I am 36 and have been single for over a decade. Although I would like a partner, I am fairly happy (and definitely resigned) to singledom.
I am incredibly conscious that time is running out if I am going to have children. I always imagined that I would have met someone by now and that we would make the decision together, but I know now that this is unlikely. I am seriously considering going forward alone and becoming a single parent.
Unexpectedly, I have discovered over the past six or seven years that having children is very important to me. I love family history and stories and I hate the idea that I’ll break the chain and there will be no one to pass them on to. I don’t have pressure from my parents, but I know they would like a grandchild, and my mother has said that if I did decide to go forth alone she’d be there to help. I also know that she would be equally supportive if I decide, or circumstances lead, to not having children.
Am I being selfish? Am I wrong to think about bringing a child into the world without a father? Am I opening myself, and any child, to a wealth of disapproval and negative comments?
Interestingly, in the last few years I am getting more and more letters from single women wondering whether they should go it alone with having babies. Their situations vary enormously but the one common factor is that their mothers are always mentioned in the letter. I think it’s great you have your mother’s support – some don’t and that’s an extra hurdle for them to cross.
Of course I can’t tell you what to do. But what I and child psychologist Angharad Rudkin thought was significant in your letter was your emphasis: “What you’re asking really is about society and how you’ll be perceived,” says Rudkin. “There’s no sense of how it would affect your everyday life.”
I wonder if you’ve not mentioned this (the impact on everyday life) because you’ve thought it through and are quite happy with it – if so, great – or because you haven’t. If the latter, that is a far more important focus than what people will or won’t think of you, which is something you really can’t control. The immediate micro-climate that your baby will be brought into is the most important thing to consider: how you will look after the baby, what support you have (your mother, great, but how would that work on an everyday basis?), how you will financially support yourself and your child. Boring but necessary things to think about. What are your expectations of motherhood? Are they realistic? And then, when you’ve done all that thinking, if you do decide to go for it, a little leap of faith is also necessary because if we thought about it too much, few of us would actually do it.
I don’t know where you live, but families with all sorts of unconventional backgrounds now exist. Plus, if you are confident, other people will be confident too. Do you know any single-parent families? If, however, you go into motherhood apologetic for your decisions, as if what you’ve done is somehow “less”, then that might give some people more chance to see it like that. I know that you do a very traditional job, at least part-time (I’ve cut that bit out as it may identify you) – would you really need to step down from that and if so why? If it’s to dedicate more time to your baby, that’s great, but if it’s because you fear people’s opinions then I would worry a bit for you that you are going into this too wary, too worried about what people will think of you. You’d have to think about what sort of message that would give to your child.
“You’re not going to damage a child,” says Rudkin, “by bringing it up as a single parent, not if you think you can go it alone.” (After all, lots of two-parent families end up as one-parent ones.) “Is it selfish to want a child?” continues Rudkin. “No, because it’s such an unselfish act. If that child fulfils some need in you, that’s a great by-product. But, obviously, that baby cannot take on your needs.”
You’re never going to avoid other people’s opinions. Plus, once your baby is here, the mechanics of how you got pregnant and your home setup become less important and it becomes more about your baby. Then you’ll get plenty of people telling you what they think: about how you should feed it, sleep, schools, etc. The single-parent thing will fade into the background, unless you make it an issue.
The world is not short of people ready to judge other people’s choices, but you cannot let that define you, or what you do.
This article first appeared in the Guardian Family section on 5 June 2015.