ill. You don’t like to become the person always asking for help.
Life becomes an existence and at times it feels like you are treading water, waiting for the next thing to go wrong.
Personally, I would like to see more sustainable employment and the trend to demonise single parents stopped.
Many of us are well-qualified, but because of our circumstances we end up in low-paid jobs. We don’t all have family support nearby and many of us are isolated.
I have recently set up a Gingerbread Friendship Group where I live to help other single parents meet and make friends, as well as have an adult conversation about the realities of being a single parent.
To other single parents, my advice would be: You are working hard, you are a good role model and in time your children will respect you for doing your best.