We have a massive problem in this country of stereotyping people. We all try not to do it. But every one of us is guilty at some point in time of jumping to a conclusion about another person. Just by looking at them and pairing them to a stereotype, whether that be subconsciously or verbally.
Single mums have been demonised in this country by the media and middle to upper class society. They’re seen as loose (for getting pregnant irresponsibly), or as bad mums that can’t control their kids.
My mum was a single mum. She split up with my dad when she was pregnant with me. She had a hellish upbringing, just like my auntie and uncle did regarding their stepfather. But that is another story entirely. My dad was an idiot in no uncertain terms and they just clashed – so my mum ended the relationship.
The first house I remember living in was in Hillfields Coventry. If you know the area you’d be aware it is far from ideal with massive crime and prostitution in the community. Kerb crawlers propositioned my mum on a few occasions as she walked down the street!
But it was all she could afford. My dad was reserved to paying her the bare minimum in child maintenance. And while my mum had a full-time job, breaking her back to keep a roof over our heads, she was always loving to me. She knew we lived in a rough area, but she’d get us up extra early and drive me across the other side of Coventry to a primary school in a nice area, then go to work all day, then drive back in rush hour to pick me up and take me home.
I only had one friend from next door when we lived in Hillfields. All I ever heard from that house was shouting and banging from his mum and dad. He had two sisters and was not very well behaved at all. He would always ask me to do naughty stuff, which I would refuse. Until one day he was throwing bricks over someone else’s garden. I thought it was a good idea so joined in. Then the neighbour came round and had a go at my mum and she went absolutely mad at me!
My mum could see the potential path I was going down even at 5 years old. So decided to move us to another part of the city even if it meant having less money than we already struggled on.
So it wasn’t long before we moved to Earlsdon. Which is a very sought after area in Coventry albeit in a terraced house. It also meant I’d be going to one of the best public secondary schools in the city, as we were in the catchment area.
Moving hit us hard financially. So she decided to enrol at university to further her education in order to get a better job and better life for us. But she was determined to make sure I had the best possible start in life she could provide – even if that meant us eating beans on toast for tea a lot of the time because we couldn’t afford any better. I remember her sending me up the shop on my scooter to get some Dolmio sauce for a rare spaghetti bolognese for tea. On the way back I dropped the jar and it smashed. She went absolutely mad. And I couldn’t understand why. I said I’d go back up and get another one but she just simply couldn’t afford to buy another one.
My dad wasn’t around a lot when I was younger. Him and my mum had an agreement he would see me every second Sunday. Even then he would let us down. It really annoyed me as I had two half brothers that lived in Tamworth and that was the only chance Id see them. So my dad wasn’t around to give me guidance at all, which made it harder on my mum, as there was never a second opinion or male perspective on matters. But that wasn’t her fault. My dad was still out drinking and being irresponsible so it was better for all parties if they were apart.
When I started secondary school I was introduced to all sorts of new things such as drugs and girls, which contradicted what my mum tried to do. She’d moved us over the other side of the city, to the best school, so I’d have the best chance of success. But unfortunately drugs were rife, and it was hard to ignore that as a young boy surrounded by older influential kids.
My mum was really hard on me for getting into trouble at school. If I got a detention then id be grounded which I used to argue was a double punishment, but that didn’t matter. What my mum said was final. She instilled a conscience in me. I was always scared of my mum in a discipline way. If I ever got into trouble with the police or school I couldn’t care less about what they’d say, it was when my mum found out I knew I was in real trouble!
But I fell into the wrong crowd at school. We started smoking weed which led do other harder social drugs. I loved it. But it wasn’t an escape from reality or a cry for help, which is what people think. I tried the drugs and had an amazing time. All my mates did. We really enjoyed it and being a teenager at that time, there was literally nothing to do on the streets unless you have money for summer camps etc, so drugs and drink was the only thing anyone ended up doing. Society had let us down. There was no youth clubs or after school activities. All the centers were being closed down in the communities. I suppose the ideology in the school I went to was that: because it was in an upper class area, then parents had money to send their kids to summer or football camps etc. Which just wasn’t the case. They also couldn’t deal with naughty kids either. We were just alienated from the rest of the school and left to our own devices, which only contributed to the problem.
When my mum found out about me smoking weed she lost the head big time. She got straight on the phone to my dad, and sent me away for two weeks with him to Wales to teach me a lesson. I was scared of what my dad would say. But it turned out sending me away would have the opposite effect. My dad would always laugh and play down what I got up to because, in his words, he’d got up to far worse when he was younger and turned out fine. So inadvertently, my mum sending me away was meant to be a lesson and punishment but it just reinforced my bad behaviour.
I started getting arrested a lot. My mum used to ground me for weeks on end and take the small TV out my room. It was worse than prison. But I still went on to cause trouble. Although I was a little shit I wasn’t as bad as my friends at school who spent the majority of their school life suspended. I was one of the bad ones but never the worst, and I have my mum to thank for that for putting a conscience in my head and stopping me doing a lot of things, a lot worse than I was doing.
