I met a friend in the supermarket the other day and she, like me, came into motherhood a little later in life. The difference is she did with the support of a partner and I did not. Anyway, we were sharing stories of the toll that toddlerhood takes on a mother and, at the end of it all, she said to me: “I take my hat off to you single parents. I don’t know how you do it!”. I laughed.
The truth is we single parents do it the way the rest of you do it. We get up every day, pray, and then put our best foot forward in parenting, managing our careers and relationships with people. The difference is that we don’t have that built in helping hand and it is a big difference. Pro: The great thing about us humans though is that we are resilient and we develop our own coping mechanisms that get us through.
Con: Not having the built in support of a partner is one thing. Not having the support of extended family as well makes the situation just that much more challenging. You have no babysitters if you need to work late. You can’t have a life because there is no-one to babysit. You are “always on” because there is no one to give you a break for an afternoon. You only get a break when your child goes to sleep. Once they are a sleep you only have a few a hours in which to study/read/do some work/watch your favourite programmes on tv/just take a moment to breathe and to think. You quickly learn to prioritize your time because suddenly there is just never ever enough of it. You constantly have to ask yourself what the opportunity cost of doing “a” over “b” is. Pro: Friends are angels on earth. I have been fortunate in that I have a friend who has always been available to me whenever I really need help despite having a family of her own to look after. She has been such a blessing. I would have gone insane without her support. Thank you V!
I just want to take a moment to give a shout out to those couples who choose to change cities/immigrate to a new country with no family close by and they have young children. To add to your challenge is an unfamiliar environment. I take my hat off to you because I know you know the struggle of which I speak.
Pro: Sometimes I think our children have a slight advantage over those in 2 parent households. They get more attention from us. I had no one else to talk to and to do things with. I only had my son. We did everything together and I am grateful that I have been given that opportunity to focus solely on him during his early years of life. Con: He is lonely though as a mum cannot provide the same type of companionship that a sibling can. Pro: On the upside, he has learnt to quickly make friends wherever he goes so that he has someone to play with.
Con: The tendency to spoil him has been a constant battle. My feelings of guilt over not providing him with a “normal” home and a father figure, made me over compensate and be very protective of him. It took me a while to realise that I was creating an ungrateful, materialistic little monster by spoiling him but thankfully I did get there. Undoing the damage though is a lot harder… On the flip side, he is a little more mature than his peers because his interaction has been with an adult only at home.
Con: Being a control freak…well, this didn’t help my situation either but, at the same time, I had almost no-one to lean on so I thought I had to control everything. I elaborate on this in my blog, No man is an island, if you want to more.
Fortunately for my particular situation, a few important things have changed that have made been a single parent easier:
- The company I work for introduced “agile working” so I don’t have to take a day off every time I have to wait for a plumber, etc or Alex is not feeling well. I can now work from home on those days which really helps with the feelings of guilt and work doesn’t pile up unnecessarily.
- My son is almost a tweeny which means that he is a lot more independent and demands less of my energy. We still maintain a few of our routines from babyhood like reading together at night which ensures that we remain connected. These little routines also help us cope with the changes that life inevitably brings
- We have moved into a complex where there are lots of children his age so he now has friends to play with after school and over weekends which also lowers the demand on my energy and frees me up to do the things I need to do.
Lastly, and very importantly, I am now in a relationship. I have to put effort into two relationships and make sure that both my son and my boyfriend get enough attention. Strangely enough, despite this, I probably feel less drained than I did when I was only focusing on my son. I feel like there is an extra layer of warmth in our home that makes it feel more like a cocoon and sanctuary for me too. Home has always been my safe place. Now it is just that much cosier. For this, I am grateful. For my boyfriend’s love and support of both my son and I, I am very grateful.
Parenthood is not easy even with all the support systems in place so all the parents out there, I say take a bow for getting up every day and doing the best that you can for your children and loving them unconditionally. You are doing a great job! To my fellow single parents…salute! You rock!
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Chat soon 🙂