Maman Poulet | Clucking away crookedly through media, politics and life

Guest Cluck: Earthlings, just like you

August 17th, 2011 · 17 Comments · Equality, Recession, Social Policy

I saw the invitation for guest posts on this, one of my favourite, blogs & I asked if I could send in a rant about media treatment of the social welfare system.  The lovely blogger agreed.

Life intervened and the piece which was about half written (in my head) was delayed. Then the UK riots happened and I sat & waited for the inevitable.  It didn’t take long. Commentators & politicians in the media there started blaming ‘single mothers’ & ‘fatherless families’ for the breakdown in morality etc even while the burning & looting continued.  And of course the usual suspects had to follow suit here.  Messrs Myers & Waters erupted as they always do. In case you missed it Fergus Finlay quotes them both in The Irish Examiner on August 16th.

I am really pleased and personally grateful that Fergus Finlay, based on his experience of being the boss in Barnardos, has used his weekly Examiner column to take those journalists to task. It is really important that people in his position do so.

Myers & Waters need to be answered. I barely take them seriously to be honest. But other people do.

The ones I take seriously are the ones who, at times like these feel the need to row in or indeed remain eerily silent while a huge go is had at our families.

So, this is addressed to you:

You appear to genuinely believe that my family is bad for the very fabric of our society.  Some of you are coming from the same place as the two fabled journalists, but many of you seem to feel concern for my children.  Well thanks and all, but my children are just like you and yours. Like most children in one-parent families they have not grown up ‘fatherless’. Let me say though that I know some who have, and others who have been reared by two mammies, and you know what, they’re just like you & yours too. Not from Mars or Venus, we’re earthlings, just like you.

I respect your right and claim it too, to ask hard questions about parenting, about irresponsible parents, of any gender, in all family types.  But actually I don’t need you to focus exclusively on my kind of family.

Whenever I have challenged people who talk in negative terms about lone mothers, I am greeted with howls of ‘Oh Frances, we don’t mean you, for God’s sake!!’ No they mean the ‘feckless teenager’ – less than 3% of us are under 20 by the way. They mean the ones ‘popping out babies every year to get benefits etc’ – 58% of all of us have one child, 32% have two, by the way.  They never mean tragic, but respectable, and has never been a burden to the state, me. They aren’t in the least bit embarrassed by how blatant they are being, by the way.

Well, please don’t differentiate like that on my behalf.  I don’t identify with you & your thinking.  I identify with the mothers & fathers (nobody ever mentions the 26,000 or so Dads rearing children alone) who have ended up like me rearing children on their own, but in the most difficult of living circumstances.  The ones people really blame for the riots. Who, like me, worry about the impact of their family situation on their children, as Fergus Finlay describes, but have poverty thrown into the mix as well.

Our families, all of us, especially those in poverty, need you to stop and think about your motivations & concerns. We need you to consider the language you use about our families.  We don’t want to be treated like laboratory specimens for your personal sociological study.

If you want to help, then the next time someone makes a negative or patronising remark about us, please speak up for us: our diversity, our ordinariness. Yes we can claim children who grew up to be Barack Obama and several other Nobel winning geniuses. But look around you. Myers & Waters are right, we’re everywhere. Ordinary mortals, rearing our kids, just like you.

Or get yourself acquainted with some facts & figures about our families. There are plenty on the CSO website or on

Or better still when the time comes, and it looks like it will, for the poorest of our families to take another social welfare cut, write or ring your TD to express your genuine concern about this. 65% of children living in poverty do so in our families, by the way.

Frances Byrne, writing in a personal capacity, is the CEO of OPEN and the very proud mother of two children who are just like your sons/daughters/grandchildren/nieces/nephews/cousins/ friends/neighbours.


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