I was triggered to write that headline by a programme on Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 this week which explored changing attitudes to what it still called “single parenting” in the UK.
This has been a subject that has troubled me for years as it is clear to me that, probably since the early 80s at least, we have been cultivating parenting as a lifestyle brand and that leads to commoditisation and exploitation, if left unchallenged..
It’s not unfair to generalise that until shamefully recently, raising children was, to a large extent, perceived as a stay-at-home woman’s lot to be “endured”.
But it has now become a huge, £multi-billion industry from whence has sprung brands like Mumsnet, Boden and Mothercare and dozens of lifestyle magazines and thousands of websites all promoting how to look, feel, behave and appear to fit in with the clique, the club.
Commercialisation of motherhood and parenting has many positives.
It has become very trendy to be a parent. Aspirational. Mums (and even dads) can be cool rather than dowdy. Marketers have reversed the psychology surrounding parenting from something women endured early on in their lives before hopefully, finally living their lives once the “birds” fled the nest, to both parents joining a fashionable group or club of real grown ups. It’s now depicted as something you share once both parents have found their place in life and are ready to co-parent, balancing raising a family with their careers.
I guess many of us bought into that, regardless of how true it is.
Commercialisation of parenting, especially co-parenting, however, also has its drawbacks.
It brings pressure to seem or be a certain way in order to belong at all stages from conception on.
And what happens when the perfect, co-parenting family image is torn apart by divorce as it is, all too often?
Well, people are nothing if not adaptable and a new brand has emerged to exploit this situation as well. It’s the industry surrounding the “single parent” or in the UK at least, where 97% of divorced households are headed by the mother, the cult of the “single mum”.
Now, that’s a positive thing, right? People networking in order to adapt their circumstances to the changing realities of our times where as many as 1/3rd of marriages end in divorce can be really positive?
Of course it can be, provided it serves the needs of the now separating family, all of them, in order to best serve the needs of the children for whom both parents should be equally responsible.
But doesn’t the notion of single mum as single parent have more of a 50s, regressive ring to it? What happened to the new notion of shared parenting, even post-divorce? If sexism was wrong then, well it’s wrong now, isn’t it?
Just how appropriate is the separated parent industry now? Is it non-gendered or does it actually reinforce confusingly sexist notions of single parenting that are the antithesis of how parenting has evolved?
There are many positive aspects of organisations like Mumsnet that as well as reinforcing the model family dream also offer networks and support facilities for people trying to cope with their new challenges should they split from their partners. And organisations like Gingerbread provide resources for single parents regardless of gender.
But there is a darker side to separated parenting, especially when it becomes a lifestyle brand. Because when you mix the compulsion for control and seeming rather than being and create an imbalance in the relationship between the alleged co-parents and give the malicious a network on which to perpetuate abusive practices, the temptation is for selfishness or manipulation to creep in. And that’s exactly what has happened.
Rather than work through difficulties and complications, the resident parent, who has all the power in our legal system and who lives with the daily social networks surrounding the children, may well be tempted to dominate control of the children by controlling those networks to ensure that the life that parent wants, fits in with the image they want to present to the world.
Having an inconvenient ex around often doesn’t fit that facade enacted daily online and at the school gates. The other parent can quickly become an uncomfortable truth, threatening to undermine the superficial image of super parent they are trying to present, because, let’s face it, the other parent knows the truth. And our adversarial legal system actively encourages the airing of home truths in a way that traumatises the participants and damages relationships beyond repair.
The following tweet to the BBC this week, in response to the Woman’s Hour programme, challenging the notion of single parenting, surprisingly attracted more re-tweets, interactions and attention than we had expected:
“Unless your ex deserted you or died, you are NOT a single parent! That’s the language of the “entitled”, self-imposed parent alienator who does not respect shared parenting and has probably forced the other parent from the child’s life. Please be mindful of this
It resonated with people because, for so many divorced and separated parents, mums and dads, single parenting is a misnomer.
It should actually be called separated co-parenting.
Well for all the reasons summed up in that simple tweet:
- It is selfish
- it is abusive
- it is alienating
- it is a lie
- it is wrong
By endorsing single parenting as an identity and a lifestyle brand when the vast majority of so-called single parents are not victims of abandonment or tragedy but are most likely single parents by calculated design, we are, to be blunt, reinforcing the abuse of children. We are complicit in destroying lives, in stealing half their identity from them by supporting and encouraging selfish behaviour that alienates them, not only from the less empowered, non-resident parent, but half of their extended family as well.
And to do that to create some single parent brand to compensate for personal inadequacies, whatever they may be, is wrong, by any objective measure.
As ever, we would love to hear what you think.
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