TWO FATHERS, TWO MOTHERS OR A SINGLE PARENT – DOES IT REALLY MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE?
Two is a couple, yes. But it can be a family too. Even if there is no partner in sight, a single mother (or single father, for that matter) still has every right to be considered a family, despite all the difficulties of single parenthood.
In the UK there are nearly two million single parents (only 8% are men). And a lot of them have to face challenges in order to be treated fairly and equally.
Gingerbread was founded 95 years ago. Their first step was the reform of the “Bastardy Act” which discriminated against illegitimate children. Today they are a big charity and their mission is to help single-parent families in all aspects of their daily life. They offer free advice and practical support, a helpline, training and courses for single parents who need to get back to work. They also have a section which has been specially tailored for single dads. In Italy, a Catholic and conservative country despite a Pope who is trying to modernize things, single parenthood is less widespread but on the rise. According to recent research, 16% of Italian families have only one parent (85% are women).
“There is not much support around and not enough communication. We have made an appeal to the key institutions but to no avail.”
If being a single parent is a challenge, same-sex families face even more prejudices. In Britain, since civil partnership and gay marriage were approved, many same-sex couples have approached the idea of parenting with more confidence. “There is no such thing as gay parenting,” said Mary Smeeth, a mother of two kids who were brought up in a same-sex relationship. “Do you think we take a gay approach when we put the cereal out for breakfast?”Instead of complaining, why not laugh about it. That’s what Joe, Mary’s son says: “When it comes Mother’s Day you realize you have a lot to do,” he says.
If there is such a thing as maternal instinct, two mothers must be well equipped to raise a family. But what about two fathers? No problem, the dad’s school can help.
Confident Dad, founded by Allegra Barrett and Simone Barrera, long-time friends and mothers, wants to help male same-sex couples who do not know where to start when they have to change nappies or mix a formula, let alone how to deal with sleep deprivation.
“We offer different packages,” says Allegra. “From a quick consultation over the phone to a more complex package which involves us consulting about the right equipment for the kids’ room”
In Italy things are not that easy. Elisa and Silvia have been living together for six years and have decided to have a child. Martino, born in 2012, has brought happiness and fulfilment in their family and after an initial shock in Elisa’s traditional family who live in a rural village in the north of Italy, now things have softened, thanks to her 86-year-old grandmother who was the first to congratulate the new parents. But. And this is a big but: “While people are perfectly ok with our kind of family, politics does not keep pace,” says Elisa. “According to the law, in our couple one of us is simply non-existent. And bureaucracy is a big problem as well. At school the forms we fill out do not take into account a family like ours. In many circumstances I’m the only one who can decide on important matters, being the natural mother. Our biggest fear is that if something happens to me, our son could be adopted by a distant relative but not by Silvia who is, in his eyes, as much his mother as I am.
“Then of course I fear bullying in school or in his circle of friends, but there are many more reasons for bullying: skin colour, weight, glasses.
“So far Martino is happy, healthy and surrounded by loving friends and relatives. And when he turns 20, I hope Silvia can become his legal mother too.”
Where to find information and help:
gingerbread.org.uk smallfamilies.it genitorisoli.it papalcentro.it famigliearcobaleno.org