Single {and parenting}

photo by the beautiful Emma GallowayPIN IT

photo by the beautiful Emma Galloway

A few months ago, when Bo was not yet three, we were driving back from the city where we had been celebrating my nephews 5th birthday. It was a hot summer day and my car was teetering uncomfortably close to the edge of overheating as we drove out of the city heading south. We had a car full of stuff, we were exhausted and our old car was clearly having a problem. We were 100kms from home when I had to pull over because the engine was so hot I could hear the steam screaming over the sound of the engine.

We sat there, the two of us at a roadside rest stop, a couple of hours from sunset, sitting relatively helpless in the middle of absolutely nowhere, about an hour either side from the closest town. I was aware we were pretty vulnerable and that there was no quick fix for the situation.

‘It’s okay mama. It’s hot but we go swimming later, K? Then we will be nice and cool,’ Bo said, sweating through the heat of the afternoon. She has always been good at seeing the silver lining.

We were so far from anywhere that I knew roadside assistance wasn’t going to help us, so after an hour with the hood propped up to cool the engine I filled up the radiator with water (ensuring we had a small bottle of drinking water left in case we got stranded again), strapped Bo into her car seat, took a deep breath and started driving 100ks down the deserted highway with nothing but barren, burnt and deserted farm land on either side of us.

We made it about 5kms from home when the engine cut out, thankfully it did so as we slowing into our turn off the highway and I was able to roll the car up onto the island in the middle of the road before losing momentum. There was no way the car was going to start again. It was peak evening traffic and we were perched precariously on a narrow island in the blistering heat. Bo was sweating profusely in the back and my phone was of course in the red zone, almost out of batteries.

I rang roadside assistance, ‘we are broken down… I think it’s the radiator… the engine is overheating and the car wont start.’ I was told that it would be at least an hour and a half before the closest driver could get to us to assist. ‘I’ve got a toddler in the car,’ I said, ‘and it’s pushing 40C out here…’ The woman on the other line tutted at me and asked me to hold the line.

As I was waiting I could hear my phone beeping at me, as I pulled my sweating toddler from out of the sauna that our car was quickly becoming.

‘Can someone come and pick you up?’ the lady said… We are going to send you a tow truck but the truck can’t take a child. ‘It’s going to be at least an hour for them to arrive too… maybe your husband can come and pick up the child and then you can wait with the car… or you could go home and leave your partner with the car, best not having the child out there in the middle of the highway, and we can’t get her home.’ I let out one of those sighs that happens with regularity these days, ‘there is no one else,’ I say, ‘my mums out of town and it’s just us… there isn’t anyone else that can pick her up… there isn’t anyone else.’

What about a brother or sister? Another family member? Aunts? Uncles?

There just isn’t anyone else.

The lady on the phone had no solution, and just as my battery was giving one last heave of life a man in a truck pulled up on the island next to me.

‘Need a tow?’ He said, ‘I’ve got a kid about that age, she shouldn’t be in the middle of the highway in this heat… you either…’ He popped his boot and started pulling out his tow ropes and I fumbled gratitude and confusion as I explained to the woman on the other end of the line, that we wouldn’t need her help after all.

That kind stranger towed us home and within five minutes the car was parked in the driveway of my mothers home and we were inside drinking cold glasses of water.

I tried to explain to my hot and bothered child that I couldn’t take her to the pools because our car was broken and we couldn’t go anywhere. I braced myself for the meltdown, but it never came.

‘It’s okay mama. I don’t mind,’ Bo says and she kisses my cheek, ‘We okay.’

We were okay. And we are… of course. But the sobering reality of parenting without a partner is often hard to take. Two weeks ago I had to bow out last minute from a training day at work because it was a 14 hour day with travel and my childcare for Bo fell through, ‘there just isn’t anyone else,’ I had to say to my boss… ‘I’m out of options.’ And then last week I had to take a groggy sick toddler into work with me, to sleep on the couch, while I facilitated an important meeting that just couldn’t be rescheduled. There just isn’t anyone else.

People often talk to me about the realities of being a single parent, some friends who have partners say, ‘gosh, sometimes I think it must be so much easier, not having to worry about a partners needs too/not having to deal with their shit etc.’ Others offer other words that I’m never quite sure how to take, ‘I don’t know how you do it,’ they say or, ‘why can’t you just come out on Saturday night?’ or ‘Gosh, it must be so hard…’ time after time reaffirming that single parent stereotype. No I can’t go out… I do it because I have to… It is hard, but also not hard at the same time somehow: it just is what it is.

