Single parent strength – a photo essay

·9-min read

Since 1918, Gingerbread has been supporting, advising and campaigning with single parents to help them meet the needs of their families and achieve their goals. Today, there are 1.8 million single-parent families in the country.

Bárbara and Blaise

Bárbara: I’m Spanish and I came here 21 years ago to study and got stuck in London. When my son Blaise was born, I was with my partner. But the relationship was never good. I raised my son on my own. All my energy was focused on my son, that he would receive what kids need: sports, friends, teaching, trying to make a normal life around him. As a single parent our work is not valued. I don’t get paid for my 10 years of hard – extremely hard – work that took my son to his place in one of the best schools in London. In 2017 I was homeless. I didn’t know what to do. When I contacted Gingerbread, I thought, ‘Oh, this is my thing.’ Single parents together to help each other.

Vikas and Kiara

Vikas: I come from India and I’ve been living in London for 18 years. My daughter Kiara is 10. She has been spending equal time with each parent since 2019. It’s not necessarily the ideal co-parenting structure we have – most of the time we are probably parallel parenting. But in the end my daughter is getting a full package – she’s getting the best of what her mum and her dad can give. Being a single parent is not something bad. People have different kinds of families and this is our family setup. I think single dads are often underrepresented. The community does exist and we have our own struggles and challenges.

Lana and Ruben

Lana: My son Ruben is six years old. After he was born I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. Luckily, the health visitors helped me to get a place in a mother and baby unit, which was the best thing in the world. I felt safe reaching out to Gingerbread; it has been great for me as a starting point, particularly the social aspect. Other single parents are a massive source of information and emotional support. It really helped me just knowing I wasn’t alone. I think there’s a lot of focus on the negative things about being a single parent, which is fair enough because it’s hard work. But having Ruben in my life is the best thing that ever happened to me.

Zemar, Dania and Yasmina

Zemar: I’m a mum to two lovely girls, Dania and Yasmina. After my second divorce, I joined Gingerbread because I needed their support as a single parent. I’ve created lots of beautiful friendships from that group. I use my legal background to help other members. Being a single parent has taught me that you don’t need a partner to be happy. It’s much better and healthier to be a single parent than to stay in a toxic relationship. Being a single parent should be looked at as a gift because you’re given a second chance to lead the life that you want to lead, and to be a positive role model to your child. With the right support and mindset, you can thrive as a single parent.

Jamie and Xavi

Jamie: I’ve been a single parent for about five and a half years. When you’re a single parent, you do have the opportunity to bond with a child in a way that you might not otherwise. When we are sick we have to care for each other. There’s no one else to do that. But also, we have adventures together. And we can jointly change our plans, you know, be a bit more free-spirited. I think it’s easy to slip into either being so consumed by your child’s specific needs and interests or becoming so wrapped up in your work that you’re expecting them to follow you around. The talent is keeping the household alive so you’re both integrated in each other’s lives in a balanced way.

Rhiannon and family

Rhiannon: I’m solo mum to two children. I elected to have kids on my own through donor conception. My daughter was born five years ago, my son in 2021. And now the family is complete. I had to go back to work when my son was four months, [working] two days a week. The first child was the real test; you can’t do everything, you have to let some balls fall. Luckily, in London there’s more solo parents who have made the decision to have a child through donor conception so there is naturally a little bit more of a community. It’s been really hard to get to the point of having a child, let alone bringing one up afterwards, but there’s a lot of happiness that comes with it. It’s worth the trial it took to get me there.

Lucy and family

Lucy: My family now is me, my eldest son who is 18, my son who has Down syndrome who is 16, and my daughter who is 13. My son with Down syndrome has special educational needs and difficult behaviour. It’s hard because he needs one-to-one care all the time and you always have to fight for provision of services. My other two children are very good, they’re very kind to him. Quite often when you’ve got disabled siblings, I think it makes the other children nicer and kinder. It’s helpful to be in the groups with the other parents who have similar issues. I bet if you did a study, you’d find there was a high divorce rate among families with disabled children.

Ema and Haze

Ema: I’ve been a single parent since Haze was born. I was friends with his father, we were never in a relationship. I don’t get much support. But that’s not a bad thing. That’s how it works. I don’t have to consult anybody. Everything is on me. Everything that’s good that happens is great but anything that doesn’t work, that again is all on me. When you’re on your own, loneliness can get you, and then self-doubt. Gingerbread is a really good start to help you not be on your own. I look at it a bit differently to other people that come into Gingerbread because I’ve always been a single parent. I haven’t had that emotional disconnect of having a relationship that’s just broken down. I feel very blessed that it’s worked out how it has.

Carly and Ezra

Carly: I’m a single mum to Ezra, who’s three. I was in a relationship with someone and, unplanned, fell pregnant. I wanted to go ahead with it and he evidently didn’t. So I’ve now made the decision that it’s just us until he’s ready. The everyday challenges are the relentlessness of it. My son’s mixed-race. I’m a white woman. So I think about that a lot – how do I get that right? I’m proud of the relationship I’ve built with Ezra. He’s a really happy, thriving young boy. And I can say that was me, which is a really nice thing.

Demi, Alex and Loukas

Demi: My twin boys are Alex and Loukas and they are now three. And they’re gorgeous little things. It’s full on. They stopped napping when they turned two; I used to look forward to a break in the afternoon but for the last year they’ve both been awake for a good 12 hours. At the same time we were going through a court process and, unfortunately, my mother passed away as well. After we broke up, it was just me and the boys, me and the boys, me and the boys. By the time I put them to bed, I was so exhausted all I could do was sit on the sofa and stare at the TV. Finding a local Gingerbread support group has been a tremendous help.

Tayyaba and Waiz

Tayyaba: I’m an NHS key worker. I feel like I was a single parent from day one because of domestic violence. There was love, but it was without respect. I don’t regret that I was with him because I’m blessed with a boy, but I was abused physically, emotionally and financially. I lived in five or six temporary accommodations because he always found me. Seven years back, I came to a permanent place and I found Gingerbread. I’m able to meet people, talk to them, and I’m able to help other single parents. I feel better when helping other people; it’s like I’m helping myself. The main thing is they are not alone. We are all in the same boat. I can see I’m good as a single parent and I feel proud.

Thea and Moses

Thea: My son Moses is seven years old, and I’ve been a single parent for most of that time. When I became pregnant, his dad and I were just dating and I ended up going ahead with the pregnancy on my own. It was the best decision of my life and now his dad is involved as well. We were both on our own until last year, but during one of the lockdowns we teamed up to do the home schooling. We also started a relationship, and now we’re having another baby.

Victoria and family

Victoria: I’ve got six children aged from 23 down to nine. My eldest son is autistic. While I’ve been a single parent, we’ve built a family life, got through the pandemic and three of my children have gone off to university. I feel really proud, mostly because they’re incredible. But proud of myself as well, because it’s been really tough at times. I feel proud of my family and our life here. Single parents know that we have to look after our own wellbeing in order to be strong for our children. My children are fine and know that families come in all shapes and sizes. And although it can be exhausting often and lonely sometimes, I am very happy being a single parent.

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