I remember the moment I knew it was over. My ex and I were walking home from lunch with friends and the fight he’d been trying to pick with me all weekend had come to a head halfway down Kennington Road. This time, something in his voice was different. I stopped the buggy as a panic attack strangled the breath from my lungs. It was The End.
My story is not original. The first year with a new baby is hard and I had struggled with the fact that this beautiful life I had kept safe in my belly for nine months was now out in the world. The same world as evil men and guns and SIDS, and the only person I could truly trust to protect my son was me. Meanwhile, my ex was trying to get promoted while stalling in the transition from lad to dad. Leaving behind the perceived "freedom" of your old life when you become a parent can be difficult for some, and we took our individual struggles out on each other. We stopped having sex. We didn’t recognise the person we loved in the hollowed-out zombie we kept waking up next to. And though I believed that we could work through all these things and become the epic power couple we were always meant to be, he did not.
I believed that we could work through everything and become the epic power couple we were always meant to be; he did not.
There’s more to it than that, but it’s all just detail and semantics. He left me and our baby and I was suddenly faced with a terrifying future. To anyone who is in this situation now, know this: no matter how lonely you feel, you are not alone. There is support out there that will help you navigate this horror movie you’ve been cast in. All you need are tools. Consider me your Lisbeth Salander, providing the life hacks you need to navigate this Brexit-level shitstorm. The women and services in this list have become powerful weapons in my journey from broken to boss. So, ladies, this is my gift to you. Everything you need to become the tough, informed, thriving, independent mama you were destined to become. Welcome to the tribe.
The charity to call
In those first post-Splitsville weeks, your life becomes an endless sea of questions. You suddenly have your child(ren)'s needs to consider without being able to discuss things with your best friend turned abandoner. Where will we live? How often should my ex see our kid(s)? How will we survive financially? Breathe. Gingerbread, the leading national charity for single parent families, is the rubber ring that will prevent you from drowning in fear and/or actual tears. The charity’s website is a great first port of call for any newly single mum: the information section covers every possible single-parenting concern, from housing issues like your guide to discretionary housing payments to legal advice on mediation with an ex. There is a searchable list of single parent groups in your area and they also have a helpline. When you feel utterly lost at the beginning of your journey, knowledge is power. Armed with the answers Gingerbread provides, you will feel calmer and more ready to take on the challenges ahead.
Anant Naik, head of membership at Gingerbread, says: "While practical arrangements and your child's wellbeing may dominate your concerns, it’s important to remember that you are likely to need practical and emotional support. Gingerbread runs groups across the country for single parents. You can also join our online forum to speak to other single parents online, day or night. One in four families in the UK are single parent families and we know single parents do a great job!"
The benefits checker you need
I’ve always prided myself on being financially independent but when you make a baby with someone, you assume your resources are then pooled for life. Until you get dumped when you’re still on maternity leave and your statutory maternity pay has run out, that is. My mediator recommended Turn2us.org.uk, which has a ridiculously easy-to-use benefits calculator, to work out what support would likely be available to me. Everyone’s situation is different and the calculations only offer a projection, but it certainly helps you have a clearer idea of your monthly budget so you can wrestle with the eternal dilemma of working vs childcare costs. I am one of the few people who only has good things to say about Universal Credit. I was entitled to monthly support before I returned to work, as well as money towards my housing costs and I’m waiting to hear if I’ll get a childcare contribution too. Though the Tories can suck it, UC is the tits.
The podcast to listen to
When I first had to hand my son over to spend time with his dad, I filled my hours punching things at fitness classes and holding my best friend’s hand at the theatre – anything to avoid sitting at home imagining how much fun they were having without me and counting down the milliseconds until I got my baby back. Eventually, I started practising some self-love. I’ve always adored a podcast and on the particular baby-free afternoon that I discovered Alright For A Mum, I ended up bingeing on three episodes in a row and grinning like a nutter while I expressed breastmilk and tried to scrub poo off white baby vests. The first season covers topics like dating as a single mum and the realities of co-parenting, and the second series continues to provide a priceless resource for the lost and confused lone mama with nowhere to turn. When you feel most like crying, hosts Carrie Anne (@mre.soeur) and Remi (@booksbabyandback) will make you crease with laughter – and remember how good that feels. If you have the pennies, invest in a pin, tote or tee from Carrie Anne’s Mère Soeur mama merch label to help you glow the F up.
