DSC_3630PIN ITI wrote my first post about single parenthood three years ago. For whatever reason it is still the most read post on this blog after all of these years. It still regularly gets comments from other single parents, some of whom now have grown up adult children of their own, others are just starting their journey, lost in a sea of unknowns and terrified of what this kind of pressure means for their future (and for the future of their children). The sheer popularity of the post says one thing to me – people want to feel less alone. People want honesty, they want a voice given to an experience that is so often silenced in our fast paced, perfection driven world – a world that expects us to look like we have our shit together, even if we don’t.

If you go and read the post, it is person after person holding a candle up in their darkest days, reminding each other that even in the loneliest of moments – you are not alone.

I’ve been a sole parent for well over three years now. Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, month after month after month. It’s Bo and I. It’s every meal, every milestone, every birthday, every big decision, it’s just us in our family of two. Every sickness, every scary fall, every trip to the hospital, every new skill, first words, first steps, first pictures, first jokes, for lies, first arguments…  it’s all the funny things she says, her great fears, the times she cries in the middle of the night, the bad dreams, the nerves, the weird habits… it was the first time she told me she loved me (and why), the first time she wrote her name, the time she waved goodbye on her first day of school.

For the first few years it was crushingly difficult. I was still so attached to the family that I had dreamed of with my ex, that it was crushing time after time after time when he wasn’t here to share it with me, even in the moments of weakness when I would call him and I would try to have these conversations and I had to come to terms with the fact we see our roles in this child’s life differently. Our priorities are and always will be two very different things. It was heartbreaking to me every time I thought about having another child and realising that Bo would likely never have a sibling of her own. It was difficult to find the right words to explain these things to my toddler when she first started asking questions. When she asked when we were going to have another baby. When she asked when she was going to get another daddy. When she asked me why our family was so much smaller than everyone else’s.

There were days when she was small and she wasn’t sleeping that I could feel the walls closing in around me in a haze of sleep deprivation and grief and fear and it was suffocating me. There were days when I honestly didn’t know if I could go on. There were days when I felt so alone I would sit in the shower at night and cry so Bo wouldn’t hear me. There were days when she would finally fall asleep on me after hours of fighting me and I would sit there and cry big silent ugly tears. There were days when I would sit outside of her daycare and listen to her scream for me, knowing I had to go to work, so I would sit in the car and (you guessed it) I would cry.

There have been nights I have been awake for hours on end worrying about a bump to the head, or a strange cough, or a rash… Or awake worrying about choosing the right school, or the right swimming class, or the right toothpaste, or the right snack, or whether I can afford health insurance or car insurance or school fees. Not even because these questions are the most important (I lie awake pondering the much bigger problems of the world on other nights), but just because knowing it is on me. There isn’t anyone else who will make those choices with me, there isn’t anyone else who carries that weight.

There are the moments I look at her and I think she is the most incredible person in the entire world, she says something clever or funny or downright strange and there isn’t really anyone to tell. These things happen every single day (like they do to everyone with small children) and in the beginning every one of those moments made me sad and happy in equal amounts. Happy with all of those proud mama feelings. Sad that I had noone to share them with.

I’ve faced plenty of judgements and most of them, I’ve realised over time, are not intentional. Most of them are just bred out of a societal expectation of women in general and the fact that I can’t do certain things, or focus on certain things, or behave in certain ways (not even that I would want to) because my focus is on my child and my work first. Because I’m the only one in my house that does those things… I enjoy them and they are my primary responsibility because they keep our family afloat. And if not me, then who? Most peoples judgemental comments are not meant to be malicious, sometimes they are meant to be helpful but they come coloured with feelings and privileges afforded to a person whose family looks different to mine. Understanding this makes it easier to not take it personally, and everything is easier when it doesn’t feel like a personal attack, isn’t it?

I guess what I really want to say to so many of you who are in your first few months, or years, or who haven’t yet come to a place of peace in your single parenting experience… it can get easier. I can’t promise that it will, but I can tell you that it’s possible.

