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  • China’s not alone in stigmatising single mothers | Barbara Ellen

China’s not alone in stigmatising single mothers | Barbara Ellen

Britain’s attitude towards the children of lone parents leaves much to be desired

You’d need a heart of flint not to have been horrified by the tale of Baby 59 – the newborn cut out of a lavatory waste pipe in China. The 22-year-old mother, who’d alerted the police, had hidden toys for him, but also kept the pregnancy secret, giving birth alone in the lavatory, when the child fell into the pipe, still attached to the placenta.

The mother, who will not be charged, said that the father deserted her and she could not afford an abortion. She was terrified about the illegitimacy of her child and the disgrace of becoming a single parent. All this is reflective of Chinese society, with its inadequate sex education, one-child policy and crushing stigma attached to single parenthood.

But wait before we get all pompous about how awful China is and how this could only happen “somewhere like that”. In Britain, we have not encountered the sickening extreme of babies in sewage pipes. However, where the stigma of single parenthood is concerned, there are more than enough echoes here.

Are single parents (mainly mothers) stigmatised in this country? Of course they are and always have been. I was one for several years, so maybe I have heightened awareness. Then again, who hasn’t? I’d really like to know how anyone could have avoided noticing the constant, monotonous drone of lone parent bashing, blaming them for the ills of society, making their lives harder at every turn.

It would be difficult to live in blissful ignorance of the way single parents get scorned, blamed and, above all, bullied like few others in society, except, perhaps, that other majorly powerless intimidated group, the disabled.

The jibes are better disguised these days; the terminology adjusted to suit modern tastes. Still, the underlying ugliness and contempt keeps breaking out. I don’t think a word comes out of Iain Duncan Smith’s mouth that isn’t in some way an attack on single parents via “benefit culture”. (When did people struggling to bring up children on their own become a “culture”?) No one wants to hear about the reality of sharing out one tin of beans between five or being priced out of your home by benefits cuts.

Anti-benefits parlance has no time for such balancing niceties. It just wants to complain about how Britain’s huge number of lone parent households costs us dear, both on personal and national levels, with statistics proving that these children are more likely to be poor, unhealthy, ill-educated, dysfunctional and so on.

Nobody objects to statistics, so long as they are not massaged out of all meaning or context. What’s galling is the way this is usually related, as if single parents somehow aren’t aware of their situation, aren’t already worried sick.

The ones “living it” are obviously going to be more aware than anyone else, even government ministers It really wouldn’t take long for a single parent to twig that if their lives are a nightmarish blur of money problems, benefit freezes, housing insecurity, non-flexible employment and inadequate childcare, it’s going to have a bad impact on their children. There’s our own Baby 59 right there: not stuck in a lavatory pipe, but in general public perception.

If my experience is anything to go by, the thing that destroys single parents isn’t being attacked. Or the fact that national conversations all tend to revolve around not what to do for them, how to help them, but what to do about them – as if they were just a vexing civic matter, on the same level as bin collections or pest control. (Single parents are used to being dehumanised.)

The only thing that would really hurt a single parent is the knowledge that what society thinks about them also applies to their kids – that their children are considered trash, at the very bottom of society.

So, yes, Baby 59 shocked everybody, but if you could take a snapshot of the prevalent British attitude towards single parents and their children, would it look so very different?

There’s a reason why he doesn’t look best pleased…

Have you seen that meme sensation Grumpy Cat, who’s now all about the merchandising and has even landed a Garfield-style film deal? Her real name is Tardar Sauce, but she’s been rechristened Grumpy Cat because … oh come on, why do you think?

Not that grumpy does justice to her extraordinary visage. From some angles, she’s late-period Brigitte Bardot (after decades of sun, fags, carping and Le Pen). From others, she resembles something unspeakable that might fly yowling out of deep fog in The Hobbit and stick all four sets of claws into Martin Freeman’s face.

The trouble is that Grumpy Cat only looks like that because she has feline dwarfism”, which can come with attendant health problems. How tremendously evolved of us – from bear-baiting to mocking/celebrating cats with a genetic disorder within a few short centuries.

Then again, Grumps looks much cosseted and I’m clinging to the hope that such internet crazes mean that people are still soppy about moggies. As for Grumpy Cat’s stellar rise, never mind her own movie, this is a cat that cries out to be stroked by a Bond villain – seconds before she takes their arm off.

A game changer? Well, I wouldn’t put money on it

Nit-pickers with very little going on may find the following item disturbing. It appears that pretty much everyone has been playing Monopoly incorrectly and parents have unwittingly been teaching their children wrongly for generations.

A spokesman for the Campaign for Real Monopoly (TCRM) points out that the rule book (it has a rule book?) clearly states that if you land on a property but don’t buy it (probably because you’ve just been charged a game-wrecking wedge of rent by a cheating smug face, who’s spread out along an entire side of the board, preening and crowing like some pretend-money Donald Trump), it must be auctioned off to other players. TCRM thinks this makes the game faster and more fun, “massively increasing the interaction between players”.

Fair enough, but hasn’t Monopoly already caused enough heartache, far beyond upturned boards and highly libellous accusations of grand larceny from money piles, striking at the very core of the human condition? You know you’ve left carefree childhood behind when you’re not automatically allowed to be Scottie dog any more. And what woman hasn’t been forced to play with the manky old iron because others refused?

For “increased interaction”, read even more shouting and swearing. Think of the innocent children and how they’ll end up telling therapists about Mummy at Christmas, drinking too much “special juice” and flicking hotels across the room. It might be best simply to continue ignoring this rule and the well-intentioned but misguided real Monopoly campaigners.

Soon enough, their increasingly desperate cries for good gamesmanship will fade away, until one day, they will stop completely and all will be calm once more. I’m calling it the Campaign for Non-Homicidal Monopoly.

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