Welcome to our series of ‘Real Stories’ where we’re fortunate to have a snapshot into the personal lives of working parents in the hope that their experiences can help others who are interested in taking a similar path. In this particular story we sit down with Vanessa from GAM Investments to discuss her journey of two very distinct experiences as a sole parent.
In your experience of becoming a solo parent, what were some of the challenges and considerations that you wish you had been told ahead of your decision?
I’ve had two very different experiences of being a single parent. The first occurred when my daughter was only 1 year old. It was the result of a marriage breakdown which was triggered by my husband, and so not an active choice. The second time was through active choice, where I chose to conceive on my own, and ended up with the unplanned surprise os having twin boys!
I found there were clear differences between the two experiences. The first time round with my daughter, I always felt there was someone with whom I could share the worries of parenthood. Even though we were divorced, and the relationship was not always easy, I knew that there was someone else in the world who loved my daughter as much as I did and who would be there for the important things. But the situation still came with its challenges which were mainly centred around the difficulties of negotiating parenthood when you lacked an emotional connection with that person. It was hard to be separated from my daughter for long periods of time, and I felt a lack of control over her external relationships. The other side of the same coin though, is that it also meant I always had some ‘time off’ for myself which, although sometimes painful, was often much needed.
With my twins on the other hand, I am the only parent. Being solely responsible brings with it the obvious benefit of not needing to negotiate and reach an agreement with someone on every decision, but it did create the enormous burden of having to carry it all myself. My greatest take away from the experience, is the importance of having a strong support network of friends and family. Emotional support is probably more important than physical or financial support, as it allowed me to be the best version of myself and therefore the best mother for my kids. Do not be afraid to ask your network for help when you need it.
How did you know that becoming a sole parent was the right decision for you?
Ultimately, the conviction that I had both the emotional and financial resources to meet the demands of single parenthood is what helped me. I had no doubts about what the ‘good bits’ would be, and friends and family helped me reach the decision that I would be able to get through the hard stuff.
What important things you do you think people need to keep in mind when making the decision to become a solo parent?
It is the most joyous and rewarding role, and at the same time, it can be exhausting, demanding and lonely.
You need to have a plan for when things get tough – for example, when you get sick, even if it is just the flu. When things don’t go to plan for whatever reason, what support will you have in place?
Honesty and transparency are key. You need to be willing to talk openly with your kids and share your story with them.
Solo parenting is a fairly new form of parenting – there will be ignorant, thoughtless, or potentially even malicious comments made. You need to be prepared to encounter these and the ways in which they may impact you and your kids, and they are another reason why transparency with your children is essential!
All of society is geared towards dual parent families, so many processes with forms you need to complete can become more complex. For example, on some airlines, you need one adult per child under the age of two, which can present as a challenge when you are a single parent to twins!
What do you see as the biggest challenge for working parents today as a solo parent?
The biggest challenge for me was managing for sickness, be it yours or your kids. The improved attitude towards increased flexibility of working from home has definitely made this easier, but it remains a huge challenge when you have no one to help you in these moments. And then working out how to manage for holiday care. Holiday clubs are prohibitively expensive and so some form of financial help throughout this period would be a huge help.
Were there any resources or forums that you were able to look to for additional support?
I found The Donor Network useful. Additionally, there are more and more children’s books available that feature single parent families to help tell the story and normalise it for the kids.
What support or policies could organisations have in place to better support solo parents?
I would love to have access to practical forms of support, such as emergency childcare cover. Or maybe some form of childcare vouchers to help with the additional costs that occur during the school holidays.
What do you think organisations could do better at supporting solo parents?
Organisations really need to accept and acknowledge that it is different for solo parents, and that we face our own unique challenges. In the same way that organisations would manage difference for less able colleagues, they should really do the same for solo parents.
Are there any organisations that you can think of who are doing a great job of supporting sole-parents?
What role do you think managers have in being a part of the process of supporting solo parents at work or helping them to navigate the transition?
Flexible and empathetic managers really make a difference. I found the hardest years to be when the kids were aged 0-4 and would say that that is when parents need the most support. A small but simple example I can give that created huge goodwill and simplified my life, was when my manager scheduled out morning team meeting around the demands of my school drop off rather than expecting me to fit with his schedule.
Vanessa Sinclair Equity Investment Specialist at GAM Investment