The app to download
I stumbled across the Frolo Instagram account a month into single motherhood, when I was in what can only be described as the butt crack of depression. The account only had a few hundred followers at that point but I made contact with Zoë Desmond, its founder, as they needed beta testers. Frolo is a genius idea – a soon-to-be-launched app that allows single parents to connect with each other based on their location and make plans to meet up when all their single pals are hungover and their married pals are enjoying the comfort and security of their functioning relationships. I told Zoë a little about my circumstances and she shared my message on Frolo’s Insta Story. I got two or three responses and immediately felt part of something. It was such a relief to know that there were women who had been in my situation and were now happier than ever. At the time of writing Frolo has 1,600 followers and its Insta Stories are an invaluable source of help and advice, whether you want an "I feel you" or help finding a parenting coach. Give @frolo_app a follow for updates on when the app drops.
Zoë Desmond from Frolo says: "Try not to feel overwhelmed in your new situation – take it day by day and do whatever you need to do to make life easier on yourself, whether that’s finding a great therapist, booking a holiday or calling on some extra support when you need it."
The lawyer's advice to seek out
Laura Naser was recommended to me by Frolo founder Zoë, having done an Insta Live for Frolo, as well as a Facebook Live and various talks for Mothers Meetings. When I met her to discuss my own situation and find out where I stood regarding childcare arrangements and maintenance payments in the eyes of the law, Laura was honest, clear and avoided legalese, focusing on my child’s needs and highlighting concerns I hadn’t even thought of. When my situation got more complicated and I took steps to handle things as maturely as possible, Laura was always an email or phone call away. She made me feel like she constantly had my back, like my better-looking wrestling partner in a tag-team situ. Obviously legal advice might not be affordable for everyone but Laura's Instagram @thefamilylawyer is another vital mine of information. Whether your concerns centre around division of property, money or changing your name, Laura has a post that will help – and she even has a book coming out at the end of the year: The Family Lawyer’s Guide to Separation and Divorce. Never has there been a more essential read for newly single parents.
Laura’s advice is: "Cross-check yourself constantly with the question, 'Am I being reasonable?' If you genuinely think your explanation for doing or not doing something is reasonable then that should get you a good foundation for co-parenting. The law applies differently to the married and unmarried single mother and is bespokely applied, sometimes depending on who paid for what and who said what. If it’s possible, get some legal advice early on which will also help to set the boundaries of what’s reasonable."
The budgeting tips you need
I genuinely believe that budgeting is a form of torture but as a single mum I have had to learn to be thrifty. A treat is now a £3 charity shop Chewbacca T-shirt rather than a handbag, and I tell you, I feel so much better for it. There are plenty of ways to keep things cheap as a single mum. When it comes to serving up delicious yet wallet-friendly meals for the family, Jack Monroe’s website, Cookingonabootstrap.com, offers delectable options and even calculates the price per serving. Insta accounts like @frompenniestopounds give advice about how to save – even if it’s just putting aside £1 a week in a piggy bank – and @bargain.mummy inspires you to shop smart with her posts about the latest bargains from Tesco, Asda, Lidl and Poundland. Websites like Shopmium and GreenJinn give cashback on an array of supermarket purchases that change every week, which is perfect for growing that "We WILL go to Disneyland Paris" fund. And Monzo cards are a great way to track your monthly spend, complete with a breakdown on where your money goes (damn you, Uber Eats) so you can cut the cloth accordingly.
The last-minute childcare help you need
Eventually you'll figure out a long-term childcare solution that works for you. For many, parents and friends are a constant source of support in the first few months of single parenthood, but for people who live miles from their inner circle, or for those unpredictable babysitting emergencies when your ex won’t answer the phone and you’ve got food poisoning from a dodgy Toulouse sausage, the Bubble app saves the day. Search for regular help or a one-off sit for up to 12 hours and you can even request a sitter with language skills or experience with newborns, depending on your situation. Bubble also gives you peace of mind, as every babysitter on the app is covered by £1m public liability insurance. With a five-star rating on Trustpilot, and rave reviews in the Guardian and Wired, Bubble is the one.
The Instagram accounts to follow
My biggest battle when I became a single mum was not with my ex but with my self-image. I hated myself so much that I needed a course of CBT just to rewire the damaging thoughts that told me I was worthless, unlovable and that the break-up was my fault. I remember when my therapist first asked me to list some positive things about myself. Umming and ahhing, I stuttered out some lukewarm thoughts: "I’m kinda funny, I’m alright looking, I’m trying to be a good mum." I now realise that I’m hilarious, super fucking sexy and the best mum my son could ever ask for. With every obstacle that I faced head on, I gained inner strength and started seeing myself for my gains and not my losses. Discovering empowering females on Instagram helped me realise that being alone is an opportunity and that I deserve the space and time to become the best version of myself – both for me and for my child. @florencegiven’s Dump Him movement proves just how many women are throwing off the shackles of unsatisfying relationships and taking the power back. Given recently launched a range of empowering totes and T-shirts with slogans like "Off For A Shag" and "Looking Good For My Goddamn Self" and when I put mine on I feel – even more – like a superhero.