Relationships: 30 Years on. What's Changed for Single Mothers?; Thirty Years Ago Gingerbread, the Organisation for One-Parent Families, Was Formed. at That Time There Were 474,000 Lone Parents in the UK - Today There Are 1.7 Million. Even Now, More Than 90 per Cent of Them Are Women. Jill Todd Asked Two Women Who Became Single Mothers 30 Years Apart to Compare Their Situations Then and Now

By Todd, Jill | Sunday Mirror (London, England), October 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

Relationships: 30 Years on. What's Changed for Single Mothers?; Thirty Years Ago Gingerbread, the Organisation for One-Parent Families, Was Formed. at That Time There Were 474,000 Lone Parents in the UK - Today There Are 1.7 Million. Even Now, More Than 90 per Cent of Them Are Women. Jill Todd Asked Two Women Who Became Single Mothers 30 Years Apart to Compare Their Situations Then and Now


Todd, Jill, Sunday Mirror (London, England)


SINGLE MOTHER: 1970s

Wendy Burge, 54,

a youth worker from Knowle Park, Bristol, has three children - Stephen, 34, Karen, 32, and Adrian, 28. Their father Michael left her shortly before she gave birth to Adrian.

How did you become a single mum?

Michael and I were living together when I fell pregnant with Stephen at the age of 20. Two years later I had Karen. We got married before Adrian was born, but it didn't work out and a month after I gave birth, Michael left in the middle of Stephen's sixth birthday party and moved in with another woman.

Were you socially accepted?

The mother of a friend of Stephen's actually crossed the road to avoid us and told her son to keep away from my family. I was made to feel like a misfit. There was a huge stigma attached to being a single parent then. People invariably assumed you were promiscuous and irresponsible. I didn't even have the support of my parents - my father was dead and my mother hadn't approved of my choice of partner.

What were your options?

We were left to fend for ourselves, which is why so many girls gave up their babies for adoption. One of my friends was pressured into giving her baby away. She met her daughter for the first time six years ago. There was a lot of sadness over the wasted years. People, especially the authorities, tried to steer me into putting my children in care. I remember, the official in the DHSS office saying a married couple could give them a better life. Nonsense! Karen is very handy with a drill - where did she learn that? Stephen and Adrian can cook and iron - where did they learn that? From me.

What financial support did you have?

There was zero financial support. You borrowed or accepted hand-outs. One of the most humiliating days of my life came when I had to go to the WRVS to ask for free bed sheets. The woman with her clipboard treated me like dirt. Single parents today get a lot more help. For a start there's income support, and they are encouraged to get back to work. Tax allowances, grants towards training and day care centres are all there to help them.

What was the hardest part?

I was lonely and isolated. I had friends, but I didn't want to infringe on their lives. When Michael left I went through a terrible time. I was only 26 with three young children. At one point I seriously thought about pushing my children off the railway bridge and jumping after them.

What would you say to single mums today?

It's a hard life, but looking back I have no regrets. I love my children and we're very close.

I challenge the opinion that there is not enough love in a single parent family - if anything there's more love and more time spent with the children because you have to be mother, father, cook, gardener, basically everything. Sadly, there is still a bit of a stigma attached - some people imagine we lack morals, but that's ridiculous. Most of us didn't plan to be on our own. Fortunately, today the emphasis is more on helping not castigating single parents.

How did Gingerbread help?

The only group for single mums around at that time consisted of lot of much older women, many of them widows, sitting around knitting. So a couple of the newer members and I set about re-vamping the group. The name Gingerbread comes from "gingering" up the authorities to give us some "bread", which is what it meant on a national level. On a local level we aimed to offer support and advice. We organised courses on budgeting and food, day trips and holidays and started a day care centre where parents could leave their children while they worked. Our priority was making life for our children as happy and as comfortable as we could. Gingerbread helped lift me out of my despair and gave me back my self- esteem.

SINGLE MOTHER: 2000

Vicki Bain, 29,

a music graduate, lives in a one-bedroom flat in North London with her nine-month-old twins Rowan and Amber. …

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Relationships: 30 Years on. What's Changed for Single Mothers?; Thirty Years Ago Gingerbread, the Organisation for One-Parent Families, Was Formed. at That Time There Were 474,000 Lone Parents in the UK - Today There Are 1.7 Million. Even Now, More Than 90 per Cent of Them Are Women. Jill Todd Asked Two Women Who Became Single Mothers 30 Years Apart to Compare Their Situations Then and Now
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