Sometimes I don’t know how any of us who do it alone do it either. But we do. It is hard. Sometimes I wake up in the night worried about making the right decisions for Bo, for her medical care, for her education… sometimes I’m anxious because I don’t have anyone to look after Bo when I am working. I miss out on socializing because there are only so many times I can ask my mother to have Bo at nighttime and she already has her one evening a week when I work anyway. I am happy, I am independent and capable and loved unconditionally by a tiny human who shows me on a daily basis how strong she is… how strong we are.

‘Do you think my daddy dreams about me?’ she asks, ‘Do all the daddy’s who don’t live with their babies all live together?’

She often asks, ‘when is there going to be another daddy?’ or ‘I’m ready to be a big sister soon.’ And I try to explain to her the delicate intricacies of how all these things work and how it isn’t as simple as wanting it that is going to make it happen.

We talk a lot about how all families are different, how she has friends who live with just their mummy or just their daddy, we talk about her friends who have two mummies or that some kids have two daddies and how some kids live with their grandma without their mummy or daddy at all. We talk about the fact that we are lucky because we get so much time together, time that if there was a daddy and brothers and sisters that we probably wouldn’t get, because there would be other people that needed us too. We talk about the fact that maybe one day we will be a part of a bigger family but for now, we are a team… we are a strong team and we work together and that we are so lucky to have that time. So lucky to have each other at all.Sometimes it gets to me. The loneliness. The solitude. The pressure of making all the decisions and taking all the responsibility and placing it on my shoulders.

A week or two ago Bo asked me innocently out of the blue if she was ever going to get to be a big sister, I told her ‘I hope so, I really do… but I can’t promise anything. It might never happen. It might just be us, just us forever…’ my true feelings about this must have betrayed me and showed themselves on my positivity-face.

‘It’s okay mama. We together. We a team’ she said, looking at me with her big dark eyes and smiling. I realised then, that she doesn’t really mind – her questions are just curiosity and her way of figuring out her world.

I’ve tried dating with very little success – I may find the words to write about it at some point. I’ve tried to put myself out there but realistically, there is very little kid free time in my world that I’m not at work – and where do you meet people these days anyway? None of my friends seem to know any single guys who they would set me up with… and I don’t hang out at the old kind of places that I used to meet people. I spend my Friday nights curled up in my bed next to my sleeping toddler, her feet on my face and her warm body taking up all the space in the bed… and that’s okay with me… for now.

Maybe one day I’ll meet someone and it will all change. Maybe Bo will get the opportunity to be the big sister that she seems to dream of. Maybe she wont. Who knows. All I know is right now, right here… I’m glad we get all this time together just us two, because as hard as it can be it’s been really good to be apart of such a strong team.

I am lucky to have a job that is flexible and a workplace that is kid friendly. Not everyone is this lucky. Not all single parents have the opportunity to choose to work part time so that they can still spend the majority of their week raising their child. Not all single parents are as lucky as I am to have had a good education and the fire in my heart to push for the things I want (and deserve) in the workplace. I am lucky in so many ways. When I was first really exploring the terrain of being a single parent I wrote this post full of questions about the way that we structure our societies and realities so that we outcast people who are already struggling to do it on their own. I have experienced so many of these things first hand, socially and have seen them happen to amazing single parents locally. Not being invited to something that just other ‘couples’ go to, not being invited because ‘you wont have childcare anyway,’ – for people to look shocked at you when you tell them you are divorced ‘aren’t you too young?’ or my favourite ‘well you must’ve got married too young then,’ or perhaps the ‘well there are two sides to every story perhaps you didn’t try hard enough,’ or the judgement ‘I would never rush into divorce… think of the children.’

There is a stigma that you carry on your shoulders as a single parent, a stigma that makes no sense and a stigma that is truly not founded in any reality. I know several single parents and we are all as diverse as they come – the one thing we all have in common is removing our child from a situation that was dangerous emotionally to their development… we all walked away from relationships and allowed ourselves to be hurt and sacrificed things to ensure our children can grow up with the best shot at being happy. We were all left holding the pieces after someone else made a series of bad decisions.

