You might have caught a report in the news yesterday about a “tsunami of family breakdown” heading our way – because apparently 1m children are living in a man desert thanks to their single Mothers, who fail to provide them with decent male role models.
The Centre for Social Justice, a right-wing think tank that is very supportive of the traditional family model, claims that children of single Mums are more likely to be involved with teenage crime, educational underachievement and depression.
It’s the kind of story that REALLY gets my goat. Because the children of single parents don’t under-achieve BECAUSE they are being raised by feckless single mothers, or because they lack male role models. It’s the old confusion between correlation and causation raising its head again, isn’t it?
The children of single parents often underachieve because single Mums tend to earn less money; tend to be less well educated; and tend to have less opportunities overall.
And that’s what I found myself chatting about last night on Newsnight. As you do.
I have to admit – the notion of appearing on live TV was absolutely terrifying but I comforted myself with the theory that probably almost nobody I know watches Newsnight, so if I made an idiot of myself, at least nobody would notice. And as my Mum said, it’s a life experience, so why not?
The whole thing wasn’t confirmed until just after 8pm, and the BBC had arranged a car to pick me up at 9pm so I took the world’s fastest shower and then Flea helped pick out “your very nicest clothes” for my TV debut.
A quick drive to Salford later, I was being met by a BBC runner who whisked me into a studio, put a microphone under my sweater (top tip for TV appearances: wear two layers so that strange men don’t have to navigate your bra) and Sellotaped a microphone to my ear. Apparently, all I had to do was stare down the camera and pretend I was talking to Jeremy himself. Simple. *cough*
A man in London started chatting to me through the earpiece, checking my name and letting me know I’d be on air in about half an hour, so I busied myself on Facebook, asking my team for some reassuring words. Someone brought me a cup of coffee. I took a few sneaky photos – well, I am a blogger, after all…
Then the voice in my ear suddenly said, “About three minutes, there, Miss Whittle…”
“You’ll be live on screen as soon as this video segment finishes, so prepare yourself.”
The buggers had only changed the running order! I turned off my phone (“You’d be surprised how many people phone you when they see you on live TV,” said the runner) and realised I’d have to wing it without any advice whatsoever. I scribbled some notes on a piece of paper, said a quick prayer, and tried not to look like a complete babbling idiot.
And ten minutes later, I was done!
If you want to see how it went, you can see for yourself below, but I think it went okay – and I did remember to make the point that what’s important here (in my view) is not demonising single Mums but rather looking at how we can support families of all shapes and sizes, and focusing on how we can improve the availability of flexible, high-quality childcare and flexible working to allow single Mums to look after their children AND take on meaningful work that will support their family.
This morning, Flea was very keen to know how I’d got on. I told her someone on Twitter liked my jumper, which she took as a personal compliment, since she picked it out. I tried to explain to her that some people think kids of single Mums don’t do very well, because they are mostly looked about by just one parent.
“If I’d been on Newsnight, I would have told them I am not forlorn in the slightest,” she said, adding: “That’s a fancy word for depression, obviously.”
You know what? I think this child of a single Mum is doing just fine, thanks.