This isn’t a sympathy post, I’m good with where I am. I’m just having a bit of a moan really. But also I want to share what being a single parent is like, because nobody who’s never been one has any idea. At all. They try, bless them for trying, most people are lovely and do their best to understand. But they trip up on the assumptions society makes about single parents: we’re struggling, we’re broke, we’re constantly fighting with the biological father, and that we need rescuing.
None of those apply. I don’t need rescuing. According to Chinese horoscopes (it is Chinese New Year after all), I am literally the dragon – attempt to rescue me at your peril. I’m not broke, I’m definitely not struggling, and I get on fine with the biological father of my child.
It’s not the parenting side that’s difficult about being a single parent, although goodness knows that’s the most difficult job in the world. But every parent has that, plus the lack of sleep and reaching the end of their tether because children test boundaries. We all have moments of thinking ‘what the hell am I doing?’ and experience the sheer terror that you’re going to screw up your kid. That’s all totally normal, all parents get that, it’s definitely a shared experience. But in a couple you get someone to share life with your kid, or with each other, or simply moan about your day. That’s the bit that’s tough. There is nobody to moan with, the comradery of parenthood is simply gone.
Now, this does also mean no arguments and no smelly socks to deal with, which are a definite plus. But the sheer isolation of a single parent is deafening. And that’s even when you have good friends to moan at a lot.
People saying when partners are away is the same as being a single parent is so frustrating. It’s not, it’s really bloody not. It’s solo parenting for a while. It’s completely different. Their partners are on the end of the phone and they’re coming back. They can say ‘when your father/mother gets home….’ or put off chores they don’t want to do. There is no ‘alone’ in solo parenting when your partner is away. Psychologically this is a massive difference. You don’t feel alone, even when you’re by yourself.
When you’re a single parent, there is nobody coming home, and we are all too aware of this. There are interminable evenings without anyone to cuddle up to, there’s rarely someone to talk to about how crap your day was, there’s nobody there after the kids are asleep. If nobody is free on the end of a phone, I moan to the cat, who really couldn’t give a shit. For single parents this is the norm. Lonely is normal. The isolating loneliness, despite having amazing friends makes life very difficult at times. This is every day, not a couple of weeks. Every damn day you’re alone in what you’re doing.
The concept of ‘free time’ is a weird one. I have loads, I know I say I’ve never got free time, but I do, loads of the stuff, I’d even love to fill it with people sometimes. But my free time is in the evening when L is asleep so I’m not able to leave the house. I don’t have a raft of babysitters and I don’t live anywhere near any of my family, so popping out simply isn’t an option. So as a single parent you have to redefine your ‘free time’ to mean when you can leave the house unaccompanied, and it looks like you’re being awkward because there’s so few points you’re actually available.
To some it can look like you’re too busy to fit anything else in your life and that you aren’t that interested in them (because people find time for those they care about right?) so they think you don’t really want to spend time with them. Which is all nonsense of course, you’re just stuck. Literally. You’d love to spend time with them but there’s a sleeping tiny person who relies on you upstairs. So you say you don’t have any free time, but it’s a total lie, you have loads of free time, there’s only so many chores after all, it’s just you’re stuck at home and can’t go out that’s all. Phones work well, people should use them more. Random visits work as well, but the dress code involves pyjamas.
People don’t tend to understand what they’ve not directly experienced. It’s nobody’s fault, and most people try so hard to be lovely, supportive and understanding. But we are the sum total of our experiences at the end of the day, and we all know that we can’t understand another person’s life unless we literally walk in their shoes. All non-parents have no clue how to raise children (although some seem to think they do), sadly they don’t come with an instruction manual. All parents wonder if they have no clue as well, we’ve already worked out we’re flying blind with this parenting gig. We’re all totally winging it here, but we’ve worked out we’re winging it for the most part and as long as there is wine and coffee, we figure we’ll get through this.
And there’s no set template for how to navigate becoming and then existing as a single parent. But one thing is for damn sure, you’ve got no idea what you’re made of until you try.
I thought I was pretty good at surviving stuff, I’d gone through plenty of crap and somehow made it out the other side ok, I would even have said I was doing pretty damn good. Then I became a single parent, and that was hell. Not only was it hell, but I had no option to fall apart and take a break from life, as I had done with every other breakup I’ve been through. My formula for coping was never an option. I was in the worst break up of my life and I had to stay in one piece, not only that I had to fight for what I knew was right. Because there was a small person who demanded my entire attention, all my emotional resources and stripped me of sleep while the situation I was in stripped me of what felt like my sanity.
I have never experienced anything like it, and I never want to go through that again. It was constantly wanting to break down but not being able to, constantly having to put another person before your pain, needing to somehow function properly, to somehow keep working, to keep your life together. When all I wanted was to hide under the duvet.
Yes, things worked out for the best. Yes, I’m doing great now. Yes, I got through it, of course I did. But it’s a long dark journey and it took so much support and counselling for me to make it. And the shit just keeps coming. Every day is hard. Every day is minus someone to come home to. Every day you’re the only adult in the house, with all the responsibility, with all the worries, with all the bills and with nobody to share it with. It doesn’t matter how good at this parenting gig I am, how good I am at keeping my life together, it’s exhausting at a whole new level I’ve never experienced before.
I’ve said I’m tired of drama, I’ve said that a lot, and I am tired of emotional upheaval. But I’m mostly tired of this, the nothing, the endless hamster wheel of single parenthood, the lonely, the sheer endless space that comes from nobody being there. And only single parents know how that feels. You don’t get to fall apart, you have to be strong, all the time, there is simply no other choice.
This isn’t a blog looking for sympathy. I don’t want that. I kick ass as a single parent and I’m well aware I’m somehow doing a great job at it. I’m not convinced I know how I’m achieving that, but knowing I am is enough. And I would sure as hell rather be single than lonely in a miserable relationship. Those suck. I’d rather it be just me and my girl, dancing round the kitchen and watching Tangled for the millionth time just because. We’re a team. She’s got a good role model and I get told I’m ‘the best mummy ever in the world’. No, I don’t want sympathy, I have a good life. But sometimes some company that doesn’t demand purple crackers would be nice. Some company that listens and doesn’t make any demands, who just wants me to be me. Oh and a nap would be completely awesome of course.
So for anyone who’s ever said they’re ‘being a single parent for a week’, please don’t. The term you want is solo parenting. We know you don’t mean any harm by your comments and you’re making light of a situation you think you understand. We don’t take offence, we know you don’t understand. But it does make us both cross and very sad. Because you’re not a single parent, and we know you wouldn’t ever wish to be.
The single parent gig is hard and it’s lonely, there is no way around that. Don’t wish for it. You don’t want it.