Stephen's story

Last updated: 29/01/2020

Stephen (pseudonym used to protect anonymity) is a single dad of a 7-year-old boy, based in Edinburgh

 

What has your experience as a single dad been like? 

It started with my wife descending into alcoholism. I had a child with her seven and a half years ago. She’d had alcohol problems most of her adult life, probably driven by generalised anxiety disorder. She became progressively more unreliable and attracted the attention of social services, and eventually an incident happened and social services decided she couldn’t live in the same house as my son, so she effectively had to leave that day.  

So, I came home from where I was and that was it. Single parenthood was thrust upon me. My wife’s behaviour has now improved, she has become less difficult, less confrontational and less disturbed, but she still can’t live at the house and there’s a compulsory supervision order in place. 

 

How did you become involved with One Parent Families Scotland?

We had ongoing involvement with social services and the Scottish Child Reporters’ Administration, and social services basically suggested it. The health visitor had heard about the One Parent Families Scotland dads’ club and suggested that I investigate it.

It was something that I did for two reasons, one was that I could sense I did need a bit of help and secondly it had been suggested in a child panel meeting that I do it and I was ticking a box, I was doing what they wanted me to do. So, one was a positive reason and one was a negative reason, I suppose. I’ve had absolutely no regrets from taking that step, I have to say.

I found that I was struggling at the weekends to think what to do with a seven-year-old child. The dads’ club was something which I went along to, with some friendly people to speak to about my situation and they’d talk about their situation. I met some people I wouldn’t otherwise have met, and it gave me something to do on a Saturday morning into the early afternoon.

"The truth is I didn’t go out much, I couldn’t afford it and it was early to rise and early to bed at night – life revolved around my son’s routine and holding down a job."

- Stephen, single dad

What has your experience of the dads’ club been like?

It’s a social thing that I very quickly grew to enjoy and look forward to, as did my son, and it’s been a very good thing for me and a very good thing for my son. I’ve met some good people and the people that organise it have all been absolutely excellent. Interesting people, sympathetic people, and people worth knowing.

It’s a complete nobrainer as to what I’m going to do on a Saturday. It doesn’t matter what they’re going to do, it might be something I won’t be particularly excited about, but my son might be quite excited about it. So, you end up doing things you perhaps wouldn’t do and it gets you out of your comfort zone.  

A couple of months back, the dads’ club activity was to go to a recording studio, write a song and record it, and that was quite an experience. Interestingly I think that was an experience the dads really rated which the children didn’t rate as much, whereas other things perhaps the children rate more than the dads.

Have you experienced any specific challenges as a single parent? 

Childcare costs 

The challenges I’ve had were before he went to school – holding down a job and paying for private sector childcare was ferociously expensive. My childcare bill was something like £980 a month and the state paid something like £250. If you think you’re dipping into wages to the tune of around £700 a month, that’s a lot of expense.

In the dads’ club, I think that out of all the dads who have their children 24 hours a day I was the only one that held down a job at the time. If you have more than one child and you’ve got to pay for that £980 per month per child, you’ve got to be on a whacking great salary to be able to afford that for two children. I was lucky that I had a job where I was paid enough to be able to sustain that outgoing, and I knew it was going to be a short-term thing till he went to school.  

I pay for him to go to a breakfast club first thing in the morning and I pay for him to go to an after-school club and the cost of that is something like £220 per month. So, as soon as he went to school I was something like £500 better off per month, so that took a lot of the pressure off.

 

Lack of support system

The other thing that is peculiar to my situation is that I have no family nearby. My parents are 400 miles away, have Alzheimer’s and are in a care home now, I have no siblings nearby, and my in-laws are in Virginia in the United States, so I had no local help. My in-laws have been great, but they are several thousand miles away so there’s a limit to what they can do.  

If I wanted to go out for the evening, having already forked out this huge figure in childcare costs in the daytime, it’s another £8 an hour for a babysitter for however many hours you want to go out for at night. The truth is I didn’t go out much, I couldn’t afford it and it was early to rise and early to bed at night life revolved around my son’s routine and holding down a job. 

"I’ve met some good people and the people that organise it have all been absolutely excellent. It’s a complete no-brainer as to what I’m going to do on a Saturday." 

- Stephen, Single dad

Childcare availability

The difficulty I have now is childcare when school’s not on. The school has an after-school club, which not all of them do, but there’s two weeks in the summer when the holiday club isn’t on, and when there’s a General Election and schools are used as a polling station there’s a risk that the holiday club won’t happen 

I have to be quite careful about how I use my holidays at work because there’s potential that one day I’m going to have to turn around to the office and say sorry, I’m just going to have to work from home tomorrow because I don’t have any childcare.

 

How do you think your experience as a single dad differs from the experience of a single mum? 

One of the things I’ve learned through the dads’ club is that everyone’s situation is very different. There’s people at the dads’ club that the only day they get to see their children is once every couple of weeks on that Saturday and you’ve got people like me who’ve essentially got their child 24/7, 365 days a year, apart from when they’re at nursery or school.  

I suppose the experience of being a [full-time] single dad and a single mother would actually have a lot of commonality. The younger you become a single father, the harder it probably is, because a lot of the stuff for really young children is geared up for mothers rather than dads.  

I didn’t become a single parent till my child was four, so I’ve not noticed it as much, but I know some of the dads who have children who are younger and they certainly feel that they’re having a harder time of it than a single mother might in that circumstance.