Walking away from bairns should be shameful, so why isn’t it?


Rhona Cunningham wonders why so many parents are allowed to walk away from their kids without a backward glance

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2nd February 2016 by TFN Guest 7 Comments

Rhona Cunningham

Rhona Cunningham

I was in a mum’s house today, accompanying a support worker on a home visit. The mum moved in just before Christmas and borrowed a table top cooker from us to make her Christmas dinner. She has three bairns, and once they go to school in the morning, if she has nowhere to go, she goes to bed and stays there till they come home. She says it's cosy, and it saves money on the heating.

There’s no carpet in the living room, only a few pieces of well-used furniture and a bucket on the floor to catch the metronomic drips from a leak in the roof. The mum is looking forward to our volunteers coming in March to paint the walls, maybe then she can get a carpet laid. Until then the tension with the downstairs neighbour, who is pretty miffed at the noise three kids can make on the wooden floor, will continue. "But what can I do?" she asks.

Her kids are involved in all sorts of things. The youngest of the three girls is in the majorettes but not at a competitive level as her mum can't afford any extra costs like outfits or travel to competitions. The local leisure centre has been a godsend, and the friends she has made at Fife Gingerbread groups are a life saver. She is about to sign up to become a volunteer and explore hospitality at a local open day as a possible route for employment.

Culturally we need to start the conversation about the legal and moral obligation to provide for children. Walking away should be shameful.

The mum smiles as she talks of depression. She speaks of fears that her children would be taken from her if she was honest about how much they take care of each other around the house. It’s not uncommon for the bairns to do some cooking and shopping when she can’t bring herself to get out of bed.

Despite this bleak picture, it’s clear that the mum is a cheery, friendly person, but she describes herself as having no confidence at all. Yet only a few years ago she moved 500 miles away from her family and friends – just her and the three girls – so her bairns could grow up in streets that aren't overrun by gangs and are knife free. She says her children are happy here – they like the freedom.

No sign of the bairns dad though. No emotional support, no financial support, no contact. The subject of any form of maintenance from him is not even on her radar. Not even an option. “There’s no point – I won’t get anything”.

As far as this mum is concerned she is solely responsible for the love, care and provision of her bairns. She is responsible for the roof over their head, the clothes on their back and the food on the table. The sad thing is; her attitude towards maintenance is accurate. She is spot on.

As the system stands it is stacked in favour of the absent parent walking away; that can't be fair or just…can it? Right now, she is the one with the label – lone parent with three bairns.  She’s the one that receives scowls and judgements from passers-by. She’s the one that is assessed for benefits and she’s the one frightened that the system will take her bairns from her.

Culturally we need to start the conversation about the legal and moral obligation to provide for children. Walking away should be shameful. Bairns should come first. So for the sake of the thousands of parents and their bairns that are living in this situation, we need to start that conversation right now. Are you up for it?

Rhona Cunningham is strategic manager of Fife Gingerbread. It is currently examining the effectiveness of the statutory services that are designed to ensure child maintenance is paid by absent parents.

2nd February 2016 by John Garrioch


2nd February 2016 by Lisa Thomson

This is a societal issue where absent parents who do support the family they have left are seen as saints and the main parent should be grateful for any support given. In my case standing up and voicing my belief that both myself and my ex love our child equally and therefore coparent her is seen as odd. I find this reaction to us finding an amicable situation for our child to happily thrive and learn how to build and maintain relationships very sad indeed.

3rd February 2016 by Amanda

I was this girl once, then like her, i asked Gingerbread and The Gateway Project for help. I wasnt ashamed, but i was scared and felt weak. I wanted to get out there and let my kids enjoy and explore different things. With my oldests been a deadbeat 'sperm donor' i pottered on best as i can, no help from him financially and, well with Child Support Agency, where do u start. Seven yeeears i fought for what was rightfully my daughters and now, ive given up all hope. I leave him to raise and provide for a child thats not his and 2 he went on to have, while me, i get by because i have to, because im their main carer, their main provider and because i chose to have my kids smile more needs done on this matter, not fair on mothers like this that suffer at the hands of men like that, and vice versa with men raising their kids and its the mother..x

3rd February 2016 by Antoinette O Sullivan

I have brought up my three children with no help from their father. My youngest is just turning 16 and I have a 19 and 23 year old. It is constant struggle. People don't realise how isolated a single parent is. Constant money worries as stress. I went back to college and got a ba honours degree and I still can't find work. I am made feel degraded and not good enough. Men and women who walk away should be made response for a child's upbringing. It is their child's right. No one person should have to table all the responsibility.

3rd February 2016 by Morag White

If absent parents take no responsibility for their children, they should have no parental rights. After all, you can end up in court for not having a TV licence, or other trivial offences when this is a far greater social obligation, and yet people can walk away leaving so much trauma in their wake. I am incensed by society's attidute to children left in this situation.

4th February 2016 by bill nicol

Does Rhona know if the father and extended family were consulted about the five hundred mile move by her client? As this could be part of the cause of the breakdown in contact between them.

4th February 2016 by Rhona Cunningham

Thank you all for your comments - it would appear from your responses that you are all willing to take up the challenge and begin the conversation.Lisa it sounds to me like you and your ex have been able to put yourselves to the side and work through a lot of difficulties, and think of your children as the number one priority- no mean feat and I admire and congratulate you - you are right it would be great if this was the norm!Bill, I'm sorry I'm not in a position to comment on the detail of this family... what really interests me is how we begin to talk about the various dimensions and the impact of this situation and begin a change in our current culture - so that the bairns do come first.