I didn’t set out to become a single parent. The reality is that families form in many varieties these days, and slowly the old judgements are fading. Family to me has never been about the traditional. My parents separated when I was twelve in a fairly amicable way. This doesn’t mean that it was easy, it most definitely affected me deeply. Perhaps it even shaped me in ways that I have not been able to comprehend or accept fully yet.
My Mum became a very young single parent, she made a lot of mistakes and she also set some seriously lofty ideals for me as a Mum. Her choice of partner was not always ideal, she struggled at times yet I know that she was doing her best and just wanted to be loved and feel less alone sometimes. (don’t we all?)
The way in which our families bend, change shape and affect us run deeply and with loads of complexities.
Family really is a work in progress with lots of moving parts, and one of life’s most consistent source of learnings! My own family is messy, complex and includes a lot of sadness and dysfunction. As I get older I realise that acceptance and surrender are sometimes great options for dealing with all of that. Most of the time it has nothing to do with you as a person.
Single parenting is sometimes called co-parenting, solo parenting, flying solo … there are widows parenting, those who adopt on their own or start a family on their own through assisted reproduction! I like to keep it simple, and without attaching any negative stero-types. If you are single and a parent, then you are pretty much a single parent in my eyes. If you choose another title for yourself then all power to you … I am fine with simply stating the obvious!
At the end of the day, most single parents spend considerable amounts of time parenting alone. They may have the support of the other parent, or other family who help out, or incredible friends and community. All of these vary greatly amongst single parents. There are some common threads though that connect us all.
Single parenting involves a regular dose of grief and loss. Saying goodbye to your little people for 24 hours, a few days, a week at a time, it never really gets easier. It does at first come with a huge sense of relief though, as you are finally able to sit down, focus on something for more than 5 minutes, catch up on work, and sleep properly.
The truth is that you never really sleep properly. I often wake to the sound of my little person calling my name, hop out of bed on auto pilot and wander into his room to find it empty.
Having a noisy, messy house one minute and then a silent, tidy house the next is incredibly emotional. After a long tough week of doing it on your own you crave some alone time, yet when it comes you can find yourself suddenly overcome with a sense of emptiness.
I am very aware that my own situation sits at the ‘better end’ of the single parenting stories. I know single parents who fight for every cent of child support they deserve, who fight for every precious minute their child craves with the other parent who disappoints time and time again.
I know single parents who simply want a healthy relationship with their ex, knowing that their mental health will never afford them or their child this. I know too many who are left in unimaginable shock and grief after betrayal.
Then there are the single parents who endure unimaginable physical and emotional abuse. I am grateful every day for the sense of security and peace within my own situation.
No matter the story behind the single parent, it just is a whole different world of parenting and family life.
It is not helped by judgement or pity. The truth is, we are all doing our best as parents, waking up each day with a fresh start and a little more insight.
I asked a few of the amazing single Mums I know to share their own words of wisdom about single parenting:
“It’s OK to ask for help.” (I’m still rubbish at it though LOL)
“It’s really really hard.. but don’t under estimate your own strength.”
“A wise friend once told me to be the kind of person you want your children to grow up respecting and admiring.”
“Keep things simple. There are many stages to parenting. Tell yourself this is how it is now. This doesn’t mean it will always be like this.”
I think these are all beautiful insights into parenting, not just single parenting! If you are a single parent, or know someone who parents on their own in any shape or form, please remember that everyone has a story deserving of your time and love.