New photography projects by Polly Braden and Harry Borden celebrate the complexity and beauty of being a single parent

The image of the single dad is often distorted by out-of-date notions of masculinity: the strong and resilient backbone of the family, the working father, the emotionally distant dad.

Harry Borden is a portrait photographer and was once a divorced father of four children. This book, which was published in spring, shows the tenderness as well as the vulnerabilities of 48 single dads. Each one has had a loss in some way and has struggled adjusting to being the main caregiver. However, with the support of the children, they have found a renewed sense if purpose.

Neil Young is seen with his children Kiwa & Ngaire in the above photo. He became a solo parent when his partner, Jeng, died in 2015.

Young said that she had made it through two years without adrenaline or bloody-mindedness. “I got floored a lot, but I kept going, even though the voice in my head said, “Stay down, you’re dead!”

While the pandemic was difficult for all parents, single parents have found it to be nearly impossible. While Bordens book casts light on single fathers, up to 90 per cent of single parent households are headed up by women.

Holding Baby is a photo exhibition created by Polly Braden. It shows what single parents can experience. The Guardian’s review says that the exhibition shows “the imagination of single-parent family members; unique bonds between parent & child, forged in freedom, love – and exhaustion.”

The exhibit features stories such Jana s, who is a mother of two and fled an arranged marriage with her children. She said that she took Yaana’s car seat, milk bottles, and some of her children’s clothes and called a taxi at ten in the morning. Two decades ago, I wouldn’t believe what someone told me. I was living alone in London, taking care my children and having a university place. My former self would not have recognised me today.”

Jana, a single mother, and her children Isaac & Yaana. Image: Polly Braden

Single Parent Rights, a UK-based campaign group, released a report revealing that 88% of single parents experienced some kind of discrimination. Nearly 60% also suffered discrimination at work. __S.23__

Young, Harry Borden’s single dad, said, “I’ve had some amazing, compassionate employers but not always.” “In the workplace, you worry that you will be seen as weak if you let on that you’re not doing so well. However, it does not mean you cannot do great work. All you need is some support and understanding.

Although research on single-parent households isn’t always positive, Ruth Talbot, founder and CEO of Single Parents Rights sees the pandemic in a way to break down the barriers that they face.
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One of the key recommendations in the report is to include single parents as a protected characteristic to the Equality Act. This recommendation was supported by 96% out of 1,083 single mothers they surveyed. It also makes recommendations to tackle discrimination, such as making flexible working the default in all jobs.

The group sent an open letter to Liz Truss on March 1st, 2020’s Single Parents Day. It requested that Truss convene a meeting to address the discrimination facing single parents. Moreover, their report was ‘welcomed’ by Caroline Noakes, the chair of the Commons women and equalities select committee.

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Campaigners are still fighting for equal rights. Art projects can help single parents be more visible and show empathy.

Young’s children love My Neighbour Totoro. The mother is in a hospital and has a feeling she may never come home. Young described the film’s wild and surreal imagery as a reaction to unimaginable losses. “It’s a reminder to me that there is still beauty, joy and hope in this world, waiting on you,” Young said. “I dreamed once that Jeng was a bird. I was on a ship alone with the children, running through the waves. Although we had to let her go, she is now flying above us.”

From 12 June to 29 Aug 2021, Holding the baby will be on display at the Museum of Home London. It will then be followed by the Open Eye Gallery Liverpool and Bristol’s Arnolfini. Hoxton Mini Press publishes Harry Borden’s Single Dad.

Main picture: Harry Borden