When it was time to do our GCSE’s all of my mates had to do them in a separate room to everyone else, but I wasn’t quite naughty enough to be separated with them. My mates would be out drugging and drinking leading up to the exams when they should have been revising. I would have been out quite happily with them but my mum kept me in under lock and key revising. Much to my annoyance! And although my best grades were C’s and D’s, they were still a massive improvement on my mates scores. The grades helped me get a future apprenticeship. But if my mum hadn’t shackled me to revision I wouldn’t have got any grades at all.
After I left school things went from bad to worse. Because I was under 17, every time I got arrested my mum had to be the ”appropriate adult” and by law needed to be present in the interview with me. She was always so mortified. She eventually gave me an ultimatum. I fix up or she kicks me out. I don’t blame her. I was robbing her money and fags – anything I could get my hands on. I found out later she was going to counselling and on anti-depressants because of my behaviour: also I was giving her more and more trips to the police station. So I duly agreed to the ultimatum. Then on her birthday a week later I was a woken in my room my two police officers ready to take me down the station again. Well this was the final straw.
The only place I could go was into my dad’s house. He had converted it into 3 flats. So I had one of them, and to pay for it I had to work for him. I was angry that she had kicked me out, but she had no choice. She tried her hardest but was reduced to counselling and anti-depressants.
I quickly realised I didn’t want to work for my dad, as it was hell. He was a slave driver anyway, but especially to his sons. At that point my brother had been fallen out with him for over a year, after 5 years of working for him got too much. I was struggling to work under him for 3 months, let alone 5 years!
So to my rescue came my mum. She proposed I get a plumbing apprenticeship and applied for me. I got accepted on the wrong course. It was only for a year full-time at college. I wasn’t really bothered as I was still in my drug-fueled state. But she wasn’t happy. She rang up the college and kicked off big time. They ended up giving me an apprenticeship if I passed the interview with the local council. So that was it. She got me some nice clothes and taught me some interview techniques: to smile, shake hands, ask questions etc. So I did and got the job out of 2000 applicants! All thanks to my mum :-).
I was still off the rails. And living by myself didn’t help, as I had no guidance. But my mum was always there, from a far, helping me whenever she could. She knew that trying to control my life and shackle me didn’t work so decided to be there for me when I said I needed it.
Things got worse before they got better. The drugs were starting to take their toll on me. I became paranoid and unable to communicate in society anymore. The paranoia resulted in me having erectile dysfunction. As a 17-year-old boy that was crushing. I know now I was deeply depressed and in a total mess. I thought about ending it all. But then I thought about my mum. I knew taking my own life wouldn’t just kill me. It would kill my mum as well. How could I do that to her? I owed her so much. She’d helped me hold down that job till I came out my time and finished college. I would never have finished or even got the apprenticeship without her. She always sensed I was down. She suggested counselling on a few occasions. I knew she had gone before but never thought it would help me.
So one day I decided to go, for my mum, I owed her everything.
I went to Discovery Caddy, which was a free counselling service for under 18s. I really didn’t have much hope because I thought I was just postponing the inevitable.
Well it changed my life. Julie her name was and she put my whole life into perspective for me. It was amazing. I’m so glad now I did it and if it wasn’t for my mum I don’t know if id be here today. I had a new lease of life. But I was still involved with the wrong type of people, albeit sober now, but I ended up being stupid and did 3 months in jail.
I had a chat with my mum through letters and visits. She helped me change my life around. I Changed friends in my life, moved out of the area and realised my bad ways.
I now have a lovely fiancé, son and stepdaughter. I live in a nice house and work for a company in Birmingham on good money with my plumbing qualifications. My mum helped me every step of the way. I know a lot of lads, who have grown up with both parents at home, that have turned out a lot worse than I have. Which has resulted in them doing long spells in jail, or addicted to drugs.
The moral of the story is stereotyping single mums is wrong. If someone looked at my mum and me as I was growing up, they’d think ”typical”.
But we were the product of our environment. If you live in the working class world things are a lot harder for you to survive. There was nothing she could do to stop what happened. She sacrificed nice things and money to move us to a better area, near a decent school. She went back to university so she could get a better, well paying job. She drove over to the school in rush hour every day and night to give me the best possible life. She grounded me, stopped me seeing certain people, banned me from areas, and phoned the police on me. She stopped at nothing to help me get a job and straighten my life out. If it wasn’t for her I would never have come through that period of my life. But thanks to her I did with good qualifications, morals, and a decent job. If my mum and Dad had have been together during this period no doubt he would have played down my behaviour and who knows what could have happened.
I owe her my life. She was my mum, my dad, my guardian, enforcer and my hero and I love her more than anything in the world. Thank you mum for giving me the life I now lead through the toughest possible circumstances.
I’m not saying every single mum is as dedicated to their children’s cause, or every couple is perfect. But the stereotype in this country needs to change, along with policies on youth development for the working class. Until this happens there will be children going off the rails repeatedly no matter what household they come from, and if people try to help, rather than watching shows such as ”Benefits Britain” stereotyping people and demonising them, we won’t see a change.
Foot Note: My mum passed her degree with a first, and in 2014 became a doctor as she passed her PHD with no modifications. Not bad for a working class single mum hey.
Picture Source: (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14653813)