“I’m a single mum. I’ll always be a single mum because I’m responsible for my sons, whether I’m living with Joe or not…There’s an assumption that if you’re with someone, like I am with Joe, you’re no longer a lone parent…I’ve done posts before [on social media] about how proud I am of being a single parent, and people have written back saying, ‘You’re with Joe, you’re not a single parent.’”Quote from the book Happily Imperfect by Stacey Solomon
When I read this, I initially thought ‘well no, you’re not a single parent if you’re in a relationship’. I immediately stopped myself: Stacey was telling the reader how she labelled herself and why, and here I was, telling her that she was wrong. This is something quite common in social media comments: strangers telling the creator that their opinion about themself is incorrect. Unless the creator is spreading information that could be dangerous or harmful to others, then it is not our place to play God. Whilst I wasn’t actually replying to Stacey, it still didn’t sit with me how I had reacted in my head.
I made myself reread that paragraph in her book to try and understand it from her position. She wasn’t being rude by excluding her partner Joe from her sons’ narratives – she was being selfless by empathising with her children. From their perspectives, their parents are not together and will never be together again. Therefore, Stacey understands that she will always be a single parent: no matter how her circumstances change, the fact that she is not with her sons’ dads will always remain.
My train of thought then led me to wonder if I should even need to understand the ‘why’ behind her statement. Stacey provided a clear explanation that I gave the time to understand. However, even if she hadn’t provided that explanation, that still doesn’t give me the right to disagree with her. (A reminder that this is specific to when people make statements concerning themselves.) It is Stacey Solomon’s prerogative to call herself what she feels is appropriate and to say as much or as little as she likes on the matter.
A point I should make is that I am not even a single parent myself! No matter how much I believe I can hypothetically empathise with her, I am not actually in Stacey’s position so I don’t know. This isn’t a hard and fast rule for everything. There are lots of things we don’t have to experience first-hand to accurately know our stance on. However, we certainly shouldn’t use our imagination as evidence to inform someone that their perception of themself is incorrect.
I should also say that experiencing things first-hand can be a red herring. Sometimes I hear or see people make comments that start with ‘well I’m X so I know…’ Even if you fit the same category as someone else, it does not mean you necessarily have the same lived experience. I can guarantee that there are parents out there who fit Stacey’s description of being in a relationship with someone else but who do not class themselves as single parents. That’s ok too as long as no one compares or falsely applies unwanted labels to others. What I liked about Stacey Solomon’s description of what single parenthood means to her is that she did it completely from her point of view. She talked about her children being her responsibility and used phrases like ‘in my eyes’. She didn’t generalise or define single parenthood according to anyone but herself.
It’s a positive step to notice when things don’t sit with you, like that quote didn’t when I first read it, and to take time to explore why. I’m glad that I didn’t just pass judgement, move on and carry on reading, because it caused me to reflect and draw some conclusions around my attitudes and the assumptions I make. Whether or not I keep my thoughts in my head or verbalise them, I want to be the most compassionate and inclusive person I can be, and the way to do this is to be honest with myself and actively take steps to learn and improve.
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