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I’m hoping this blog will highlight a different view on single motherhood. Most people appreciate that it’s difficult, but don’t really get why. What’s more the benefits and needs of single mums go unnoticed. Whilst this piece won’t represent everyone’s story by any means, it gives one view of the realities of single motherhood.
- It’s lonely.People think it’s hard. It is. And tiring. It is. But so is all parenting. The biggest difference is how very lonely it can be. Climbing down the stairs after bedtime is one of the loneliness feelings and I experience it nearly every day. Not having anyone to share the stories of what amazing things your little one did today. No-one to share your worries about how you deal with tantrums. Hell, no-one to just bitch about your day to. Too tired to do anything productive. Too much of a mission to arrange a night out. Even calling friends becomes too much…you’re exhausted and really, who wants to hear about your baby anyway – you have no baby-free news. This feeling can become overwhelming – how will this ever change when being a single mother places so many barriers in the way.
- You question your parenting ability even more. Of course everyone has days when they aren’t sure they’re doing a good job. But as a single mum, the loneliness and lack of someone to discuss things with means you often feel incredibly self-conscious of your little ones behaviour. When I go to a baby group and he grabs someone’s hair – again – the look from other mums makes me want to cry. I run out of there as fast as possible. Perhaps their look said ‘sorry you’re having a bad day’. But that’s not what I see. As a single mum it’s easy to become overly concerned that your little one, the one without a second parent, is the one causing chaos and it’s your fault he won’t stop! After all there’s no one else to blame.
- You’re unappreciated. Mother’s day is long gone. But in reality for those with little ones, the day is actually about partners showing appreciation for their children’s mothers. Cue, lone parents miss out. Whilst mother’s day can bring it home to you, it’s a yearlong thing. When I’m up all night nursing a sick baby. Or scrubbing the floor after mealtimes. Or just feeding my baby before bedtime, every.night.without.fail. There is no one there to give me an appreciative smile, a caring squeeze or the holy grail – a thank you.
- It affects friendships. People say you know who your friends are when you have kids. I hope that isn’t true, if it is then I have very few! What I do know is, it’s a rare breed of person who gets what you’re going through and stands by your side. Only being available for chats after bed time, or preferring to hang out in child friendly places might make people think you aren’t prioritising them. But in reality I often prioritise friends above myself (instantly phoning them as soon as my son goes down despite being so knackered I just want to collapse) but what I cannot do is prioritise them above my son, single parenting just doesn’t work like that and unless friends are willing to prioritise you then relationships will wither. All mums have a little human who relies on them, but my son relies on me entirely and completely and having no one to share that burden with makes it extra hard to find the space for other relationships too.
- It’s different to a crap/ travelling partner.You often hear people say how some mums with partners don’t get support either. Let’s be honest, many single mums (though not all) will have experienced a crap partner too and there is a difference. If not then you should probably come and join the single mum’s gang! And as for travelling partners, yes of course it’s difficult when they are absent but (thankfully) that’s temporary, they can often be contacted whilst away and what’s more – they exist. Psychologically that makes all the difference. Not only is it immensely lonely to not have anyone to share the stories with (see point 1 above), but replaying the funny anecdotes and amazing things your little one has done deepens your enjoyment of those moments. I would love to have even just one long distance phone call with someone who shares my interest in, and amazement of, my son’s latest escapades.
- You have a very small buffer zone. All the stresses and constraints that single parenting brings means that you often have very little energy to deal with the usual/ extra crap life throws your way.This is especially the case for those new to single motherhood who are often also going through a stressful experience such as a partner’s death, messy divorce, etc., in addition to all the lone parenting pressures. Add in some financial strains (pretty universal for lone parents) and you can be meltdown central just from an angry passer-by shouting at you for bumping them with your buggy!
- You realise how un-child friendly we are in the UK.This may sound ironic with the number of kids activities there are. But it’s just that, activities for kids. What about activities for adults where kids are welcome. Or events outside of 10am-4pm? I’ve found very little opportunities to have fun with other adults which I can also bring my little one along to. I got really excited the other day about an adventurers ‘meet up’ group I wanted to join. But kids are banned for health and safety. Of course some activities won’t be appropriate, but none of them? Really? This probably annoys all parents, but as a lone parent it exacerbates the isolation and loneliness.
- The negative attitude towards parenting advice in the UK is extra annoying.Advice from other mums is often seen as unwanted and many comment that those giving the advice just don’t get it, and should really just shut up. No doubt no-one ever entirely ‘gets’ someone else’s situation, but surely a less-judgemental culture where it’s OK to not take the advice, but there’s lots out there to pick and choose from, would benefit all parents and children. As a lone parent I would really love there to be a greater culture of support and advice among parents. You only have to go online and see the threads on topics such as ‘crying it out’ and you’ll get the jist of how these discussions usually develop – claiming that a (single) mum at the end of their tether is a 9-5 parent because they leave their little one to cry occasionally is really pretty harsh. Come on mums – surely we can be a little kinder. The best advice I ever got is that there’s lots of rights ways to bring up a kid, and very few wrong ones.
- You become the extreme you. This can go both ways, like the phrase in an old kids’ poem – ‘when she was good, she was very, very good, and when she was bad she was horrid!’ At times my patience is at a minimum because of everything I have to contend with on my own. But in general I’m pretty relaxed and give my son freedom to explore and learn – I’m pretty sure that I do this even more because of being a single mum.
- Your rules rule!(Well in so much as any rules can govern a baby-toddler) and I love being the only boss. In many ways this makes me a better parent. I think through my approach more than I would have otherwise and I learn to play more varied roles within my son’s life.
- It’s full of silliness.My sons’ giggles are the best sound ever – fact. We often have a boogie in the kitchen. Or kissing competitions during mealtimes. Before bed we have a good tickle and rolling on the floor session. I’m sure all parents do similar but if I had a partner I’d have less time for this. What’s more, because of all the things he and I are missing out on I make extra effort to fill the house with laughter. Hopefully it will be that laughter which will win out in the end.
Are there any other single mums out there who can relate to these?
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If you too are a single parenting and you’re struggling, or heck you just want to meet a few other people in your position, then www.gingerbread.org.uk is a great resource. They have advice and information as well as lots of local groups around the UK. www.singleparents.org.uk also has some useful information and advice, as does http://www.single-parents-support.co.uk There are also lots of specific fb pages that provide help and forums for single parents, like Single Muslim Mums.
There was a little girl, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (American poet, 1807-1882).