It got easier for me. 

When I was (mostly) healed from my marriage breakdown (it took many years, there is no quick fix) it was easier to parent from a place that wasn’t coloured with grief. I still have very mixed feelings about my ex, but they no longer set my blood alight, nor do they leave a bitter taste in my mouth.

Bo got older. She started to sleep. She started to talk. She started to become the incredibly funny, charming, personable person that she is and our relationship has become something more than just loving and adoring and caring for her. She is also spectacular company and we have some of the most interesting adventures, the most creative games and some of the most hilarious conversations. I love spending time with her on my own, in fact, mostly I prefer it.

Did I mention she started to sleep? The sleep battle without anyone to share it with (either physically or emotionally) is crushing. There is a reason that sleep deprivation is considered a form of torture. It changes us. It’s hard to see anything clearly when you are THAT tired.

I’ve developed some strong friendships that have nothing to do with my child or anyone else child for that matter. People who I have respect for, people who respect me and people who don’t give me their opinion what so ever on parenting. Relationships with actual human adults where we talk about things that have nothing to do with being a parent… in fact, some of them are NOT parents. It sounds trivial, but holy shit does it make a difference.

I finished my masters, have gone through a couple of different jobs, did some amazing projects and made some amazing community connections. Now years later I work part time hours in a job I love where my hours are flexible part time around my family responsibilities. Juggling a baby who didn’t sleep, a part time job and my masters whilst trying to figure out how to pay rent every fortnight was really stressful. I was very privileged to be able to work my way out of that and into a much better place for my family.

Three years on, life is so much easier. Single parenting is so much easier. I definitely still cry about it sometimes, but so much less than I used to (did I mention I’m getting more sleep now?). I used to put up with judgemental shit from people because I so desperately lonely and/or needed the help – I don’t do that anymore.  I’m not lonely anymore, and at least at this moment I’m feeling pretty in control of this wild machine that is our little family of two.

There are still really hard things of course, but I understand them better and I accept them much more openly than I ever have before. The overwhelming sense of responsibility definitely gets to me sometimes. Sometimes the house is way too quiet. Some days I’ve been stretched too thin that I’m not nearly as patient as I’d like to be. I can’t go to yoga class or take an early morning run by myself or go for a hike alone. But I understand I accept this. However, the land of internet dating is still something I’m trying to get my head around and accept as a decent way forwards. Blind dating is strange and since when did meeting interesting people get so difficult?

The weight of single parenting can feel very heavy, and the road can feel awfully long. For those who are struggling, for those who are going it alone with no end in site. For those who feel like they were left alone, adrift in the open sea, with nothing but small children tearing at whatever is left of their sense of self – you are not alone.

It gets better.

Sleep is coming.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE. 

*** for the thousands of you who have come to this blog in the past few weeks via Facebook to my original post on single parenting, I have no idea who sent you you here but thank you for coming. Thank you for sharing your stories, for your comments and your private messages and your emails, for your honesty and your empathy and your kindness. You are very welcome here.***

 

  • February 8, 2016 - 3:45 pm

    Reannon - im not a single mum but I still grabbed hold of the ” it gets better” messaged because I need to hear it from other mums to remember that it actually does. You’d think after four kids I’d know it but no, I forget often that these sleep deprived, crazy toddler days do not last forever.
    I don’t think this post was meant for me but I thank you for it anyway. Your words always hit the spot Sash xReplyCancel

DSC_2848PIN ITI often talk to people about the pressure for perfection. I experience it every day in the landscape of my own mind. It’s in all of us, we see it all around us. It’s in the stories we are told as children, it’s in the pictures that we see around us, it’s so ingrained in our community that it eventually becomes a powerful voice in the stories we tell ourselves. It becomes deeply entrenched in the narrative of our own minds.

