Saturday, 14 October 2017

Changing trains

My journey as a single parent is coming to an end. Just short of four years ago my daughter came into the world, and times they are a changin.... 

Like any parent, the first bit was a blur. I was frightened, confused and sad at the situation I found myself in, as well as besotted by the tiny monkey-like creature that stared up at me with big blue eyes.

In a few days' time we’re starting a whole new chapter in our lives – we’re moving in with Prince Charming. Love is in the air, there are boxes everywhere. I’m thinking about the future, and the past.



My single parent journey


It’s hard for people without kids to understand what life is really like with children (I didn’t have a clue). And it’s equally hard for two-parent families to understand what it’s like being on your own. For a long time I dreaded weekends. The weekdays were hard work, but come the weekends I was pretty much alone. My friends needed some family time together, hanging out as a three or four, they didn’t want an extra adult and child hanging about. Gradually the dread faded, and I had more things to do at the weekends, and started to enjoy the time with the two of us. But I’m not sad that it’s not like that anymore. I’m glad that we, too, get to hang out as a family of three at weekends. And if we choose to go somewhere I won’t feel like a lonely adult with a child. And if my daughter gets overtired, I don’t have to deal with the problems alone, or shoulder her weight to carry her back by myself.

One of my greatest fears (there are a few) is, or was, loneliness. And I have faced up to it. Maybe not the enveloping loneliness of a desert island. But I’ve experienced what it’s like to stay home every night alone. At first I invited people over at every opportunity, to avoid the silence. But gradually, without even noticing, I became used to it. I’m a sociable creature, so long periods of time alone will never suit me.

I came to terms with the most awful heartbreak. And I came to terms with being single, to the point that I can confidently say it’s really not that bad. Loss is awful. Loneliness can be terrible. But singledom is actually OK. It really does give you a chance to sit back and work out who you are and what you want, without the outside influence of another person. I wouldn’t say it’s better than being with someone (for me). I am definitely happier having someone to share my life with. But I found that I could be content without that.

Since I have been single I have learnt to be a mother. I bought a flat, decorated (with lots of help from my amazing friends and a baby who learned to love watching mummy stripping wallpaper) and furnished it, and filled it with owls and books and purple things. I’ve taken my girl on trains, planes, buses and cars, across Europe and up and down the UK. I’ve made a circle of ‘mum friends’ – the most wonderful, beautiful, caring women you could hope to meet, who can talk about everything from lipstick to politics (when we’re not discussing our children). We’ve had a lot of fun, just the two of us, and I’m sure we’ll have a lot more.

My daughter and I became a team of two in a way that, I think, is unique to single parents. The two of us are more portable than my friends/ families of three or four. So we’re adept at packing up our stuff and jumping in the car. With a sleeping bag and a cuddly lion, my daughter will sleep anywhere. She was a little bit sick on a train recently, and together we dealt with it so discretely that even the people sitting opposite us might not have seen what happened. The team of two is going to become a team of three (sometimes), but I hope we don’t lose that sense of teamwork. I’m sure there will be plenty more adventures for us as a twosome.

Single parent solidarity


During my stint as a single parent, I’ve seen several friends with kids become single. And I’ve learnt that there’s no one who isn’t the single parent type, because there is no type. You can be a single parent because you chose it, and never had a partner in the first place, or relationship break-up for all kinds of reasons, or of course death of a partner. You might have been with your ex for two months or 20 years. Maybe you haven't seen him for dust, or maybe he sleeps on your sofa two nights a week. You might be living on benefits or have no qualifications, or you can be affluent and high-flying. You can be fluent in four languages, or have never left the country. Often the only things single parents have in common are their singleness and their children. But there is a solidarity between single parents – a gentleness and supportiveness with each other, an understanding that we are doing something difficult and important, and quite how hard it can sometimes be. 

I learnt that you can and should rely on other people, but at some level you need to be ready to rely on yourself alone, because they can take the rug from under you. Like my friend says, sometimes you have to put on your ‘big girl pants’ and just deal with it.

Sharing parenting 


In a way I’ll always be a single parent – as the resident parent, the buck stops with me and I’m the one that ultimately makes all the decisions. I can ask for opinions and advice, and talk things through, but it always comes down to me and what I think is for the best. This still feels ridiculous – I still feel like the least experienced or knowledgeable person involved.

Shared parenting doesn’t come naturally to me. I learnt to do this thing alone and I expected to continue it alone. But having someone to back me up when my little monster skips over the boundaries, someone who will take turns to get up in the night, and emerging from a bedtime battle to find dinner cooked for me makes a huge difference. And I am very excited that if I run out of milk in the evening, I can go to the shop and get some. Definitely milk. Not wine or chocolate.

I’m excited about this next chapter in mine and my daughter’s lives. It feels like we’re becoming a real family, although of course we’ve always been a family, and it has been real. And if a ‘normal’ family is mum-dad-kids we’ll never be normal, because Prince Charming isn’t her dad, a fact she very carefully points out to any passers-by who might make that assumption: “He is not my daddy. My daddy lives in ___. He is Mummy’s friend.”

Apparently "love lifts you up where you belong", but there's nothing like a three-year-old to bring you back down to earth with a bump.

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