If I’m honest, this is the week I was dreading most in 2018. My husband, who usually works from home and hardly ever goes away, has been enrolled on a leadership course which involves a couple of residential weeks. This has been the first of them.
I like to think of myself as fairly independent – a ‘coper’, I guess. And while this week has gone more smoothly than I could have hoped, it’s certainly had its challenges. Experiencing single-parenthood for four days has got me thinking…
I’ve had to be super-organised. Those who know me know I love my lists, my highly-detailed schedules, my reminders and systems for getting through family life (relatively) unscathed. But this week has tested my organisational skills to the limit. For a three-hour period on Monday, my actions were as follows (and yes, it was all written into Google calendar so I wouldn’t forget an activity or child):
- 3.00 Collect Mister from school.
- 3.30 Collect Monkey and Meerkat from preschool.
- 4.15 Collect Missy and her friend from school disco – and drop Mister at his school disco.
- 4.45 Take Missy and friend to Rainbows.
- 5.30 Collect Mister from school disco.
- 5.45 Collect Missy and friend from Rainbows. Drop friend home.
- 6.30 Return home for a tea I’d cooked in between ferrying everyone around, which three out of four children rejected, at a time when really the youngest two should have been getting ready for bed.
I guess if I were parenting on my own, I wouldn’t have the money or the time to allow each child to do as many extra-curricular activities as they currently do, but this schedule was particularly gruelling without another adult involved. It’s made me grateful for the role DesertDad plays in supporting our children’s interests – taking them to activities, or staying home with the others while I go.
There’s been a lot to fit in. Of course sod’s law has dictated that this be the week where I have a governors’ meeting, governor link visit (and follow-up report to write), a Bible study to prepare for my housegroup, a story to prepare for toddler group, people to liaise with for a Good Friday family event, several blogs, articles and book submissions to write, as well as the usual number of increasingly-outstanding admin tasks that mount up quickly in a family. This would be a busy week even with hubs around, but the fact that I’ve had to add in all the bathtimes, bedtimes, and general clearing up has definitely stretched me.
If I ever felt like moaning that my Other Half wasn’t as involved in domestic chores, I take it all back now. Not only is he hands-on around the home, but he gives a level of support which allows me to pursue interests away from my (wonderful, but demanding) children. If I were solo-parenting, I would need to be much more cautious in my commitments outside of the home.
I’ve had to go easy on myself. I’ve worked hard these last few days, being Mum and Dad. I’ve tried to keep the house reasonable, and tried to spend at least a few minutes of quality time with the kids each day. But it’s exhausting. Many of the projects listed a couple of paragraphs ago (mainly the writing ones) haven’t happened – and I have to remember that that’s OK. I have to remember that I have four well-fed, well-nurtured kids tucked up in bed right now, and that is enough of an achievement for one day.
When you have the luxury of a partner, you have someone to gee you up, to tell you to relax, to watch TV with, chat to, play games with. Single parents need to become sooooo good at telling themselves to switch off! They deserve a break – and no one is going to force this on them apart from themselves.
It’s OK to ask for help. A friend popped in on Tuesday to take Mister swimming, so that I didn’t have to take all of his siblings (cue: half an hour of chasing 3yo twins up and down the balcony with sod all else to do apart from prevent them falling to their death in the deep end of the pool). It was a simple gesture, but I’m glad I asked – it was so much easier to be able to stay at home with the younger three.
Likewise, if you’re parenting on your own, you need to find (and use) this kind of support network. Don’t be afraid to ask – people want to help.
The kids have mucked in. In many ways, the kids have stepped up this week. Not so much in clearing up (more’s the pity), but in the way the older ones have played with/helped/mediated for their siblings has been much appreciated when I haven’t been able to come to their aid immediately.
Children growing up in single-parent families have such an amazing opportunity to learn life skills as they support their parent in running a household. I’m sure this is often incredibly challenging – for both child and parent – but, ultimately, that child has the potential to grow into a very capable, independent human being, knowing how to cook/entertain small children/clean/tidy up or whatever.
We have a few simple tasks we expect our children to help with, but this week has got me thinking – are they the right tasks? Are there ways we could better equip our children by teaching them important skills in running a home?
They miss Daddy. Actually, only one of them has regularly said this – and it’s mainly been when I’ve told him off! But still, the absence of Daddy has been very noticeable, and often talked about in our dinner-time conversations. I guess in long-term single-parent-dom, this feeling of missing the absent parent fades somewhat – or at least it doesn’t get verbalised as often. But it reminded me how hard it is to be both Mum and Dad – in fact it’s impossible, because although you might be doing the tasks of both parents, you can never be the absent parent. And that hurts. For the child, and for you, as you sense their pain and can do zilch about it.
Could I be a single parent?
I don’t think most single parents have the choice – some do, but the majority are flung into it by circumstance, and have no option but to cope. So, if I were put into this situation, yes of course I would cope – for the sake of the kids.
But it wouldn’t be easy. This week I’m learning that.
So, to all my wonderful single parent friends, and any other lovely single parent who may be reading this: hats off to you. You do a fab job and you are noticed.