Most parents, especially those with young children, will agree: the pandemic has been and continues to be a multifaceted challenge that requires a lot of adapting and adjustment. It has shone a spotlight on the importance of the care-taking sector and has stalled the careers of working parents, especially mothers. However, one parenting group, in particular, deserves to be recognized and appreciated—single parents.
Photographers Polly Braden and Harry Borden aim to do just that with their respective projects that reveal the complexities and tenderness of solo parenting.
Harry Borden’s book, Single Dad, was published this spring and seeks to break down the out-of-date notions of masculinity within single fathers that generally imagine them as the strong and resilient backbone of the family who works to support the family, but is emotionally distant.
Through his photography, Borden attempts to capture the loss that each dad had sustained, but with it the renewed sense of purpose that they found through becoming the main caretaker of their children.
One of the portraits in the book is of Neil Young and his children Kiwa and Ngaire. His partner, Jeng, died in 2015, and since then he has had to learn how to fill his new role as a single parent.
“I got through the first two years on adrenaline and bloody-mindedness,” he says. “I kept getting floored, but I’d get up again, even though a voice said: ‘Stay down, you’re beat!’”
While Borden’s book highlights the lives of single fathers, Polly Braden’s photo exhibition, Holding the Baby, focuses on single parents of both genders. One of the parents in Braden’s exhibit is Jana, a mother of two who escaped an arranged marriage with her two children, Yaana and Isaac. After fleeing in a taxi just after midnight with nothing but a car seat, milk bottle, and some of her children’s clothes, Jana reflects on what she’s had to do to get her family where they are now. “Two years ago, if someone had told me I’d be living in London by myself, taking care of my children by myself, and had a place at university, I would have never believed it. My old self would have never recognized who I am today.”
The importance of elevating the voices and stories of single parents is paramount. UK campaign group Single Parent Rights found in a report that 80 percent of single parents experience some type of discrimination, while nearly 60 percent report experiencing employment discrimination.
To address these issues, the report recommends that single parents are added to the Equality Act as a “protected characteristic,” which is a move that is supported by 96 percent of the 1,083 single parents who were surveyed. It also says suggests tackling discrimination by making flexible working the default in all jobs.
Young says that while he’s had good experiences with some employers, not all of them have been accommodating. “In the workplace, you worry that you will be seen as weak if you let on that you’re not doing so well. But it doesn’t mean you’re no longer capable of doing great work; it’s just that you need a little support and understanding.”
These campaigns are essential to one day securing equal rights for single parents, but in the meanwhile, uplifting single parent voices and allowing their stories to be shared through art and photography will increase public awareness and empathy.