The (very honest) treats and challenges of a single parent

Tomorrow marks the 1,825th day of being a parent. Although it does start from the moment you know you’re pregnant in a way, or maybe that’s better titled ‘pre-parent’, like a ‘pre-teen’. Anyway, the little beasty turns five tomorrow. It’s been as challenging and beautiful as I expected it would be, and then some. I’ll be honest the small human was not planned, apparently about a third of babies in the UK aren’t, hence my confidence in admitting this totally acceptable truth. I consider my little surprise the best thing that ever happened to me, I know it’s a horrible cliche, but it’s true. I was one of those people who was missing a chunk of themselves before, part of me doesn’t like saying that because it insinuates I wasn’t a whole person myself before the kid, but it’s the only way I can describe it. I was kind of existing, rather than living, I was the embers of a fire that required some added fuel or movement, to fully ignite into flame. The two little blue lines on that test (actually four tests because apparently I needed some convincing) roused the embers, and the birth of the kid fully lit me up.  

All parents say the same generally, ‘it’s the hardest and best job in the world’, I absolutely agree. I find hearing the stories of fellow guardians good days and their not-so-successful happenings helps, knowing you’re not alone in the trials you’re experiencing and having people to relate to is like having a little dingy in a rough sea, the waters still tricky, but you’ve got some support. I listen to Rob Beckett and Josh Widdicombe’s podcast ‘Lockdown Parenting Hell’, whether you’re a parent or not I highly recommend it, it’s outrageously funny. I listen in the evenings when I’m tidying the house and doing the washing up, and I find it can really pick me up after a challenging day. Sometimes they’ll recount a story of a difficult moment with their kids and, and in a non-arrogant way I think to myself, ‘Imagine if you were going through that on your own’. Dual parenting teams speak of their hardships and I feel total empathy, they are justified in their struggles, I know they’re not exaggerating, but I know another realm of parenthood altogether, the life of the single parent. If you know, you know, and if you don’t, consider yourself fortunate (unless you’re in a desperately unhappy relationship then maybe not so much?!). 

I’ve been a single parent for the larger majority of my parenting life. For anyone in a parenting team, think of all the jobs you do and all the jobs your partner does too, and imagine if you had to do all of them by yourself. My days are certainly busy. But like all things in life, there are positive and negatives to my circumstances. So, what are the best and, to avoid the use of overly negative terms, not so great parts of my journey?  

TREAT – We are very close 

I believe that I was the kind of kid that could have used my primary caregiver (Mum in my case) to myself for quite some time. In some cultures it’s totally normal to have five year gaps between offspring so that you can get each one to a more life-confident place and give them a quality amount of time with you, before your attention becomes divided. My little brother followed twenty months after my own arrival, so not a tiny gap no, but I was still just a toddler when he was born. The relationship my Mum and I had before I myself became a parent showed all the classic signs of a strained parent-child relationship due to lack of early attachment. As an adult I’ve had to work through a lot to get myself to a healthier place, the fact that this ‘I don’t like physical contact’ person has been able to push through and create a very affectionate kid is proof of my efforts. I’m glad to say that my Mum and I now have an incredibly strong connection, and I no longer do that teenagery thing of blaming her for all my flaws. I accept that just like me, she too is a wonderfully imperfect human doing her best.  

I am glad though that my little lady won’t have to work through this attachment issue, not only does she not have any siblings (which for the record I’m not actually happy about because siblings are a gift, but that’s a post for another time!) but because I’m not partnered up she has me to herself most of the time. I can give her so much and I’m grateful for it, we have an incredible bond. I don’t want to be presumptuous enough to say that it’s more special than others, but it does feel like it is, obviously I’m biased. 

CHALLENGE – Not having support on hand can be incredibly tough 

I have learnt to utilise other people when they are around, for example the kid was purchased her first lego set by one of her uncles the other day, and they sat together for half an hour building it. Don’t get me wrong, I got the urge to go over and join them, even if just to watch, because I don’t want to miss out. However, I am aware enough to know that my relationship isn’t the only important one in little beastys life, and that especially as she gets older, it’s important she feels confident without me at her side. Plus that half an hour is incredibly valuable, honestly these days’ time is my currency. I grab that time, quickly prioritise in my head the jobs I’ve got to get done, then whizz through as much as I can in order of importance.  

Day-to-day, when we are at our house without visitors, I don’t have that half an hour quite so easily. The kid can play on her own for a bit, but she prefers company, and that’s totally fair enough. I grew up with four siblings, I never had to play much on my own, play is generally more fun with outside interaction. Couldn’t I just use good old ‘nanny TV’? Well, I certainly don’t believe that programmes and movies are the worst, like most pre-parents do before the reality of bus parenthood is realised, TV isn’t banned or even limited in our house, but it would seem I don’t have one of these little humans who is happy to watch endless episodes of some colourful show. It’s great, she chooses real life over boxed images most of the time, brilliant. But when you are a single parent and they are an only child, nanny TV would certainly be helpful! Instead I have to find ways of incorporating the kid into whatever job it is I’ve got to get done, like helping me chop veg for dinner or folding washing, and she loves this, as do I when I untense my shoulders and accept that the perfectly chopped potatoes is not a true priority. But there are times, like right now, where I can’t have her help me, I have to apologise and try and get her to understand that what I’m doing is important, and ensure I follow it with some quality time together.  

Support isn’t just important in the physical sense, mental and emotional backing is needed. I’ve got plenty of amazing people in my life to talk to in order to vent when it’s needed, and get reassurance from, but it’s not the same as having that person who’s playing in the same position on the field as you, who truly knows where you’re at and what you’re facing. Even if I had a partner who was at work all day, they could come home and be that pillar to lean against. 

