“I had imagined that I would be back at work fast. Indeed, it was because I expected to be employed outside of the home again that I was working so hard to finish the children’s novel I never told anyone I was writing (not wishing to be told that I was deluded). As it turned out, my belief I would shortly be back in paid work turned out to be a much bigger delusion than the hope that the novel
might be published.
I was a graduate and I had been in full-time employment all my life; I did not want my daughter to grow up in poverty, but my district health visitor told me that I would never get state-funded childcare ‘because you’re coping too well’; free nursery places for very young children were reserved at that time for children deemed ‘at risk’. I can’t argue with the prioritisation of children whose
mothers weren’t coping, but I had nobody else to look after my daughter. My sister worked full time, my mother was dead, I was in a strange city: where was my daughter supposed to go while I earned a living? I ended up working a few hours a week at a local church, where I overhauled the filing system and did a bit of typing. The (female) minister let me bring Jessica with me. I was paid,
deliberately, exactly that amount that I could keep without losing benefits: £15. For all of this, I was immensely grateful.
My overriding memory of that time is the slowly evaporating sense of self-esteem, not because I was filing or typing – there was dignity in earning money, however I was doing it – but because it was slowly dawning on me that I was now defined, in the eyes of many, by something I had never chosen. I was a Single Parent, and a Single Parent On Benefits to boot. Patronage was almost as hard to bear as stigmatisation. I remember the woman who visited the church one day when I was working there who kept referring to me, in my hearing, as The Unmarried Mother. I was half annoyed, half amused: unmarried mother? Ought I to be allowed in a church at all? Did she see me
in terms of some Victorian painting: The Fallen Woman, Filing, perhaps? Single parents were not popular in certain sectors of the establishment or media in the midnineties.
I could not raise a smile over the government minister of the time singing a merry ditty about ‘young ladies who get pregnant just to jump the housing queue.’ Newspaper articles discussed single mothers in terms of broken families and anti-social teenagers. However defiant I might feel about the jobs I was doing round the clock (full-time mother, part-time worker, secret novelist), constant bombardment with words like ‘scrounger’ has a deeply corrosive effect. Assumptions made about your morals, your motives for bringing your child into the world or your fitness to raise that child cut to the core of who you are.
Then, in a sudden, seismic and wholly unexpected shift, I found myself in the newspapers”
I’m the modern face of British families.
Karyn McCluskey has worked in the police for the last 21 years and is Chief Executive for Community Justice Scotland having been the Director of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit. She is a member of the WHO Violence Prevention Alliance. She helped set up Medics Against Violence charity in Scotland, which attends schools to give inputs on violence reduction, injury and keeping safe.
In 2009 she was seconded to the Metropolitan police to develop a violence plan. She has published work on Armed Robbery teams, Alcohol and Violence Interventions in a clinical setting and Violence Reduction. She is Non-Executive Director at Scottish Professional Football League and a board member of Simon Community Scotland tackling homelessness. Karyn is a single parent and has shown her support to One Parent Families Scotland at a number of events.
She raised her daughter, now in her mid-teens, as a single mother, a fact worth mentioning because, as she sees it, “I’m the modern face of British families.” She understands the difficulties in trying to bring up a child alone, and it is often a further point of connection with the people she is trying to help.
Carole Ann Duffy
Single parent and the UK’s first female and Scottish poet laureate, Duffy’s ground breaking work tackles political issues, gender, oppression and violence. Her most famous collection, The Bees, won the Costa Poetry Award 2011, gaining her well-deserved international recognition.
Royal Court artistic director Vicky Featherstone has called for changes in the theatre industry so that parents within the sector are better supported.
Speaking to The Stage as she unveiled the London venue’s 60th birthday season, she explained why she was backing a new initiative called Parents in Performing Arts.
She claimed that the theatre industry was not “conducive to family life”.
“My son is 16 tomorrow and my daughter is 14. My entire career I’ve been juggling having small children. It’s definitely a challenge and I think that the structure of theatre – the way we open shows and tech shows – is not conducive to family life in any way,” she said.
She added: “It’s this intense period of very early mornings to late nights – and there are lots of questions about whether we need to continue with similar models or if there are ways we can ask different questions about the way we do things so people can have a better work-life balance. But it’s not just about a work-life balance – we all want that – it’s just about whether we can be more supportive so people are encouraged to stay in theatre when they have children.”