It’s not just the standard ideal of perfection either, it’s not just the 2.5 kids and the designer jeans and the SUV and the house in the suburbs – I see this push for perfection in my clients, in my friends, in my own circles (in myself) and whilst the ideals may be different the weight of the pressure is the same. There are different kinds of ‘perfect’ that so many of us are striving for. There is the perfect hippy, the perfect eco warrior, the perfect academic, the perfect parent, the perfect minimalist, the perfect nature lover, the perfect woman, the perfect teacher/manager/social worker/insert job description here. Each of these ideals are different but there are two main thing that all of these have in common – firstly, that you are not ‘good enough’ the way you are right now, and secondly, the assumption that perfection is achievable in the first place.

It is the whole idea that you aren’t good enough right now exactly the way you are, is what pushes us to lose touch with that glorious moment of life that you are actually living right now but you can’t see because you are so focussed on what you don’t have (or what you did wrong). This push for perfection is killing joy in our every day lives. It’s poisoning us. It was created by marketing companies and fairytales and it does nothing to serve us.

This, of course, isn’t to say that we shouldn’t strive to be better. That’s what growing up and getting older and being a human being is all about, isn’t it? Learning, doing the best with the information we have, striving to learn more, being open and flexible to change and learning to be able to admit when we are wrong and laugh at our mistakes (because we all make them). This process of growth and change and transformation is one of the most beautiful parts of life, it’s not about becoming perfect, it’s a natural course of growth that happens when we are open to the experiences that life has to offer. When we allow ourselves to be put in situations where we could get hurt, where we could make mistakes, where it could all turn horribly pear-shaped… it’s scary… but it also opens us up to the world.

Instead of waiting until we are ‘perfect’ to be happy, or feel complete, or feel like we have achieved something – maybe instead we can just do the thing that makes us most human. maybe we can all just embrace the fact that we are practising in public. We are never finished products, as artists our work is never finished, as parents our job is never done, as friends the landscape is always changing. If we continue to live under the assumption that if a thing is not perfect it doesn’t offer great value to the world then we are setting ourselves up for great failure (and great disappointment).

I’m practising every day. Practising being kinder to myself. Practising being more open minded. Practicing at being more sustainable. Practising being more responsible in my over-consumption of both the planet and my own emotions. I’m a practising parent, a practising gardener, a practising coordinator, a practising manager and a practising advocate to young mothers. I’m a practising activist, a practising writer and photographer, a practising humanist.

I fuck up every single day at all of the above.

And it’s ok.

Most days, I get a little bit better at at least one of the things I’m practising. But some days I completely and utterly fail at at least three of the things on the list, often more… because I’m human.

Practising doesn’t make perfect, but it keeps me right where I want to be – a human being, living in the real world.

  • January 25, 2016 - 1:00 pm

    Jenn - Such an inspiration! Every single word is raw and straight from your heart ❤️ Love you xx jReplyCancel

  • January 25, 2016 - 2:56 pm

    Reannon - This really resonates with me Sash. I often feel like I’m flailing &/or failing, especially when I look at those around me. I’m often thinking ” how have they gotten it so right & ive gone so wrong?” it hits me on so many levels some days- parenting, marriage, finances, life! It annoys the crap of me because I know by looking at other & comparing I’m not seeing what’s right in front of me but each day I start fresh, ready to try again at being the perfect me. Maybe I need to stop striving for a perfection that unattainable & unrealistic? Maybe I just need to remind myself each day I’m practising & getting a step closer to being the best I can be?
    Your words actually make me feel better. Thank you xReplyCancel

  • January 25, 2016 - 7:32 pm

    Esther - When you let go of the idea that you must be “perfect” life becomes much easier, believe me!
    Gladly i never fallen for the trap that i must be perfect,and i also don,t expect it from my children, just do the best you can and be happy with your life!
    Life gives you stress anyway,so i,m not make it harder by being unrealistic and think that i must be “perfect” .
    And what is “perfect” anyway?ReplyCancel

  • January 28, 2016 - 3:53 am

    Francesca - This post is so inspiring. I always think I am my own worst enemy because I want to be perfect in everything and I’m slowly trying to accept the fact that I will never be. It’s gonna be fine :)ReplyCancel

