8 photos that capture the challenges and strength of single-parent families

Polly Braden’s new exhibition, Holding The Baby, is an empowering look into the lives of seven single-parent families facing austerity.

Families come in all shapes and sizes. Long gone are the days of a nuclear family being the norm. In fact, according to Gingerbread in 2021, there are around 1.8 million single parents in the UK, accounting for nearly a quarter of all British families. And, almost 90% of single parents are women.

Based on images and interviews by the journalist and writer Sally Williams, photographer Polly Braden’s new body of work, Holding The Baby, pays tribute to these women and families.

Alongside these images and interviews, the photography exhibition, which aims to highlight the lives of seven single-parent families facing austerity, will include a word collage created by fiction writer Claire-Louise Bennett, with the piece including reflections from single parents as well as black and white portraits of objects of significance, taken by Braden.

The exhibition is set to open at the Museum of the Home in London this June.

From women who have left abusive marriages and ended up going to university, to foster carers who have become single parents via sperm donors, Braden showcases the experiences, challenges and undeniable strength of single-parent families. What’s more, in spite of economic pressures, unaffordable childcare and benefit sanctions, the exhibition makes it clear that single-parent families succeed in giving their children a sense of home and belonging.

The exhibition is the first instalment of the Museum’s ‘Behind The Door’ campaign, a two-year long campaign in partnership with the London Homelessness Collective, to challenge people’s perceptions of homelessness for women and families.

As part of the Museum of the Home’s new contemporary programme, aiming to rethink how we live, the exhibition will then go on to tour to Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool and Arnolfini in Bristol.

A single parent herself, Braden began to want to challenge and unpack the biases inflicted upon single parents. “After becoming a single parent myself I started to explore some of the prejudices leading to policies that scrutinise and punish the parent who has stayed,” she says.

Despite these families experiencing a great deal of hardship, Braden believes that their attitudes are something that we can all learn from. “The people I’ve met in the making of this work constantly show their sense of adventure and their resilience transcends the often-difficult situations they face,” she adds.

See some of the images below. 

  • Barbeline and Elijah

    Barbeline and Elijah, London 2021.
  • Fran with Dominic and Penny

    Fran with Dominic and Penny, Shropshire 2021.
  • Caroline sorting out receipts for her work as a foster carer

    Caroline sorting out receipts for her work as a foster carer, Warwickshire 2021.
  • Barbeline on her way to a meeting with a possible investor in her business

    Barbeline on her way to a meeting with a possible investor in her business
  • Gemma with Freya, Jack and Elsie

    Gemma with Freya, Jack and Elsie
  • Jana with Yaana

    Jana with Yaana
  • Caroline and Bella

    Caroline and Bella
  • Charmaine with Esme and Kai

    Charmaine with Esme and Kai

Polly Braden: Holding The Baby will open at the Museum of the Home 12 June 2021. Opening times are Tuesday – Sunday from 
10am – 5pm. Entry tickets are free and can be purchased at www.museumofthehome.org.uk.

Images: Polly Braden

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