21 October 2015

The NCT, Single Parents and Me.


NCT, babblelive, NCT annual conference, keynote speaker,
That's little old me - unable to see over the lectern!
I was recently asked to share my experiences of being a single parent at the Annual National Childbirth Trust (NCT) Conference and suggest ways in which they can better support us.  Little did I realise this would render me a Keynote Speaker in their programme and up on the main stage right at the outset of the day!

I thought it was ironic - because they are trying to shed their middle class image, whilst I have always been trying to claim one for single parents since beginning this blog and although it seemed a good idea in principle - as it's something I can yack about until the cows come home - the thought of standing in front of several hundred people was enough to wake me in the middle of the night for the duration of the few weeks between naively readily agreeing and the due date.

But once I was there, it was an important enough occasion and job in hand to just get on with it and even though my nerves were making it impossible to see my notes and I couldn't see over the lectern and it was one of the hardest things I've ever done in a life that has never been short of adventures, it simply had to be done.

NCT, babblelive, NCT annual conference, Daniel Craig,
I would talk about that time with Daniel Craig ...
The introduction said I would talk about the time I slept with Daniel Craig, which we figured would get their attention and, picking up the baton from a Stay at Home Dad, it made sense to run with it.  

I asked our audience - mainly NCT Practitioners and Volunteers - to consider why it is that our society views such men as heroes, whereas Stay at Home Mums aren't seen the same way.

And I pointed out how should such men, or indeed any men, happen to be Single Fathers, how they are automatically elevated to Superhero status, but the term 'Single Mother' conjures up a totally different image.

The people at the front were nodding along and, unbeknown to them, they kept me going.  Not that I could really see.  With my glasses off, the audience was clear but my notes were indecipherable, yet with them on, it was vice versa.  I was in a right old faff, truly quite jittery and really trying not to let it show!

So, ploughing on bravely, I blamed the media and suggested that the stigma surrounding single mums is the first thing which needs addressing, plus I added the teenagers making up less than 2% single parents statistic, which always surprises everyone.

Then I got personal, revealing how my ex-husband and I had led separate lives since he 'couldnt stand the f***ing sucking sound' of me breastfeeding our baby, that the first night we'd spent together in a couple of years had resulted in our second son and that I'd had to throw him out whilst only a few months pregnant.

NCT, babblelive, NCT annual conference, single parenting,
More than a few months pregnant - about to pop!  A single mum at 44.
I put it to them that lone parents come in all shapes and sizes.  Some can be married or in partnerships on the outside, but behind closed doors it's another matter.  Others have partners working away (but they generally are privy to financial and emotional support that most single parents aren't) and only relatively few - but it's a number that's rising - choose to have children that way.

I explained reaching out via my blog, how I discovered and featured other single mums - older, professional ones like me - all as far removed as it's possible to be from the way we've too often been portrayed and I very much regret it slipping my mind to mention the ladies (and men) who have been widowed, who also do a sterling job of raising their children single-handedly.

Another favourite statistic about our average age - nationally - being 38, got a powerful reaction and I made it clear that none of us finds it easy.  We're either on 24/7 and never-endingly knackered, which isn't really in the interests of the children, or we're missing out on up to 50% of their childhood.

I confessed that no matter which way we may be doing things, it's hard, it hurts and the loneliness can be crippling.

Plus, our aspirations for ourselves as well as for our youngsters don't change just because our circumstances have.

So what did I feel they can do to help?

Having given this matter some thought prior to the event, I mooted a campaign called 'Look Out for Lone Parents' - using the expression in its double sense.

And if, per chance, any might actually be out of the house attending one of the famous NCT ante or post natal groups, said it would be perfect if other members might be encouraged to offer them some normal solidarity instead of treating them like pariahs, because as experience goes, friends on the ground can be much more effective than Facebook ones - particularly where older siblings are concerned.

NCT local networks have been providing a framework for firm friendships for over fifty years now so there is incredible scope within them.  They can be a lifeline for lots of parents, regarldess of their personal situation and it makes sense to make the most of them.    