Just because one parent decides to opt out, financially, emotionally, spiritually from their child’s development… doesn’t mean the parent left holding the child should be punished.

Maybe we should ask ‘why is it so acceptable for men to just walk away?’ (Because it usually is and if it was a woman, it would be totally socially unacceptable).

Why is there not better, practical support available?

I often tell Bo I’m so lucky to have her all to myself, and she tells me that I have to share her with her grandma… ‘because we are a big family like everyone else,’ she says, ‘even if we seem little.’

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  • May 1, 2015 - 6:21 am

    Bebe - Thank you for your post, it touched my heart and took me back to my years as a single parent, it seems that not much has changed in the intervening 30 odd years. Yes it was hard, (financially, socially, emotionally), at times so hard that I wasn’t sure if I could keep on keeping on. But I did, and my daughters are happy, intelligent, compassionate, engaging individuals who contribute to society in many ways. They have, I think, a better understanding of the importance of people over ‘things’.ReplyCancel

    • May 1, 2015 - 6:35 pm

      Sash - You just do it eh? Because you must. You did a wonderful job. I hope my Bo turns out like your girls, with great perspective and compassion. Thank you for reading. xReplyCancel

  • May 1, 2015 - 1:35 pm

    Emm - You and that gorgeous little soul are just the best and we love you both to the moon and back xxReplyCancel

    • May 1, 2015 - 6:33 pm

      Sash - And we love you xxReplyCancel

  • May 1, 2015 - 2:24 pm

    Jess - It sounds like you are going through a very rough patch at the moment. I’m a FIFO wife so I can’t truly understand the financial pressure of raising a child on your own but I do understand the loneliness, the exhaustion from having to make all of the decisions every day, and the sadness of missing out on social events because there isn’t anyone around that you leave your child with for a while (or if there is, the feeling of guilt because you’re asking *yet again* for someone to do something for you when you’re not sure that you can repay the favour).

    I just want you to know that I have the highest respect for single mums such as yourself. I don’t know you but from reading your website I can tell that you are an incredibly loving mother and huge contributor to your community. Your daughter will grow up to be a strong, capable, and confident young woman (just like yourself) and I just know that when she reflects on her childhood she will remember being so happy. If there are no brothers or sisters in the future then it really won’t matter because she will know that she was loved unconditionally. Plus, close friends can be as good as having a brother or sister anyway. Play dates and sleepovers will be an exciting part of her childhood. As for yourself, I do not doubt that you will find another partner as you have many endearing qualities – intelligent, thoughtful, community-minded, kind, loving, and resourceful! The right partner may not come along today but sometimes the best things are worth waiting for. Maybe your daughter needs your attention right now but when she’s a bit older and more independent perhaps it will be the right moment for another person to come into your life and you will be able to give the relationship the time it needs to develop into something truly special.

    Anyway, I hope you know that not all people think those horrible thoughts about single mothers. It just appears to be that the small-minded people are the ones that are most vocal. Sigh! I really enjoy reading your site so thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts. All the best!ReplyCancel

    • May 1, 2015 - 6:31 pm

      Sash - Thank you so much for your lovely words of encouragement and advice. I’m not going through a particular rough patch at all, this is just our life. I am not struggling particularly at the moment… but thank you for your concern 🙂 I do know that not all people think those things about single parents but often people forget how different it is, to not have the financial and (moreso) the emotional support from another human being 🙂

      I’m not hanging out for another partner at all. I am aware it will either happen or it wont. I’m very happy and capable on my own and anything great that comes along will be a bonus, but certainly not something I *must have* x

      I have a lot of empathy for FIFO mums… a lot of my friends are and have shocking swings to manage and I feel for them, it’s a big sacrifice. You too, I’m sure, are doing a wonderful job 🙂 xxReplyCancel

  • May 1, 2015 - 4:21 pm

    Sarah - what a beautifully honest post. Your Bo sounds very wise indeedReplyCancel

    • May 1, 2015 - 6:33 pm

      Sash - She’s a spectacular human. I’m very lucky! xReplyCancel

  • May 1, 2015 - 4:54 pm

    Jayne - Those soundbites from Bo show that you’re doing an incredible job. You’re a strong woman and raising her to be the same. Thank you for the continuing inspiration.ReplyCancel

