So, part of this blog is about being a single mum. Well, a single parent – it’s not always the mums who raise the kids, there are a lot of guys out there going through this too. There are loads of sites and blogs about single parenthood and I’ve read loads of them, but they never quite fit with my experiences so always leave me wanting to hug the people writing them, there are some awful examples of human behaviour out there. But I always feel slightly dissatisfied because I’m different – but I still need support too.
I don’t have an evil ex, I work full time so I’m not financially worried, my work environment is full of people I like who are really supportive, and I have a, reasonably, well behaved toddler who sees her dad on a regular basis. I am extremely lucky, I do know this. I have friends who have been through worse, who are going through worse, but their worries are not always tied to being a single parent. Childcare is not always equal in married couples. Money worries are not selective, they happen in couples too. Work environments are not always supportive, I know this from experience. But being a single parent is still damn hard work. Just like being a parent is damn hard work.
Being a parent is hard work full stop. Would it be easier if I had someone around? Probably, and maybe one day I’ll find out life is much easier when you’re in a supportive pair. I’ve never really had that though, I’ve been a single parent for most of L’s life, it’s normal for me.
That doesn’t mean it wasn’t damn hard at first, whether it’s your choice or not, you fall to pieces. And then you pick yourself up and carry on, because there’s a small person who needs you more than anyone else in the world and they matter so much more than any emotional turmoil you might be going through. It takes a long time and a gut-wrenching amount of strength that you never knew you had access to. There are plenty of inconvenient emotional outbursts to get through and phases when you’re completely numb and can’t work out how to interact with anyone. And one day you come out the other side and realise you survived, that you’re ok. It happens sooner than you think it can, even though the journey there is pretty dark.I’m not about to tell my story of how I got here, that is private and not for public consumption. It’s a long and difficult journey which I survived, but when are these things ever otherwise. One thing I should make clear is that I am completely OK about being a single mum now.
Actually I’m better than OK; I’m happier and more content with who I am, where I am and what I’m doing than I think I ever have been. Sure I have moments where I panic and wonder what I’m doing, if I’m getting it right or if I’m screwing up in some way. Well, I have anxiety so this is pretty normal – my head is a busy place to be. More of that one day, but not yet. But mostly, things are on a pretty even keel around here.
But it doesn’t mean that being a single parent isn’t still really damn hard at times. I don’t have family nearby, my nearest relative is 3 hours away. Yes I have friends, but they have their own families and lives, so while they’re a very supportive bunch, they’re supportive by text/internet rather than in person most of the time. I am doing this by myself so I will do what it takes to make that easier on myself.
- Not having anyone to help with the majority of nursery/school drop-offs and pick-ups – and if you run late because your toddler suddenly needed the loo or refuses to brush their teeth or put their shoes on then you’re running late and there is nothing you can do about it.
- Not being able to take a break when you’re sick/injured. Parents are on duty 24/7, we all know this, but at least in a pair you can take it in turns when the lergy strikes. Not so, if you’re by yourself. It’s even more fun if you injure yourself. I managed to get a grade 2 sprain on my ankle last winter, I actually thought I’d broken it for a while – yes, it hurt. Still got L to nursery though. We had a role-reversal, and L helped me up the stairs for a while. Yes, she is adorable.
- When you get a ‘break’, because your child is with the other parent, you miss them like crazy and spend the entire time feeling like you’re missing a limb or have forgotten something. It’s horrible, even though you know they’re having a great time and you know you need a rest.
- Wondering what would happen in an emergency – you have just the one pair of hands to deal with your child and call for help. The answer is call for help, agreed, but your instinct is to deal with and protect your child. Hopefully I’ll never have to pit instinct against logic like this. Logic vs Instinct is one hell of a battle.
- Not having anyone to make you dinner if you’re stuck upstairs with a stubborn toddler past their bedtime; you are staying hungry until they’re asleep, end of story. Same applies to bathroom breaks…
- Not being able to shower in the morning, at least until they’re much older. This one makes people think you smell, which I find amusing, it’s like everyone has forgotten how to wash when there’s no shower! I don’t smell, of course I don’t, I understand the concept of hygiene. But there’s also the curious, ‘why not?’ implicit in some looks. Well, for all non-parents: showering with an inquisitive toddler is like showering with a small monkey who wants to join in with everything you do but doesn’t quite have the balance to stand upright in the slippery shower yet wants to help you wash anyway, then insists you get the toys out and sit down and play and is prepared to stamp and cry if they can’t, then they complain they’re cold and want to get out. And that’s just in the first minute. It takes ages and can you imagine how wet the bathroom would get?! No thanks. I also get asked why I don’t shower at night – well yes she almost certainly wouldn’t wake up, but what about the baby monitor coming into contact with the steam? Those things aren’t cheap and aren’t waterproof. And if I didn’t use it, yes she’d probably be fine for 10 minutes – but what if she’s not? L can go from zero to vomit in 10 seconds flat if she starts coughing. Do I want to be in the shower when that happens? I do not. I’ve had nights where I’ve not even got through washing my hair in the sink before she’s woken up and had to wrap my soapy hair in a towel while get her back to sleep. I’ll pass on the shower thanks, life is easier that way.
- Never getting a full night’s sleep unless they are with the other parent overnight (because you’re the only adult in the house so the ‘one ear open’ approach you develop when they’re babies never goes away). Plus you’re on call if they wake up, aside from that one night they’re with the other parent.
- Being tired. All the time. Sometimes so tired that even coffee doesn’t work. Parenting is a full time job, and the full time job is a full time job. That’s 2 jobs you’re doing, plus attempting to have any kind of life. Something has to give.
- In the evening there are no disagreements about what to do/watch on TV – that remote control is all yours, no negotiation, no running commentary – peace and quiet. Given the level of arguments I’ve had in my life this one is pretty good. But…
- Being alone most evenings. Being a single parent can be a really lonely place. Friends and family are great, and talking to them via phones and the internet is great; but that’s not a cuddle on the sofa or someone simply being there and making you feel safe.
- Getting more ‘I love yous’ and hugs from your child than the other parent and always feeling slightly guilty about that.
- You see all the milestones happen rather than being told.
The biggest problems attached to being a single parent are the perceptions of others, and I’ll cover this another time, but hopefully this post will help you see a little bit of what it’s been like, and what is is now like, from my perspective. But the bulk of single parenthood, for me, is just parenthood with less sleep, less time, no co-conspirator and rather more neurotic fretting. And I’m ok with that.