I’ve been a single parent twice. Even worse I am one of those really “Scummy Mummies” who has two children to different Fathers, and worse still, The Great Dane isn’t Father to either of them. Although he is definitely their Far (Danish for Dad).
I first found myself a single parent when my eldest was very small and I was in my early twenties. I was a victim of domestic abuse. Even though I don’t think anyone in the naughties would expect me to stay and put up with that, there was still a LOT of stigma attached to being an unmarried, single Mother. The second time it happened was in 2014 after 10 years off and on trying to make it work and failing. The final straw was when kids were not just living in a war zone, but were the target or the ammunition – funny what you can tolerate personally for a decade but not for a second when it is happening to your kids.
In the decade that had gone in between it was truly incredible how attitudes had changed towards split parenting and single parent families. The CSA had changed to CMS, Fathers for justice had become a thing, access was now contact, and custody was residency. Tax Credits made it easier to get childcare and financial help if you needed to start over on a low income. Fathers didn’t have to marry the Mothers to gain equal footing in the courts, and it was accepted generally by all that if you don’t pay for your kid you were scum, regardless of the circumstances. Second time round it was a LOT easier and I don’t think that was just because I was ten years older and wiser. Something had changed – a great leap had been taken by society and now we accepted this as a method of moving forward and raising the future generations. It was now no longer a case of “staying together for the kids” but we seemed to have finally realised that staying apart was going to better for them. They’d suffer less abuse this way so we reorganised our processes and procedures to make sure that if we are going to do it like this, we were going to do it better than we had been.
But what was the change that made us change?
Was it the rise in property prices? Or simply that children couldn’t keep single parents out of the workplace in order to underpin the financial fakery that was going on during those years – Jon Ronson has proven how it is exactly the sort of family on tax credits that would be targeted for unaffordable loans.
I think part of it has to be that women were roughly more equal in the workplace – often earning more than men. Back in the day of the housewife, if she had left the husband the children would have suffered a different upbringing financially. With less money, less opportunity, and less good outcomes for the kids turned out by that process it was the source of the social stigma – no one wanted to be that woman. No one wanted that pressure or that future for their kids if they could help it. The society that watched it happen to the unfortunates seemed to feel that scorn would protect it from taking hold. You did NOT leave your husband. You stayed together – for the kids (for money) or be ostracised. Now these ideals of the perfect family, with the housewife and husband who goes to work in a suit, have been shattered by women getting good jobs and hiring nannies even when they are staying with the child’s father, we no longer look down on women who leave their men for the kids sake. Kind of makes you wonder who was doing the looking down in the first place?
In fact in today’s workplace with a pace dictated by the speed of an internet connection rather than the Royal Mail, and where we are expected to cram more into longer days, being a working parent is pretty tough. Combined with the fact that property is not really affordable unless two of you are continually paying into the mortgage, means that there always has to be two of you available to work at high level of efficiency or the family ship will sink – it’s amazing you even managed to keep it afloat during the pregnancy.
Consider also we have recognised raising kids to an “ok” level is no longer acceptable – if you’re going to be a parent you, quite rightly, need to make sure they THRIVE. So we are trawling out to trendy shops, and updating bedrooms, and throwing excessive parties, and doing a million after school activities because by the time you’re 7 you need to have a great CV if you want to get into a semi decent school. A school that will probably not be free and you’re parents, or one of them at least, is going to have to take a second job. And don’t forget childcare to wrap around that. It might be that you just can not get childcare, or can’t make money out of paying for it, so you now have to work opposing shifts to your partner so that someone is always at home with kids.
All of a sudden you are tired, and frustrated, and none of this is how you thought it was going to be, you never see the person you thought you wanted to see every day for the rest of your life, and every time you do all you can think is how ravaged they look. You stop communicating, unless by text, and you lose your connection, until all that connects you are the kids. Those human beings you made together.
Soon you start to argue. Each human is the sum of the five people they spend the most time with and you aren’t one of those people anymore; Rod from the office, and Sandra from the car pool, and Jeff the only other Dad on the benches at swimming lessons, and your Mum, and the guy at the newsagent counter all see more of your partner than you do. Eventually after the very many things we then do to try and pretend we’re spending quality time together – expensive family holidays, new hobbies, and maybe even getting married (you never did that because you couldn’t afford the deposit for the house AND the wedding, and then before you knew it number 1 was on their way) you end up exhausted and clueless about how to fix it in less than 20 years.
I could be accused of making it sound as if kids ruin your life………. “ruin” is a bit strong, but it’s certainly never ever, ever, the same again! The kind of person you are after it is far removed from who you were before it. Even truer is that the kind of person you need or want as a partner after you know what it’s really all about, is not always who you chose to do it with.
It’s not really that kids ruined your life, or that you got together with the wrong person. It’s just very often the pace of life once you have kids ruined YOU. Both of you. It’s difficult to be the best you, you can be, when you’re constantly overtired, overworked, and go unrecognised for your efforts. Lets face it, lots of us are doing this, and it’s very easy to feel like the least capable parent on the planet most days of the week because we don’t feel like it’s as easy for us as it is for some of the people we know. No one is going round handing out prizes for this stuff – you’re just expected to get on with it because everyone else is, like it was easy – but it’s not always easy.