  • January 28, 2016 - 5:42 am

    Renee Hills - Wise, wise words. Thank-you.ReplyCancel

  • January 28, 2016 - 8:58 am

    Shei Tiong - I read this for the third time and it consoles me every time. Thank you, Sash. Often I drive myself crazy. It’s like I feel and think that I’m never good enough then, I (again) push myself all the more. I end up exhausted and depleted and wanting to scream, like scream! Now I’m asking myself, when is enough enough? The moment I accept that I am already here, doing and giving the best that I can. This is enough! I am not perfect but I am better. I am grateful. This I remind myself every time.ReplyCancel

DSC_2900PIN ITI have always been drawn to understanding the human condition, as if pulling a part the realities of the human experience could somehow help me to heal the pain that comes with having to live through the tragedy of loss. Even as a young woman I was somewhat obsessed with why people do the things that they do, wanting so desperately to understand better, to be able to heal (myself) and to be able to grow. It’s always lovely to know that when you are sitting in a personal hell of your own, that perhaps there is a way out, that reading someone else experiences can help you find a path of your own.

At the end of last year I wrote a little post about kids books and some of the books that Bo and I were loving at the beginning of summer, some of you asked for a post on adult books – books that have inspired me, books that have changed me, in my adult life. The list is long, so I’ll give my grown ups book recommendations in a few posts over the next few months. I’ve started here, with five books that have undoubtedly changed me. I was a different person when I put down each of these books. None of them are traditional ‘self help’ books but each and every one of them helped me to grow as a person and each of them changed my approach to the world in one way or another. They are all non-fiction yet somehow absolutely delicate works of art in their own right. Each book filled with lessons about love and life and forgiveness, stories about healing and humanity, guiding us through the most difficult parts of our lives.

I buy most of my books from op shops or online second hand stores when I can find them. Sometimes they come with added wisdom, like the above image. On the inside cover of this book is a letter, penned in scrawled blue ink. It is unclear if the letter is to a friend (who is being given the book) or if it is a letter to the authors self – either way it was almost embarrassing to read at first, it was harsh and judgemental, but at the same time full of hope for change and growth. Whoever wrote those words was on a crusade of their own, trying to save the heart of the person to whom they were writing, hoping perhaps that the words would break through, and together they could find love once more.

Aren’t people beautiful and shocking creatures? That obsession of mine will never end, the desire to understand, to find compassion for, and to accept the beautiful and painful truth of what is the human experience, the light and the dark and everything in between.

These are (a few of) the books that have changed me.

DSC_2902PIN ITWhen Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

‘Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.’

For anyone who was reading my blog around the time that my marriage was splitting up, it will come as no surprise to you that Pema Chodron features heavily in this list. Her words allowed me to find incredible peace and compassionate understanding for myself in a time of great upheaval in my life. Her words inspired me to treat myself, and my crumbling relationship, with a great amount of kindness and clarity. Pema Chodron’s books are buddhist teachings written from the heart of an incredible woman who has experienced much and made many mistakes in her own life before finding her own peace. It’s lovely to be reminded that our pain can be cultivated to provide us with an incredible source of wisdom, compassion and courage, if only we are willing to be honest with ourselves and to stop running from our truth.

Start Where you Are: A guide for Compassionate Living

‘If someone comes along and shoots an arrow into your heart, it’s fruitless to stand there and yell at the person. It would be much better to turn your attention to the fact that there’s an arrow in your heart…’

If you ever felt the need to have a book jump start your heart, this is the one you should reach for. It’s like a defibrillator straight to the chest – it’s life saving, but also exceptionally painful. It is at times an exceptionally uncomfortable book to read because whilst it is a buddhist teaching, it is also really brutally honest about how shit we can be as people some times and about how crappy we treat ourselves (and the people around us) and how if we keep going to way we are we will never be at peace in our own hearts – it’s also funny and charming and light in parts (thank god). There were passages in this book that became voices that sit in the back of my mind (much like the quote above) that I repeat to myself on an almost daily rotation. Reminders at work, reminders at home, reminders in the landscape of my own mind – how to be compassionate, how to  be kind, how to be honest. It saved me from myself, and still to this day, it makes me a better person.

