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Given the teachings that informed the birth and evolution of the State, teachings that still have a profound influence on our idealisation of motherhood, our society reserves a particularly special disdain for single mothers.
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Statistics show that in Ireland almost 1 in 5 children live with a single parent but it may not seem that 20%* of potential matches on dating websites have or want children in their lives.
Single parents tell us their main concerns are finding a match: While dating online provides a remarkably convenient way to meet new people, single parents have a complex set of criteria that a number of dating sites simply cannot satisfy.
A single mother’s lot in Ireland today is clearly a world away from this.
To be a middle-class single mother as this writer is, is to have a job, independence and the capacity to accept the end of a relationship that had come to hurt and disappoint, in the knowledge that the children will be fed and clothed.
A comment from one among my circle was probably meant as friendly advice: “Unfortunately,” he said – educated, urbane, younger than I was – “you have made things very difficult for yourself.” Both comments were referring to the fact that I was – am – a single mother.
Both stung horrendously and though others, in an effort to balm the hurt, urged that they should not be taken seriously, they were taken as serious expressions of blame, judgment and even hostility to the type of motherhood mine was. This label is rarely used in today’s discourse, the pejorative connotations – to be “not-married” – do not sit well with our view of ourselves as having moved beyond such value-laden attitudes.
My now four-year-old son was six months old when a man – educated, urbane, older than I was – shouted at me: “If you didn’t want the child, you should have kept your knickers on.” I was coming out of, what both I and my son’s father would now agree, had become an impossibly difficult relationship.
It was a trying time for us both and we both received support from friends and family.
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