I first became a single parent when my three girls were eight months, three, and five years. I hated the stigma I believed clung to me. But I also found there were some surprising joys to be had as a single parent. I’m recently single again, after a 20-month relationship has ended, and I’m again readjusting to single parenting life. This time I lost not only a fiancé, but three amazing step-kids as well. But I’ve gained a great deal too. Again we’ve become closer as a family, and I’m again enjoying the natural expansion of socialising more with friends and family. For everyone, the journey is different, but here are the things I’ve learned as a single parent.
1. You have to come first
Now some people work this out while still in a partnership, but for me it was something I worked out for myself after becoming single. You head the family. Your moods, health, energy, emotions, everything sets the tone for the home. So put energy into looking after yourself. Eat right, exercise, get sleep, seek out support, and model the life you want your children to lead. Being selfish can be the least selfish thing you ever do.
2. You will need other people to help you
I can proudly say I‘ve set up several sets of bunks completely alone, but a leather sofa and armchair sat in a trailer in my driveway for three days while I waited to get over the fact I needed help! I spend as much time as I can with other people – dads with kids, mums with kids, ‘together’ families, and then adults around my age who don’t have children. All of them help, and create a community that enriches my life, and the life of my children. And many of them offer help in areas I struggle with – like lugging sofas inside.
3. Ignore other people’s judgments
Some people still have set ideas on what a single parent is. Some people automatically assume, if you are a single parent you’re on a benefit. Or you weren’t a good enough partner. Or you are a quitter, or you have ‘issues’. We all have different reasons for our single parent status.
4. Routines rock
I never started loving routines more than after I became a single parent. Then they became my sanity saver and I toughened up. Children started to have consistent bedtimes, were expected to sleep in their own beds, and we had more family mealtimes. It not only helped us all de-stress, but helps now life is busier, and my children have nannies, as the routines remain our constant.
5. The more independent the better
The book Little Women changed my life. The mother comes home after a long day at work, and her four girls rush around her, making sure she is fed, cared for and the jobs around the house are done. We are a real team within the household – everyone has jobs and is expected to contribute. The best thing is it’s created confident children who can make their own breakfast, get ready for school and make me a cup of tea in the mornings!
6. I am the ground on which my children stand
This has been a recent lesson to be reminded of again, and a good one. I was really happy to be in a new relationship after my marriage ended, and fully expected it to be the big love of my life. With that relationship also now over, it’s been a good reminder that besides myself, my only definite constant is the responsibility and job I have raising my children. It’s not the same stage as being single with no kids – they will always need to be taken into account.
7. Beware of the ‘parent life’ and ‘single life’ dichotomy
Freedom is an amazing thing. Having freedom to arrange your social life after years of being with one person can feel exhilarating. I have had way more ‘me time’ as a single parent than I ever had as part of a couple. As I’ve had full custody, it’s not been a matter of having full weeks away from my children. But I definitely went through a stage of trying to claim back a life missed out. If it starts infringing on personal safety, or the safety of your children, then that’s a warning sign that things are going overboard.
8. There will be stress
Financial stress, feeling isolated, feeling exhausted, juggling work and kids, feeling like you are not keeping up with everything. It’s all normal and to be expected. I have definitely acted out from stress in the last few years, and have lost it. I’ve learned to put myself into time out because there isn’t another parent to hand the children off to, and I’ve got much better at noticing the warning signs before any flare ups occur.
9. What my ex does with the children is not my responsibility
My ex-husband lives overseas. He has seen the children once in six years (it’s about to be twice). Other people like to make judgments on him and his parenting. But I try not to. He’s doing the best he can, with the life he has now. I’m doing the best I can with the life I have too. There is no point scoring points or trying to prove I’m the better parent just because I’m the custodial one. One thing I’ve learnt is children quickly adjust to different parenting styles, so just be true to yours.
10. Sometimes you are going to feel lonely or worse
I love the life I have now. It’s not the life I planned on having, and it’s not the life I saw. But it is pretty fabulous. It’s easy to blame the bad days on being a single parent, but the truth is, every part of our life has hard moments, sad moments, mad moments, alone moments. It can feel easy to blame those on being a single parent, but most of us would have had all those feelings and maybe more, within a relationship. I have a list of things I do when I’m feeling lonely – and enjoy each and every one of them – whether it’s getting lost in a book, calling a friend, or rearranging a cupboard. Learning not to pin all your problems on your single parent status takes away the power of the feeling.
Did I ever think I’d spend a bulk of my parenting years as a single woman? No. But it certainly has shaped my life, and the life of my children in some incredible ways I may not have experienced had I stayed in a relationship. I’m thankful everyday for my life – and the lessons I’ve learned as I’ve journeyed through it thus far.