So, who has an easier time of it? Married mum or single mum?
We give Debby Armstrong and Siobhan McGarry get a George at Asda makeover and start a debate.
They share a passion for fashion, especially when it doesn’t cost a fortune and can be popped into the trolley when doing the weekly shop.
But is that where the similarity ends for Debby Armstrong, wife of former Northern Ireland 1982 World Cup legend Gerry, and Siobhan McGarry, single mum of three and Downtown presenter?
Does Debby find that having a husband in the house eases the workload of childcare? Is Siobhan constantly under pressure as she juggles bringing up her young daughter with a busy career?
Actually, as we found out when we chatted to them during a makeover by George at Asda ahead of its first ever standalone show this Thursday to open West Coast Cooler Belfast Fashionweek, there is no straightforward answer. As Debby explains, her husband is often away with work, while Siobhan can count on vital back-up from her close extended family. Still, both ladies agreed on one thing — both loved the new George collection. George Davies, the genius behind Next in the 1990s, has recreated the magic with his eponymous label George at ASDA, known for being on-trend at great prices.
Supermarket chic is hugely popular —last year sales grew at more than double the rate of high street fashion chains. Of course, competitive pricing is key — the average item of clothing in the UK costs £9.95, compared to £4.21 in the supermarket.
‘My mum, dad and sister help me out’
Siobhan McGarry (46) lives in Lurgan and has two grown-up sons, Ruairi (26) and Eolann (23), and a daughter Mainie (10). She says:
Balancing a career as a working mum is tough. You are always trying to keep all the plates in the air, but I get a lot of support from my family. Like all the other mums whose parents are still around, I depend on the grandparents, who keep everything going and I have help from my sister Mary and her husband who live close by.
My parents, Bridie and Frank McNeice, are both 78, but they’re great. They helped out with the boys as well, picking them up from school. Because I’m a freelance I work different hours but mostly I manage to be with Mainie for most mornings and evenings.
It’s still a juggling act, though. My sister Mary has one son in his 30s who lives in Scotland. Mainie was named after Mary — it’s the way we pronounced her name when we were small and couldn’t say it. She and Mary are very close and she stays with her when I’m a bit late. I’m very, very fortunate, especially when I think of all the single mums who are isolated and don’t have that sort of support network.
When it comes to discipline with the older ones I can still talk to their father. Although he’s not in my life, it doesn’t mean he’s not in theirs. He remains a steadying influence and if I did have a problem, I’d consult him. In fact, they’re very good children, and very healthy children too, so I’ve never had to take days off if they were sick.
Of course, the problems are not when they’re younger but when they’re older. I’ll be asking one of my sons ‘Could you clean your room?’ ans realise I’m talking to a man not a child. I’m like a broken record until they do what I want.
The great thing about having a daughter is being able to talk about fashion. I think I am at the stage that I know what suits me, rather than following trends. Although Mainie says I don’t follow fashion trends, I set them!
I have made some fashion faux pas, though.
I have lots of dresses for work. You just throw them on with a pair of boots or heels, and they will take you from work until the evening. There is no need to bother with trying to match tops and bottoms. My wardrobe is full of dresses.
When I’m not at work, you’ll find me in my trackie bottoms going for a walk in Lurgan Park. I’ve never really been a jeans person — although I do like skinny coloured jeans.
I love black but this time of the year I like to get into purples and blues and see some brighter colours. Mainie and I were in Glasgow recently for a weekend and I noticed she was just like me at that age.
I was looking for things for myself, and she said ‘Let’s go and look in the children’s department.’ I ended up with bags of stuff for her and nothing for myself. Now I know what my mother had to put up with.”
Debby: ‘I’m a softy while Gerry is big on manners and respect’
Debby Armstrong (37) is a make-up artist who lives in Belfast with her husband Gerry, the Sky Sports presenter, and their two daughters, Caitlin (13) and Marianna (six). She says:
It would be very difficult to be a single mum in my view. I watched my mum Marion do it with the three of us, and she had to be good and bad cop together. My parents split up when I was very young and then my dad Ian lived in England. He was a hotelier and we spent the summers with him in Chester, which we loved. He also came over to see us at home.
Although it worked well, it was difficult, too, as in my era, most families had parents who were together.
Of the two of us, I think I come across as the soft one and Gerry’s the bad cop. Well, actually, he’s very soft too, but he has strong views on respect and manners. He’s also very big on us eating together as a family round the table.
When Gerry commutes to London, I sometimes feel like a single parent, and it’ll just be the three of us for a while. He’s away for two to four days a week, but Caitlin, who’s a teenager now, and Marianna are pretty good. They don’t take advantage. In fact, when I came back home this morning, they’d washed the floors, vacuumed the carpets and emptied the dishwasher. My six-year-old had vacuumed upstairs, which was impressive.
In fact, I only realise how good the girls are when I see other people’s children answering their parents back! It’s very important to both Gerry and me that our daughters aren’t spoilt. I hate hearing spoilt children. And our girls don’t actually realise how high profile Gerry is, except when people ask him for an autograph. When Marianna was younger, she said ‘Why are they asking dad to write his name?’
Of course, Caitlin is aware of her father’s sporting fame now because boys in her class at school tell her ‘Your dad’s a hero’. But the younger one takes it in her stride. When my mother died, I was just 18 and I lived with my older sister, Dawn. I went into modelling and worked for Alison Clarke, who really supported me. She gave me lots of work so I could make enough money — I even worked in the office of her modelling agency for a bit, and at 18 I took out my first mortgage.
When I had the children, I was sad my mum wasn’t there but Gerry’s late mum was fantastic. When I came back from the hospital, she was there.
Having girls makes shopping fun, but I’m somebody who loves a bargain and I don’t go shopping unless I need something. I love Primark for bargains and High Street fashion from Zara and River Island. ASDA is great for the girls’ clothes, and I love the dress from its George label that I’m wearing today. It’s so expensive to keep buying things when they grow so quickly and a pair of Clark’s shoes is about £40.
Marianna always knows what she wants — and doesn’t want — to wear. And Caitlin is into Hollister sweats.
My style is sleek and sophisticated. I’m casual at work in flats and jeans but I glam up when I go out and Caitlin and Marianna give me the greatest compliments.
I was out with the girls last week and they said ‘Mummy, you look so gorgeous and your make-up’s perfect.’”