NCT, babblelive, NCT annual conference, Keynote Speakers,
Honoured to be speaking alongside Tim Atkinson, Author and Emily Slater, Maternal Mental Health Campaigner.
Protecting their mental health is paramount (and the person speaking after me went into this in more depth and in general, sharing shocking stories - including her own failed suicide attempts - about those who suffer PND), so easing pressures wherever possible - even in the smallest of ways, can make a massive difference.  Meeting up for coffee, alternating a school run, or inviting them and / or their children over for tea - helps them feel less abandoned, ashamed or alone and this benefits the whole family in the long run.

It was time to wrap up then, so I finished with it being a sad truth that the Superhero status isn't applied to any of the single mothers I've met on or off line, yet they are the bravest, strongest, smartest people I know and they deserve as much support and as little stigma as their male counterparts.

So that was it - the gist anyway.  It was quite an ordeal, being unaccustomed to presenting and it took me about a week to recover, but I was glad of such a huge opportunity and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

I was treated brilliantly and there wasn't a hint of any middle class militancy.  On the contrary - everyone involved was thoughful, sensitive and kind - possibly, again, as far removed as it's possible to be from the way they've too often been portrayed.

But it didn't feel ironic, it felt inspiring and inclusive and I thank them from the bottom of my heart for trying to make things easier for people following the lone parent path.

The NCT is a national charity.  Their mission is to be an advocate, guide and friend for as many parents as possible through their First 1,000 Days.  You can tweet them at @NCTcharity and / or find out more about them HERE.   

28 comments:

  1. Well done! It must have been really daunting speaking in front of that number of people.

    I like your message that lone parents can also be in relationships. My ex, then my fiancé, came along to all of our NCT classes (oh, except the one when he had a golf weekend). I felt alone and more than just unsupported but actually undermined by my now ex during those first few months after having our son. I struggled breastfeeding at first but was really determined - he said that I should give up and set a time limit of 20 mins per breast each feed before he insisted we top up with formula. Looking back I feel angry at him, but at the time I just felt like a failure.

    I didn't tell my nct friends this but we used to meet regularly and everyone was finding different things challenging - others partners were supportive though.

    I split up with my ex when our son was 5.5 months. He is now 14 months. I am still breastfeeding and so much happier. Co-parenting is an immense challenge but we no longer live together and that is great.

    Thanks for flying the 'there is no one single mum flag'. Every situation is totally different.

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    1. Thank you so much and for your indepth comment. I always like to hear from my readers. Yes, it was very daunting - even writing about it was! I completely understand why you didn't tell your nct friends - we feel too ashamed at the time and so-called partners like that make sure we feel bad about ourselves. They don't like anyone else knowing what's going on. It says a lot about you that you are out the other side and happier, and I am glad to see that. The co-parenting with someone so unreasonable is a neverending battle. We think the struggles will be over, but, in reality, when we have to stay linked to the father of the children, they don't change, we're just presented with new struggles. Better than living with them though, I agree!. Onwards and upwards xxx

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  2. Anya, this sounds amazing and I wish I could have seen and listened to you giving this speech. I'm not a single mum but often feel single in terms of my marriage and can relate to so much of what you say here. I am always inspired by you. The NCT saved my life in those early days and I'm grateful for them.

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    1. Thank you for such a lovely comment. I don't remember much it was so traumatizing but know I made them laugh a lot amongst what people said was a very passionate talk and I am glad to have highlighted situations like yours. I lived like that for a long time and it's harder in some ways that going it alone. Thank you for saying you are inspired - it's people like my readers and commenters that inspire me and I am very glad to hear you are an advocate of the NCT too. Stay strong xxx

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  3. Gosh there is no way I could have stood in front of that many people and spoken with any type of incoherency, but you, it sounds like you did an amazing job. Dads always seem to be seen in the better light, even married if they are the stay at home parent. This attitude for single parents and married couples needs to be changed, generally they way women are seen in any light. Good for you for setting the record straight.

