I posted my very first blog post a few days back under the category of single parenting. I mentioned in it that I have previously given little thought to what it means to be a single parent, or the impact it has had on my parenting experience, so recently acknowledging this as a ‘thing’ has been interesting. In fact, I found writing it quite cathartic and, bizarrely, I later realised that I had written that blog post 8 years to the day after become a single mum. How weird is that, that I happened to write my first post on single parenting on that very day?!
Long story short, it got me thinking about the past 8 years and just how far we have come, my girl and I. Those early days were scary; in fact, if I was to admit it to myself: really bloody scary, but, like most things, you somehow get through. However, if I could go back and change anything I would have chosen to be kinder to myself along the way. So, here’s the advice I wish I could have given my younger, Mum self, or to anyone else just starting down this path:
- Know that your journey is yours and yours alone. Don’t compare and certainly don’t contrast, ‘cos that is a sure fire way to get a whole heap acquainted with a mental health issue like anxiety (believe me, I now know). ‘Comparison is the thief of joy‘ is a phrase I have only recently stumbled across and, boy, does it resonate.
- Learn to say ‘no’ and let it go. Don’t apologise for life giving you lemons and you not always managing to turn it in to bloody lemonade. Sometimes you will just be too tired, too broke or minus another adult pair of hands to say yes to things that other people can do with greater ease. That was, and is, still a hard one for me. I have worried way too much about whether I am the friend that is getting the reputation for ‘letting people down’ ‘cos I have to cancel plans….again. But, heck, if I have no-one to watch my child it does not matter how much I might value my plans it ain’t gonna happen, whether I like it or not. See point 1.
- Try to accept that you will have to pedal twice as hard to get there half as fast. By this, I don’t mean ‘settle’ and sit in a corner licking wounds. Let it fuel motivation but know that your successes may be different to other people’s. I made some hard choices after becoming a single mum, put myself back though uni and have progressed in a career that is tough. Yet too many times I have looked around me and felt so frustrated I could burst that I don’t have the same nice car, house, holidays that a lot of my friends have. I have learnt – and am still learning – that a one income family will be hard pushed to ever compete with a two income family (or a one income family with no dependents); end of. And just because I cannot keep up with the Jones’ does not mean that I am not successful, financially or otherwise. I bloody am. See point 1…again.
- Get a sense of humour (if you are lacking one). Someone I know once said that because they are married with two children and I am single with one, it equates to the ‘same’. Ahahhahhhahhhahhahhhaaaaa. I’ll just leave that one there (with a quick salute to those single parents rocking it with more than one child. Huge respect!).
- Believe. If you are putting half as much energy into parenting as you are to beating yourself up over it then your child will turn out fab. Ignore research that tells you that your child is X times more likely to [insert something negative here] because they are the product of a “broken home” blah blah bloody blah. No-one needs that level of negativity in their life. I truly believe I became much more of a ‘conscious’ parent when I became single. That’s not to say I am a better parent than I was before, I just think the weight of that responsibility was felt massively and I am forever mindful of it since.
- As outlined, the Jones’ are in a different league to me but I am still rich (#so blessed #makingmemories #twat). I mean, I don’t really feel rich a lot of the time ‘cos of, you know, bills. Plus spending the amount of undiluted time with your child as a single parent does can make anyone dependent on the gin but I am so lucky and proud of my girl when I look at her and think: “I bloody did that ON MY OWN!”. Credit where it’s due. I say.
- Reconcile the shit times. I’m gonna let you into a little secret. I have always been obsessed with taking photos of Moo, and have thousands. In her younger years I stored them in files based on her monthly age. In the electronic file from age 1-2 years I have 12 little files of monthly photos with each little file showing an accordion of photos from within, except one. Month 22 is completely empty. Not one single photo. That was the month I separated from Moo’s father. The absence of any photo that month says more to me than anything I could put into words about how utterly emotional that time was. Even 8 years on, that empty file still gets me when I see it. But life goes on.
- In writing this blog I have realised something else. The photo below is of my very worst parenting moment. I remember it visibly. Moo asked to play with glitter and like a dick I said yes (clearly, this was a time when I was doing everything I could to be the ‘perfect’ parent to cover up the emotional black hole I was feeling). I stupidly left her alone for a minute and when I returned there was a shit storm of green glitter everywhere. I lost the plot and a whole load of transference went down. That day I vividly recall shouting at my baby and making her cry over bloody glitter. I remember feeling that I was becoming out of control so I actually put myself on the naughty step and called my mum. I scared myself that day and after kissing Moo a million times and hugging the love back into our situation I took this photo to remind myself of that moment to ensure I never went there again (tbf I bollock her all the time but never did go that OTT again). Here it is:
That photo still makes my heart hurt as I hated seeing her so sad and knowing I did that. But what I have realised in writing this is that this picture was taken within the first month of becoming a single parent. I mean the glitter doesn’t even look that bad now but I’d just cleaned the house, it was all over the floor and it was all in her hair and face (which is enough to drive anyone to the edge) and I was clearly suffering at that time. So try to be kind to yourself and allow yourself to have perspective. Forgive yourself those moments when your own heart is hurting and your parenting is less than ‘insta-perfect’ (see point 1 again, ha!).
8 years on and I can honestly say that I am now so used to the craziness that is single parent life that I have forgotten any other way. And I love it. I bloody love it for Moo and I are the happiest little unit and we function so well. She’s doing great and I’m not a complete alcoholic yet so #winning! But, please, if you are reading this as a parent who has more recently become a single parent than I have, don’t think you’ll never get to this stage because you will, and you probably already are (but just don’t realise it yet ‘cos you’re too distracted crying over the Jones’ insta account).
I still have many a day (read that as most days) when I am frazzled, or when I forget to do something important (not because I am negligent, just because there are too many damn balls in the air all the time: ok, ok, I admit, I very recently forgot to return the consent form for the flu jab so I think Moo was the only child in her class who didn’t get it done. Damn it). I constantly question myself about what could I do different/better etc, but, you know, what? Thinking in that way means you are a good parent, because you care enough to want to do better for the person that matters the most. And I am certain I would still think like that even if I was with Moo’s father – I guess the only difference is it lessens the accountability a bit as there’s someone else to blame if it all goes wrong!
So here’s to doing it solo. May you boss it, learn from it, and love it. Just don’t beat yourself up: you’ve got this!