I wonder how many of you read the title and assumed it refers to the absence of a parent. Bit tongue-in-cheek of me really but when we hear the words ‘absence’ and ‘single parent’ there’s typically a connection. An inference. Usually of the absent, male variety (if the stereotype is to be believed). But for most single parents the word ‘absence’ is mostly linked to our child/ren. It’s our experience of parenting if your child has contact with their other parent (I accept that’s not always the case). Parenting through absence is therefore as much a part of my experience as parenting with my child’s presence. Absence is the feeling I notice when my daughter is not here (I also notice how clean my home is and how peaceful, lol). But ultimately, the overriding experience is that of her absence. My girl. One half of my home. Heck, she is my home.
I always recall my Mum telling me that when I left home and moved to London, aged 18, for a long while she would go into my bedroom and sit there imaging my presence. To be fair, until I became a parent myself I used to think Mum was just being a bit of a bloody weirdo but I really get it now. And I know that non-single parents do experience their children’s absence from the home (visits to grandparents, school trips etc.) but that tends to be the exception; not the norm. For many single parents, their parenting experience is more nuanced than that. It’s an all or nothing style of parenting. No in between, no middle ground. And it’s something you have to get used to although invariably, you do get used to it.
I was reminded of this today when I handed my daughter over for her holiday with her grandparents. It’s our routine for her to spend the first chunk of the summer holidays with them as it’s the only way I can manage the summer break balanced alongside my annual leave entitlement. Many moons ago I would experience an extreme feeling of unrest/anxiety/sadness at the thought of being parted from her. It would build up before the handover, and be present throughout her absence. This year, I didn’t feel it. It will come – if it didn’t, I’d be worried, lol – but it hasn’t yet (don’t judge me, I’m only five hours in and the glass of wine has helped, ha!).
I know in part this is due to her growing up and needing me less: heck there’s a massive difference between waving goodbye to a sobbing toddler reaching their chubby little arms towards you as you drive away absolutely guilt-ridden than there is a tweenager skipping happily off upon being reunited with her favourite cousin and confident in her abilities to manipulate the maximum amount of screen time, ice cream and late-nights out of her doting grandparents!
But I know there’s more too it than just her age. It’s the repetition of absence that also helps in time, as – like anything – it does become the norm. For my daughter, part of her improved ability to separate from me is her confidence in the routine and knowledge that she’ll cope just fine without good ol’Mum around for a bit as she’s done it before. Lots. And that confidence makes the WORLD of difference in me handing her over and helps me to know I’ll get through it too as I’ve done it before. Practice makes perfect, right?
Even so, there will be times whilst she is away when I will peek in to her room (I do this every time she spends a night at her father’s house). My daughter knows I do this and once even asked me if I kiss her pillow when she’s away (if you hadn’t figured it out, my daughter’s ego is quite large, lol; she was most put out when I told her “uhhhh, no?!”). I will regularly scroll through my camera roll to get my ‘fix’ of seeing her and we’ll have endless audio/video chats especially before bed so we can say our night time rhyme that helps her settle. Of course, it’s no comparison to having her near but it’s not all about me and nor would I ever wish to deprive her of time with her family. It’s too important to her and since I’m not the only person on this earth that loves her she deserves time to receive that love. And, of course, other people deserve their time with her too.
I know my daughter would rather have us all near/together, that’s only natural, but this is the next best thing and its so important not to view things through a lens of ‘deficit’. For example, I never wished to raise my child solo, however, I genuinely feel being in a SPOC (single parent, only child) situation has added a further layer to my relationship with my daughter and a particular depth to our bond that makes me feel very blessed. I also have a confidence in my parenting and an inner strength that screams louder than any vulnerability I have ever felt and my girl gets the front seat to that kind of positive example from me. Essentially, my daughter’s experience of growing up with parents not together is no better or worse than mine was with two parents together. It’s just different.
So, I will ride this time apart as I’ve done many times before. Just as single parents up and down this land will be doing so now the holidays are near. Yes, I’ve had to hit the pause button on me making memories with her for a bit, but she’ll be making loads with other people that love her. And I will get the chance to recover from the absolute madness that is my day-to-day experience of full-time working, single parenthood. Heck, I may even bust out the Lycra and do a bit of yoga.