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    1. Catherine, I feel I couldn't do half of what you do, but we surprise ourselves, don't we? Thank you for your kind words. I forgot a few important things, but they'll never know that, is what I tell myself and if there's ever a next time my notes will be written in HUGE CAPITAL LETTERS so I can see them without my glasses! Thank you for your support. It's people like you who encourage me to keep writing that make the difference xxx

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  4. Anya, you are amazing to stand up in front of all those people and give a speech - well done! I was a staunch NCT supporter, poster girl for the middle class mum. Now I associate it with my past life not my current, single parent life. It is a good thing that the NCT are trying to challenge perceptions and you are the ideal person to help them do that, you are a credit to us all. Xx

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    1. Thank you DD. You could do it yourself if asked, I have no doubt! The NCT is really associated with childbirth but I know of friendships that have started then and lasted a lifetime! I think times are changing and they're going where they need to and, as I say, it was inspiring to witness. Thank you for your kind words, you daft bat ;) You are a credit to us all too. xxx

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  5. I love all the points you made (and I was also surprised abbout the 2% statistic - that's not how the Daily Mail portrays it). I'd never thought about that Single father superhero vs Single mother no better than she should be attitude. So true. Well done, it sounds like you did a fantastic job.

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    1. Thank you Rachel. I keep meaning to revamp the blog and have the stats in the header, but I haven't got a clue how to do it so it keeps being left! I've been surprised by them myself, but we only need to look around ourselves (in the UK anyhow) to see the image is skewed and there is still real - undeserved - stigma. Can you imagine how many women would rally round a man in your position? They'd bring him pies and bend over backwards to help with childcare, whilst trying to fix him up with their cleverest, most beautiful friends. (And that's what I said in the speech!) But us? Never! xxx

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  6. I would have loved to have watched you. Single mums are flippin amazing!! I know this from having a very supportive husband helping with night feeds and still feeling like a total zombie. I take my hat off to them, it is hard work!! Well done on an amazing, hit the nail on the head, speech x

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    1. Ah thank you Tas. Would have loved you to be there holding my hand. Thank you for your kind words xx

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  7. Fabulous Anya, such a big well done for getting up in front of that massive crowd and helping to educate them about the challeges of parenting alone. Mich x

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  8. This is fantastic - well done you! I had never thought about the Superhero Dad thing before.

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    1. Thank you. It seemed a natural thing to pick it up from the SAHD naturally being treated as a hero, so went with it!

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  9. You are such an inspiration and I am so pleased that you did this as you really did say it in the very best way. I was only a single parent for a year and it was totally overwhelming and exhausting and so I can really take my hat off to any single parent as you really do an amazing job. I hope that your amazing words have inspired the people at the NCT Conference and I am very proud of you, well done you x

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    1. Thank you very much Nikki. I hadn't realised you'd been a single parent. I really appreciate your kind words and pride, thank you xx

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  10. Wow, very well done to you, that must have been a daunting experience! It sounds like you have changed some opinions. I have the greatest respect and admiration for single parents. I really don't know how you do it!

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    1. Thank you and yes, it was one of the most daunting things in my life!

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  11. I'm so impressed that you managed to carry this off so brilliantly. I know you were out of your comfort zone and struggling with having to talk in front of so many people... but I knew you could do it! I'm in awe of anyone who's a single parent and have no idea how anyone can do everything single-handedly. Congratulations for raising awareness, Anya x

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  12. Well done Anya, I'm so proud of you. Just wish I'd been there to cheer you on. The point about the superhero status is so true, and people tend to rally around single fathers more than mothers (in my experience). Brilliant x

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    1. Thank you Jean. Wish you'd been there too and we know how it is, so I just said it! xx

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  13. Wow Anya, what an amazing opportunity for you. And so brave! Well done. Honestly? Single parents are absolutely super heroes. Parenting makes me want to cry at the end of some days but I have a partner to share the heartache with. I imagine that is one of the hardest parts of doing it alone. Big hugs to you wonderful lady. x

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    1. Thank you Suzanne. Sorry you want to cry sometimes and I can completely understand as the kids get older and more frustrating and I can't tell you how I sometimes wish I could share it all. You are an inspiration too xx

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  14. Well done to you - not only for overcoming any nerves and supporting others but to stand alone in the first place. It is not an easy decision to make and you are doing an amazing job. I am glad to hear the NCT are behind supporting single parents too.

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    1. Thank you Joy. It was possibily the most alone I've ever felt to date but someone had to stand up for us and I felt it was an honour and a responsiblity. Thank you for your kind words xx

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