TREAT – It is a lot easier in other ways 

Because it’s just the two of us, there are less people to please, it’s easier when it comes to choosing stuff like activities, meals and movies. My mum would sometimes have to make dinner for my Dad cook something completely different for us kids. When it comes to choosing trips or days out, I’ll make some suggestions that I’m up for and the kid can choose from that list, there’s just less filters for the decisions to go through, which saves on time and disagreements. Less people means less luandry too, which is definitely a bonus. 

CHALLENGE – My to-do list can be intimidating 

Most parents have a lot to do, that’s standard. In classic me style, I’m choosing the more challenging paths in virtually every way possible, so I have even more to do than most. I didn’t go to uni when I was younger, I wasn’t interested. But during the first lockdown in 2020, I found myself doing a taster course from The Open University. In February of this year, I started my part-time degree in Natural Sciences. It’s about 20 hours of time per week needed.  

Not only am I in the process of teaching myself but so too am I teaching the wee one. We are home educating, not inspired by lockdown but a decision I’ve felt confident in since pregnancy. So spending time with the beasty is very important, we do child led learning, so for example she’ll ask me a question like ‘what is this bone in my leg called?’, then I’ll get to work on setting up some resources for us to learn about the bones in our body. I’m incredibly fortunate to have a bunch of close friends/family who are teachers, so I’ve got great guidance when I feel it’s needed. This project we did on skeletons was inspired by one of my best friends resources for her class a few years back. We read Funnybone’s books, built a skeleton and labelled the pieces. It was really fun. And the bone she was asking about is the Femur, the longest bone in the body, I get to learn too, which is awesome. Plus when you’re home educating you need to make extra effort to incorporate social time into your schedule. That irritating association of home ed kids being weird an unsocialised makes me work harder to want to ensure that’s not the case.  

Renting sucks, it’s expensive and unstable, I’m keen to save for a deposit for our own house. So I also need to work and earn money, another 20 hours or so a week needs to be dedicated to this. At the moment it’s used for job hunting and interviews (eurgh it sucks so much).  

Add to the above cooking, which I do most of the time completely from scratch because I’m a self admitting food snob. Then there’s also cleaning up, emptying the bins, walking the dog, taking care of the gecko and snake, dealing with all the bills and various paperwork that always seems to need doing, probably because I move so often actually. I’m also someone who like to keep fit and I need a bit of time to do my nails and generally take care of myself. Free time? No such thing in my world anymore. Not necessarily a negative thing, busy can mean purpose, and purpose makes you live longer. But would I appreciate enough free time to watch a whole film without thinking in the back of my mind of how much I could be getting done instead? Yep. If I wasn’t parenting alone, the jobs might not be halved, but at least there’d be someone to take on a few of them, and give me a little down time. I’m at risk of burning out, as much as I don’t want to admit to it. I’m trying to get in the habit of taking a day each week where I don’t do any jobs, and instead spend the time totally dedicated to little lady, it would be easier to do if there was an extra pair of hands around. 

TREAT – I am stronger because I have to be 

Rewind six years, I had never managed bills of a property, I had never lived alone, I had never been self-sufficient. Day-to-day, I don’t have anyone to lean on. Sure, I have plenty of amazing people in my life, thank goodness, who would be at the other end of a phone call if I needed them, but to be honest asking for help and support is not one of my strong points. On the average day, I’ve got to deal with all my stuff alone. Theres’ a lot of weight on these shoulders, not in a negative sense, I try not to see it as a burden, but more as a heavy pack on a long hike. Basically I’ve got thighs of steel, because if I don’t, I’ll fall face down in the dirt, and for my kid and myself, that’s not an option. So I’m way tougher than I used to be, and I value that immensely.  

CHALLENGE – It can be lonely 

I have no problem admitting that I hope I won’t be a single parent forever. I’m so grateful for my experience so far because it has shaped me into the person I am. But I do hope that at some point, hopefully in the no-to-distant future, I will meet someone. A person who appreciates the love and laughter we have to offer as a family, and someone who can equally add to it. I even hope I might get to have another kid one day. But all the while I also accept that this may not be how my life pans out, and I have made peace with it to a degree so that I don’t feel disheartened if that’s how it goes.  

At the moment I live in a house with just us, after the little lady is asleep, and I’ve sorted the house ready for the next days busyness, I sit on the sofa, and I’m alone. It’s not that I need someone, I’m happy and fulfilled, but it would be nice to have human company. Even if we were too knackered to talk, just someone to rest my head on and wrap an arm round me (bleurgh gross), someone to laugh at something and unwind with. You can be happy alone, but we are social creatures, there’s no escaping it, and the blue zone research has shown that a happy and heathy partner relationship can add an average of 7 years to our lives. I don’t think it makes me any less strong or independent to admit that a partner is something I want. Loneliness is not pleasant, and connection is a beautiful thing.  

Being a single parent is incredibly challenging, there are days where I want to curl up in a ball and not face life at all. But actually, I wouldn’t exchange my situation for anyone else’s, it’s made me who I am and I actually kind of like myself. I’ve also had time with my daughter that I might not have had if I wasn’t on my own. Would I like to meet a partner in the future and build on our little unit? Yer, I would, companionship is brilliant if it’s done right. Plus the day the little chick leaves the nest, it would be great to have a hand to hold. I think as long as I’m putting some leg work in to being out there and available, whilst knowing that I’ll be good without it, then I’ve got a healthy balance. 

I genuinely consider myself the luckiest person in the world, that’s absolutely biased I know but it’s how I feel, or at least it’s how I choose to see things. My life is very busy, and if I find the right person to share a little of the work load with whilst adding laughs and love to our little team, the that’s cool, but for now I’m a single parent, I can do it and do it well, and I feel grateful to have the life I do. 

‘I am prouder of my years as a single mother than any other part of my life.’

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