I 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.***