Denis Campbell, social affairs correspondent
Sunday January 1, 2006
'Not having much money has made it easier for me to teach him the value of things, and he hasn't become spoilt the way children with two parents can do by being bought so many things. He's been brought up in a stable and happy environment rather than with a background of tension between me and his father. Jordan is better off with just me. And over the course of his life I've gradually gained in self-esteem and become calmer, because I have overcome so many challenges.'
It is a notably upbeat personal account of an experience often portrayed as synonymous with fecklessness, bad parenting and dependence on welfare benefits. Yet Ms Turner is not unique. A survey of single parents' attitudes to their situation reveals that large numbers of Britain's 1.8 million lone mothers and fathers feel surprisingly positive about rearing children on their own.
The research, among 4,794 single mothers and 3,156 lone fathers, shows that - while not downplaying recurring problems such as debt, social isolation, childcare arrangements, discrimination at work and the difficulty of meeting new partners - high proportions of them are satisfied with their lives:
· 78 per cent work full- or part-time;
· 74 per cent reject the idea that children in a single-parent household are more likely to struggle in school;
· Only 32 per cent think their child misses out on anything materialistic by living with one parent;
· 65 per cent do not believe that children of single parents are more likely to suffer low self-esteem than their peers;
· Only one in four resents being at home full-time looking after their children; 60 per cent have family near by to provide emotional or practical support.
The survey, conducted by ParentsAlready.com, a dating agency for single parents, shows that many single parents cope well with rearing children unaided. Some see the ex-partner's absence as helpful.
Teresa Goodman, an office administrator from south London, identified three main benefits in the nine years since she split from her husband and began raising Nathan, then five, alone. 'It's better for the child to live without conflict; the child often gets more attention; and the active parent can influence very considerably how the child is brought up,' said Goodman, 53.
She has experienced the downsides most single parents face: too little money, too few holidays and the constant struggle to juggle a job with ensuring that a home runs smoothly. But she appreciates the advantages, too. 'Once my relationship broke up I enjoyed being in control. I could influence Nathan more. It was easier to feed him healthier food and ensure he didn't watch too much television, both things his dad had different views on.'
Alison Garnham, director of policy at One Parent Families, one of the leading organisations helping lone parents, said: 'Lone parents saying they have positive feelings after separation is confirmed by research. On a number of occasions One Parent Families has asked lone parents about the best and worst things. The best thing is usually independence and autonomy. That's perhaps not surprising if you have left an unhappy relationship where there has been conflict or an unhelpful partner.'
Some of the answers given make depressing reading; 53 per cent have seen their level of debt rise, while over half want employers to be more flexible about single-parent staff taking time off to attend to family arrangements.
Single parents are also more varied than often imagined. Not all have been created by failed relationships. Some of both sexes are bringing up a child alone because their partner has died. A few women had decided to give birth after becoming pregnant accidentally following a one-night stand.
Amid the anger and emotional turmoil there was a striking honesty and determination that the child should not suffer any further. Only 19 per cent said they would be happier if the other parent had no access to the child; 56 per cent would not. And only 26 per cent of the women thought that when a relationship breaks up it is more likely to be the man's fault; 48 per cent disagreed.
But how many of these parents, given what they have been through, want more children? Only 22 per cent did, while 57 per cent did not.
My little girl's fine without a father
Stephanie Gear, 28, is the mother of Rebecca, aged three. Rebecca's father left Stephanie when she became pregnant. She runs an amusement machine operations company and lives in Ryde, on the Isle of Wight.
'Single parenthood has two sides, but the emotional positives far outweigh the negatives. It makes you a stronger and more determined person. I now know I can cope very well on my own and do as good a job at running a house and bringing up a child, if not better, than a couple.
'Rebecca is bright, intelligent, sociable and doing very well. But I don't think she'd be as advanced if I had stayed in any of the unhappy relationships I'd been in: first with her father, then with a man I met when I was 10 weeks pregnant who took Rebecca on as his own, but left when she was nine months.
'When he went, Rebecca changed completely and came out of herself. She has benefited from not being brought up with constant tension and conflict. If there's a bad relationship, the tense atmosphere does rub off on the child. If there was a man around I'd have to juggle her emotions and pay attention to a male, which I think she would find a bit overwhelming and confusing. I want her to have the best out of me, and I like to share my time with my daughter.
'I've also gained a lot of respect and admiration from friends, colleagues and customers for juggling a full-time job and single parenthood. Two of my female friends think it's really good what I've done, and say they could never do it. I'm proud that I've managed, and am financially self-sufficient.
'One friend put it really well. She said when Rebecca's older and has turned out really well - open, intelligent and bubbly - then I can thank myself for the choices I have made in her upbringing.