It’s the start of the new academic year, and I’ve spent the last couple weeks stocking up on pens and pencils. We’ve purchased the new uniforms, shoes and bags, and I’ve tried to muster some enthusiasm from my three children. It happens every year to millions of families across the world. Dragging unwilling children from their beds on the first day of school would surely be much easier if you had a tag team.
Imagine the scene: Dad takes the first shift, opening the curtains and coaxing the initial groan, and then mum slides in for the second wave with the promise of cookie crisp in their favourite bowl. The third round involves both parents, one to whip the duvet back and the other to physically extract the child from their warm, cosy bed. Bringing back any memories? But how does it differ if you’re a single parent? It doesn’t, we just have to multi-task!
The prospect of being a single mum never crossed my mind as I drove away from my abusive husband, leaving my home and life behind. We subsequently divorced, and he saw the children every other weekend if work permitted.
I believed that, although our marriage had broken down, we could still co-parent and be the supportive focus our children needed as they grew up. As it happens, this rose-coloured ideal wilted faster than an ice-cream in a tropical climate.
So there I was, a sole-parent to my three children who were two, three and five at the time. I was a cook, taxi service, bank, counsellor, teacher, mum, dad and friend. Even after all this time I still hear, ‘I don’t know how you do it!’ at every turn. Guess what? Neither do I sometimes but don’t pity me, I happen to love being a single mum.
I lavished all my love and attention on my children as they arrived in my life, perhaps this was the catalyst that exposed my ex’s temper tantrums. Whatever it was, I truly believed that they deserved my focus.
Life has a funny way of teaching us the lessons we need to learn, sometimes they aren’t pretty, but it’s how we cope with what is thrown at us that makes us who we are.
I am the woman I am today because I am a single parent, and I want to share with you the wonderful lessons that being a sole-parent has taught me.
Strength – I am strong.
I learned how strong I am. My strength came from my children, holding their tiny hands as they took their first steps, soothing them during an illness or upset, loving them and having them love me back, unconditionally. I also realised that I am strong enough to cope with it on my own. My children are safe, happy and healthy, and I made that happen.
Laughter – It is the best medicine.
I don’t remember there being a lot of laughter before. Walking on eggshells and a bone-deep fear of saying or doing the wrong thing overrode everything good in our lives. When we escaped from the negativity, we all found the fun in life again. The washing up could wait until after that game of Twister and the Lego fort that took up the entire floor could stay put for a month. We sit at the kitchen table together for breakfast and dinner; this is a family tradition that I hope my children will carry forward. We tell stories, and we laugh, we laugh at each other, with each other and because of each other.
Positivity – I can turn a negative into a positive.
Our entire lives changed beyond recognition when we started out on our own. It would have been far too easy to get lost in the negativity of the situation. I’d lost a husband, home, entire second family, job and friends, but, I’d gained a better life full of laughter, honesty, love and a new beginning. I made new friends and found a new home near a good school. We are closer to my parents, and I returned to college to re-train. When I look back now, I only see the positive changes.
Good Cop, Bad Cop – I can achieve a balance.
When I look at my children now, I could burst with pride. They are happy, healthy teenagers with wonderful friends and an optimistic outlook on life. But, as with all kids, they’ve misbehaved or argued with each other, and I’ve had moments where I thought counting to ten wouldn’t cut it. I used to shout and yell, but it never got me anywhere. Our ‘other’ life had been full of raised voices, and I wanted to do things differently. So, I taught myself to calm down and talk quietly. Suddenly they began listening and understanding what I was asking of them. I achieved the balance between cool-hip friend and the authoritative figure. It’s all in the tone of voice!
Me, Myself and I.
I realised that being on my own wasn’t a punishment. Love comes in many forms, and I began to understand that being in a romantic relationship doesn’t signify success. I still value marriage, even though it didn’t work out for me, and I talk to my children often about their future and the hope that they enjoy a happy marriage and children of their own. But, I choose to be single, and I hope that this teaches my children that you don’t need a partner to feel complete and loved.
Judgement – I do it my way.
In 2002 I was diagnosed with depression, and the catalyst was seeing a young mother walking her four children to school. I couldn’t understand how this young mother could look so serene with four children while I was struggling to get my three out of bed, fed and dressed on time. Over the years, I stopped judging myself and thinking of other families as the ideal. Knowing the kind of nightmare that can go on behind closed doors, I began to relax and enjoy my family, my way.
One of the hardest lessons was learning how to love me first. As a mother, it’s instinctive to put everyone else’s needs before your own. But how can you fix others, if you are broken? By loving myself and looking after my needs, I can provide a stable, supportive and nurturing environment for my children. It is probably the toughest lesson of all. Self-esteem issues have always plagued me, and this stems from the years of abuse. However, I try every day to keep holding onto the self-love.
I Can Do It All.
I have a lot of married friends, and I listen to how they coordinate the household, school runs and various clubs. I smile as they schedule their diaries and bargain with each other for a lie-in on a Saturday morning. It’s nice to know that even though I might not always want to do everything, I know that I can.
The bond I have with my three children is unbreakable; we are a team; the Four Musketeers, the A-Team, Friends (we may watch too much television!). We keep the lines of communication open at all times. Teenagers come with their own set of rules, and I’ve had to adapt to that, giving them their independence and learning to let go. Every stage of their development has been a joy to watch, and I am so proud of the young people they have turned out to be.
I would love to hear your thoughts and stories if you are/know a single parent. How do you cope? Do you make time for yourself? Please feel free to leave me a comment either here on the blog, or over on my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/resolutionchallenge