    • May 1, 2015 - 6:34 pm

      Sash - Thank YOU Jayne 🙂ReplyCancel

  • May 1, 2015 - 11:02 pm

    Chelsea - Dear Sash,

    I continue to find such comfort and familiarity in your writings, I am a single mom of a beautiful, curious 2 1/2 (almost 3) year old little girl. Thank you for finding the strength and the time to put into writing what so many of us feel but cannot find the words for. I always look forward to your posts and pictures. Having lived in Sydney before having my daughter and moving back stateside, I read your words and feel a much needed connectedness to parents out there in the thick of it with me and a welcomed closeness to Australia. thank you for the gentle reminder that this is right where I am meant to be xReplyCancel

  • May 2, 2015 - 3:20 am

    domestic kate - Aren’t tow-truck companies in business for the very reason that people have no one else to call? Who do they think they’re in business for?

    It’s stories like these that make me realize just how marginalized parents–especially single parents–are today. When a business doesn’t automatically assume their adult customers might have a family, it’s a sign that something is seriously wrong with the systems we all rely on.

    I want you to know that you are truly inspiring. I don’t always comment, but your writing is lovely and thoughtful, and I hope someday I’ll be the kind of parent you are. My best to you and Bo and your mother for being such a strong family.ReplyCancel

    • May 2, 2015 - 7:25 am

      Sash - Apparently they have no facilities for child seats. I thought it was insane… I may or may not have asked ‘am I supposed to just leave her in the middle of the highway?’ in my frustration… lol. Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers.

      There is still a lot of marginalization. It’s crazy. It’s like other minority groups though, people find it hard to see/empathise with if it doesn’t affect them. It’s sad. But we can change it. Together 🙂

      Thank you for your kind words. They absolutely made my morning!ReplyCancel

  • May 2, 2015 - 7:52 am

    supernashwan - Here is a male perspective on things. What you are doing is rough work. It is beautiful tough work because it is your child, but people forget how tough parenthood is, or young people particularly don’t know how to fathom it if they aren’t in it.
    My sister is a single mother and my mother was a single mother through various stages of raising me (although I was thankfully not an infant) and it is so ridiculously tough to explain to people the sacrifice single parents go through every hour of every day just to raise a small child. I often speak to work colleagues about the struggles my sister goes through and the emotional support I try give from afar, a lot of people don’t get it. The story that does grab their attention is the fact that you can’t just nip off to the toilet sometimes, you have to take them too, you can’t just have a shower either, sometimes you have to sit them in that highchair with the door open to the bathroom to get it done! That was what my sister has gone through anyway, perhaps your story is different, but all single mothers have those quirky stories that really make people think. Perhaps you should find yours (like the tow truck story I guess) and share with the people that don’t understand (if you can be bothered because it is such a marathon!)
    Good luck with it all, you have such a beautiful child and she is really growing up with interesting and loving surroundings. I have recently moved into the parent stage of life with my infant daughter and I can only hope I can guide her to be as thoughtful as Bo.ReplyCancel

    • May 2, 2015 - 2:59 pm

      Sash - Thank you 🙂 I absolutely do all of those things. As kids get bigger it’s now easier to go to the toilet or have a shower on my own (not without constant interruptions of course) – I realised the other day when we had guests over and I actually went to shower and closed the door for the first time ever in my house that I haven’t showered with the door closed ina long time, privacy is a thing of the past with children, and certainly without a partner there is never an opportunity without interruptions 😉

      It’s all just quirks though, they make simple things much more difficult… not impossible, just more challenging, just different.

      I wish my brothers were as supportive as you are. Your sister is lucky to have your support, even if it is from afar. Emotional support is often the biggest gap I think for single parents. We can do all the practical stuff… just… but it’s that emotional support that is often a void. Thank you for getting it. I’m sure your sister is very grateful.ReplyCancel

  • May 2, 2015 - 11:58 am

    Julie Gollschewski - Your story is very similar to mine. For years and years it was just my baby girl and me. My girl grew and grew and it was still us. It was not until she was 15 did I meet someone else. It was not until she was 19 did she get to be the big sister that she had always wished to be.ReplyCancel

