Myself and the little guy have been laid up recently with adenovirus, and in my case, this three-week-long illness has wiped me out. The other day, all I was up to was moving from bed to the sofa, and snuggling under a blanket with the remote control and the kid. I flicked between Disney Jr and CBeebies to catch the programmes I knew he liked best, with the occasional stopover in Catch Up to download some extra treats.
Most of all, I wondered whether the day and night he’d spend with his dad that weekend would be enough for me to properly recover and feel human again.
I’ll admit: I’m an awful patient, and when I’m ill, I get grumpy. Little things which may mildly prod my nerves on a good day can get right under my skin when I’m feeling rubbish. I get obstinate. I moan.
As I sat watching programme after programme, it struck me that in not one of these fictional families could there be found a situation like mine. Every single programme which portrayed a family had the standard, nuclear, mum-dad-kid-or-two. I’m not really for positive discrimination, but as I watched episode after episode of apparent domestic bliss I got increasingly pissed off.
Why are there no single parents on the programmes my child watches? Is he going to ask me one day why his experience of life isn’t the same as all of these leading characters he has come to know and love?
Whether it’s the Calistos in Miles from Tomorrow, Peppa, the Hugglemonsters, Topsy and Tim, Tig, Katy Morag, or the children from Grandpa in my Pocket, there’s nobody like me there, and there’s nobody like Chael. There are of course representations in soap operas of single parents, but they are just that: operas. They are caught up in feuds and have money troubles and tearaway children and even more tornaway hair, and it isn’t real either, and it gets on my wick that I can’t connect to any of these people. Where are the hard-working, seemingly normal, successfully coparenting people like me who largely and predominantly cope?
I have to hand it to some programmes, though. Melody only has the little girl of the title and her mum. There’s no mention of anyone else, and there’s no need. Charlie and Lola intentionally only portrays the child characters – it explores family relationships and such without the in-your-face normality that is presented in Peppa Pig‘s blissful world of muddy puddles and rolling around.
Naturally, it’s not just single parents. Where are the families with two dads, or carers, or coping with disabilities? They are even more hidden, and worse, when we actually portray such things there is an unjustified public outcry.
But when a quarter of families with dependent children in the UK are headed up by single parents (statistic courtesy of Gingerbread), you would think that a strong, capable single parent would be on our screens.
Of course, maybe all of us are holding out for that ever-so-modern fairytale as portrayed in Sofia the First, where I can only hope to meet and woo the King of an enchanted kingdom, who also happens to be a single dad. Because, naturally, all us single parents dream of somehow recreating that perfect family unit we failed so spectacularly at holding together the first time around. We couldn’t possibly be happy and satisfied with our family unit, just exactly the way it is.