DSC_2904PIN ITEmotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ

“In a very real sense we have two minds, one that thinks and one that feels” 

I took this exact copy of this book of my mothers bookshelf when I was about fifteen. In amongst my mothers sea of ‘self help’ books, I’m not sure why this one stood out to me. When I cracked it open, I don’t think I’d ever read anything like it before. I was much more of a fiction reader as a teenager, trying to understand my own life by falling headfirst into the fantasy world of characters that felt more like home than the physical world around me. Maybe it’s the series of tragedies I experienced in my early teens, or the fact that I was often on stage playing different characters, but I was fascinated by the human experience even then. I remember getting half way through this book and putting it down because I felt so full all of a sudden. I understood myself better. I had a lot more compassion for myself and for my family. It’s as if when I looked up, I saw the world completely differently. It terrified me and amazed me all at once. I’ve revisited this book many times as an adult. Reading passages through different eras of my life, reminding myself that I have the power to change the way I am in the world, by harnessing my own emotions. If you have never read anything on emotional intelligence before, I urge you to pick something up. If you have read this, Daniel Goleman also writes on Social Intelligence (which I also found fascinating).

DSC_2909PIN IT

The Art of Stillness: Adventures in going nowhere.

‘Going nowhere, as Leonard Cohen would later emphasise for me, isn’t about turning your back on the world: it’s about stepping away now and then so that you can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply’

I’m not sure how many of you have watched Pico Iyer’s TED talk, but this little gem of a book is an extended version his lovely talk (that you should all go and watch right now). A little book about what it is to be still, what it is to go nowhere, in a world obsessed with going everywhere. Ironically enough I actually read this book while Bo and I were backpacking around Indonesia last year. I often sat in the balmy tropical air at night time, a cup of hot tea balanced between my knees and this book, devouring it word for word, each section full of spectacular prose, gentle recounts of personal experience and deep modern philosophy – all equally balanced.   As a writer it was a true inspiration, giving me the permission to slow down, to step back, to allow myself to be moved. In an era where people need to be reminded to slow down, this book carefully balances the answers to so many necessary questions of our modern world.

 

DSC_2906PIN ITTiny Beautiful Things 

‘Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.’

This was my summer read over the past few weeks. I bought it for myself for Christmas after I became obsessed with Cheryl Strayed and her general outlook on life (which developed strongly after discovering her on the Dear Sugar podcast). This book reminded me of the importance of radical empathy, not only with the world (I practice this in work every day with my clients) but also to oneself. I went through a period of great letting go at the end of last year, when I realised that my only choice; in the landscape of the difficulties I was facing; was radical acceptance (of the things I cannot change). Somehow I picked up this book at the right time and although it is a series of letters and responses to people worlds away from me and my life, it felt as if the words were also for me. Cheryl Strayed is a beautiful writer, a wise woman and somehow makes her stories, her words and her life so relatable that somehow they inspire healing. Just like magic. Let her into your life and be prepared to cry and laugh and have new life breathed into your compassionate heart.

 

  • January 20, 2016 - 12:43 am

    Slowmamma - Absolutely. Understanding, which is mostly a journey without a final destination, is the most powerful tool I have encountered for living as a human.ReplyCancel

  • January 21, 2016 - 9:33 am

    Shei Tiong - Thank you for this, Sash! Will be going to our university library to check on your list. My last read were psychology books. Yay!ReplyCancel

  • January 21, 2016 - 5:33 pm

    Helen - Thank you for this Sash. I’m looking forward to the next instalment. I have only read one of the books you listed, ‘Emotional Intelligence’. I too found that it changed the way I viewed my and other people’s responses to situations. It was an eye-opener! I will definitely put the others on my ‘to read’ list, and also check out the Dear Sugar podcast.ReplyCancel