I’m too old for Christmas lists, but if I wasn’t then I know what I’d be asking for… a bit more understanding for all the single mums out there. And no, not because they are so bloody great at coping, but because they aren’t!
Friends say to me ‘I don’t know how you cope’. Now, I’m going to float an idea here that might seem crazy but, why don’t you ask? That phrase must be the most common one uttered to single parents and what does it really mean? That I should be coping.
What is ‘coping’ anyway? Yes, my baby gets fed, watered and (occasionally) dressed. But am I enjoying it? Not as much as I had hoped. Am I getting support with parenting matters? No. Am I getting enough of a break to feel human? Big fat no. Do I cry in the street? More often than I’d care to admit. Do I break down after putting little one to bed? Sometimes. Do I feel isolated and alone? Most days. Do people want to know about this? Not a chance.
Those six little words seem to absolve otherwise caring people of giving a shit. They’ve done their bit of awe gazing at me, the single mum with superpowers. Now they’re off the hook. They don’t need to offer practical help, or spend time listening. They speak these words as if they wouldn’t cope, but they would. What’s the alternative?
Then there are the other types of friends. The ones who ignore that you’re a single parent altogether. They fall in two camps, those who think you should be bloody grateful for your life (yes, I know), and those that think their life is just as hard (I’m sure it is).
Let’s take gratefulness first. I am grateful for (some parts of) my life. I’m also ungrateful for parts of it. Forcing gratefulness is impossible, so I’m sorry it isn’t oozing out of me but I’m not sure what I can do. If I had more people to talk to about the hard parts and, crucially, the good parts, then, no doubt, I would be more grateful. But when you aren’t interested in my reality, I don’t feel like telling you about how grateful I am. Because I don’t want you to understand that, I want you to understand the things I’m struggling with. And sometimes I just don’t feel bloody grateful. Being a (single) parent is hard. If you want to know what it’s actually like, then you can check out an earlier blog post I wrote about the realities of single motherhood.
To those who feel their life is just as hard as mine, I say, a) you’re probably right and b) it’s not a competition. Everyone struggles with the challenges of being a parent, whether they have a supportive co-parent or are doing it all alone. Sometimes it feels like co-parenting mums think dwelling on my problems will diminish theirs (it won’t). I don’t want sympathy. I don’t want friends to feel like I don’t appreciate the challenges and exhaustion that co-parenting brings. I do. But I do want them to realise that I have no-one. No-one to share the good or the bad with. So when another friend doesn’t want to listen it hurts. It hurts like hell.
When you say you don’t know how I cope in my mind you aren’t giving me a high five for managing it all against the odds (really the odds suggest I would cope anyway). Instead you’re showing me that you aren’t interested in knowing how I’m doing or supporting me.
So I’ll be asking Santa for a bit more understanding for all us single mums. Telling us, ‘I don’t know how you cope’, makes it harder to tell you the truth. My worst fear is that if I open up I won’t be able to put myself back together. So next time you come across a blog about single parents don’t just skip over it, share it. Next time you see your single mum friend in the street, don’t just give a wave, take the time to walk with her, and next time your single mum friend tells you she’s fine, don’t just take her word for it, talk with her and listen to how she’s really doing.
Merry Christmas everyone.
In the spirit of togetherness here are a few great blogs about single parenting.
What being a single parent is really like – Sophie Heawood
11 Realities of single motherhood (I had to put one of mine in here!)
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