Saturday, July 15, 2006

Cool Britannia

Single mother. It's an emotive phrase isn't it. It tends to conjure up an image of a woman, probably young, who has either by accident or design, got herself knocked up and is now working the state for whatever benefits she can get. Her kids will be out of control, bereft of the essential guidance we're told can only be attained through a two-parent home life. She will never have worked, will have had limited education and her only prospects involve having more kids by more transient fathers who will disappear as quickly as they arrive. It's a depressing image but one the government seems keen to have us believe is the norm.

And what happens when this single mother finds herself in this position. Not only is she villified by the media, across the whole political spectrum, but she's told her kids will be unhinged tearaways likely to descend into crime, drugs and a hapless future. Grim isn't it, and easy to agree with.

Single mothers are poorly represented and pretty much ignored. However hard they try to bring up their kids properly they're still likely to be stigmatised by the image I describe. And the kids know this. Once they're of an age to understand their circumstances they are able to understand the rhetoric touted by the media and they're pretty much doomed. As soon as the kid realises the country sees them as a lost cause they will just as likely give up trying and accept that nobody has much hope or expectation for them. The descent begins. Up until then they were probably perfectly happy. Kids often don't know the apparent desperation of their situation until somebody who thinks they know better tells them how hopeless their life is.

What confuses me is what this villification of this section of society achieves. It doesn't encourage the mothers and it sure as hell doesn't energise the kids to rise above it. It beats them down and then proceeds to give a good kicking when they're down. No wonder they fail. Kids that get into trouble will be reported as coming from a single parent family, and automatically, by implication and the power of the phrase 'single parent' we've decided what kind of kid we're dealing with here - yet often there is little knowledge of the exact circumstances of that single parent. Simply being from that environment is enough to explain how hopeless you've become. As a kid you believe it yourself even though you didn't know anything was wrong until they mentioned it. You were just trying to get on with your life like all the other kids.

There are a lot of good single mothers out there who don't see living off benefits as a career choice. They work. They raise good balanced kids who go on to be productive members of society. But this is not because of any help they receive. It is in spite of it. People find themselves as single parents even though that was never their intention when they had their kids. Their relationship has broken down and now they have to deal with things as best they can. And invariably many of them do, even though the state and media are after them. A lot of kids benefit from one parent actually having the nerve to detach themselves from a corrosive, violent or otherwise upleasant two-parent environment which really was doing them harm.

And the worst thing is, we believe the crap we're told yet we all probably know a single mother, but of course the one we know is the exception. The one we know brings her kids up properly. They're smartly turned out. They're polite and work hard at school, but you know what. That single parent you know is, for statistical reasons, as far as the media and state are concerned exactly the same as the person I described in the first paragraph.

I guess categorising people as losers sells newspapers and produces nice government statistics yet it doesn't really help anyone.