  • May 5, 2015 - 6:16 pm

    bron - I was a single parent for about 6 years, from the time my eldest was 2 to when he was about 8. one day I was at the petrol station with my son, he would have been about 6. I filled my car up with petrol and then realised I’d left my wallet at home.
    the service station attendant said, ‘can’t you get your husband to get it?’

    the attendant kept insisting there had to be someone and there just…wasn’t.

    there’s nothing that makes you feel more alone and outcast, than another person insisting that the situation you’re in, can’t possibly be the situation you’re in.

    that’s how I felt anyway.

    bo is just the sweetest little person ever, sash. xxReplyCancel

  • May 6, 2015 - 1:21 am

    Angela - Oh how I wish I we didn’t live so far away. So I could help you when you need a date night or picked up on a 40 degree day. XxReplyCancel

  • May 7, 2015 - 8:22 pm

    Jeff A. - Thanks so much for sharing this. It’s very honest, and must take a pretty incredible amount of courage to be this open. All the best to you and Bo!ReplyCancel

  • May 12, 2015 - 11:05 am

    Lila - Oh Sash this just brought me back to when I was on my own with my older two. I too had friends who thought I had it so easy, especially as my ex had them on alternate weekends, I even had jealous remarks of “I wish I had every second weekend off”.
    It didn’t compute to them that that weekend was not fun, that I was sick with worry that the court mandated they spend time with an abusive monster.
    Their inability to understand and appreciate the small but meaningful freedom of being able to leave the children with their husband while they pop to the shop, and how that far outweighs having one less person to “deal with”.
    Having been a single mum I do silently pray that I never am again, the hardship and the way people behave, I selfishly hope to never witness that firsthand again.
    You’re an amazing woman Sash and an amazing mother and my heart hopes that things will get easier and that you’ll get the things you’re dreaming of because you deserve all of that and more.ReplyCancel

    • May 13, 2015 - 5:18 pm

      Sash - Thanks Lila! As much as I’d like the ‘break’ I’m glad I don’t have to hand over my kid regularly in a situation I wouldn’t be comfortable with, that would be a world of pain and I feel so much empathy for mums and dads who are in that court mandated situation, absolute heartache!

      xox Big love to you and your gorgeous family xoxReplyCancel

  • May 13, 2015 - 6:33 pm

    Henrietta - I often feel terribly alone in my parenting, even though I live with my children’s father. The hard stuff is invariably left to me. I find though that my biggest problem is asking others for help. I know that, if I really needed it, there are people who could help me, but I very rarely ask. I wonder if, like me, your independence is a curse as much as a blessing. Was there really noone who could have got you, five minutes from home, or were you loath to ask for fear of inconveniencing anyone? I find I am my own worst enemy, actively adding to my aloneness due to my reluctance to openly admit my need or ask for help.ReplyCancel

    • May 13, 2015 - 6:45 pm

      Sash - No one I could have asked that wouldn’t have been seriously inconvenienced. My friends all have small children who they would have had to drag out onto the highway at dinner time. Horrendous. Of course if it were a serious emergency or if I had absolutely no other option, I would have found an alternative. I’m terrible at asking for help too… but there are some things that are hard to ask of friends, who aren’t responsible for you (like close family are for each other) and who have long lists of their own responsibilities that they need to take care of.

      My independence is definitely equally a curse and a blessing 😉 xReplyCancel

  • July 13, 2015 - 11:42 am

    Arana - Wow. You summed it up so beautifully. My husband had an affair last year and walked out. 16 yrs. two kids. One just a baby. And he just walked away. So easily it frightens me. I was blindsided in every way possible. Like your story there we’re promises and never action. Since then I’ve struggled with so much, the losses, the grief, the confusion(16 yrs makes you think you know someone) the figuring it all out on my own, finances, all of it. He rarely sees them. He takes no responsibility for helping parent them except the child support I filed for, sometimes not even that. And people don’t get it. They just assume he’s there somewhere in the background doing what they think he should be-except he isn’t and there’s so many times in the last year I’ve had to say there just isn’t anyone else. And it hurts each time. I feel like everytime I say it, in my head I finish with and it wasn’t supposed to be that way. It hurts when people just don’t get it, there isn’t anyone else. So many think single parenting means the other parent takes them every weekend and splits responsibilities equally and is dependable like some Disney movie. It’s just not like that for everyone. But we figure it out.ReplyCancel

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