It doesn’t help either, when you are up to your pits in laundry and nappies, to take a minute to check your messages and find everyone else posting pictures of amazing activities in incredible weather with their super happy partners alongside. It’s hard not to feel like you’re getting it wrong. All I can add to that is that a picture can tell a thousand words, and each word can be a lie. Everyone feels like they suck at it at some point.
E V E R Y O N E.
Anyone who wants to make it look like they never have a bad day is probably having more bad days than good, and constant attention to social media posts, that show the two seconds everyone grinned and told a lie, is all that’s keeping them going.
The very process of child raising unveils all our weaknesses and selfish points as much as our strengths and generosity. When your partner disappoints you it is difficult to forget; but if they disappoint your child it is unforgettable. Maybe that’s why so many of us now separate for the kids sake?
Once you get over the inevitably hurtful splitting of possessions, addresses, and weekends the fairest you can, the teething problems of the routine (a parenting plan is the only way forward btw, just do one as a matter of course, even if you are both being Saintly about the break up) you are then in a wave of relief – for the first time since the babies arrived, you’re actually getting a break!
On those days when the other parent has them you are free again in a way you never could have been inside a relationship. It’s not about dating other people, it’s about being a truly free agent – in this set up no one is wondering when you’re going to be home because they want to get out for a bit, there’s no rushing back to cook a meal so your kids continue to thrive, there’s no child friendly rating required on the day’s activities or eating out. You can wear, eat, do whatever you want – reconnect with people you haven’t spoken to in years, have just a sandwich for tea because that’s all you can really be bothered preparing , not get out of you PJ’s until 2pm and then change into that top you haven’t worn since you were a size 10 (you’ve lost weight because house moves always do that, and you’ve kept it off because you’re eating a sandwich for tea most nights and just cooking for the kids – it really caught on!). It really shows your boobs off perfectly but was too slutty to wear out to kids activities. On top of that the finances have improved because you’re getting regular maintenance and have downsized. Before as the main bread winner, you paid all the bills and insurances; he just covered the Sky package, the internet, put fuel in the car and paid for his hobbies. Now your Land Lord has the responsibility of maintaining the property, you pay part of the bills, all the car fuel, and split the expense of the kids. You can even get help from the government for childcare. It’s not all bad after all.
That honeymoon only lasts a certain while. Then you start to miss the comfort of someone else being there. Of course if you ever have an emergency and you have an ex nearby they are likely to step in on the child front and pick up pieces, but if the kids are sick in the middle of the night, or they come home crying after falling out with their friends, break their bike, or are outrageously cheeky while they work through their own emotions, you just wish you had someone right there, who loved them like you do, to talk to. Your Mum just isn’t quite the same……
Then there’s the times that they make huge achievements, or come away with some priceless observation on life, say a word cutely wrong, or are just enjoying chasing bubbles in the garden laughing and leaping with abandon, and you wish there was someone there who can share in that. Just someone to turn to and smile because both your hearts are warmed by it. Someone to recognise the wonder that is these humans you created from your very own insides.
Really there’s no reason why with good support you need to have someone else in the home raising your kids with you. If you have friends or family, and your ex isn’t a deadbeat and neither is their new partner and family, if your childcare is reliable, schools good etc there’s no reason why kids should not turn out perfectly decent individuals. Well rounded, well loved and loving, well respected and respectful. All the evidence suggests that products of that environment are very open minded and generous of spirit and probably EXACTLY the sort of people we need as our world leaders of the future. I imagine far more ecofriendly industry, less stressful work environments, smarter ideas on living wages, social security, and childcare brought about by the kids from these homes who were still allowed to thrive.
They will have known a lot less upset than the kids of the “stay together” generations, and be far less prone to personality disorders or continuing abusive cycles. Their viewpoints will not be the narrow width of the couple who created them and were left to get on with it, but all the people who raised them – child care, clubs, grandparents, neighbours and friends will all help out more now you are single, and have an influence on your child. It’s likely they will cross over races, ages, and abilities with ease in the future because their upbringing was more diverse. So many single Mums know this, and I think that’s why so many of them decide to put all their eggs into the kids basket, concentrate on doing this and doing it right because if they do the kids will be better than if they’d never done it at all. In that vein a lot of them decide not to get distracted by dating and finding a new partner. Fear of letting in another person who turns out to be no better than those who went before them, and that damage to the kids somehow seems to put more women off moving on than it does men.
There is no NEED to have a second adult in your home for the kids sake, but there are a few really good reasons why you should. Imagine if you can find someone who wants to put their eggs in the kids basket too – imagine what kind of kids you could turn out then. Imagine the life lessons they would learn from seeing their Mother flourish from an attentive partner, seeing how a pair of people can be a team. What would growing up in the positivity of that kind of environment do for them?
And there are just as many reasons why you shouldn’t shut yourself off from finding a partner for YOURSELF, as for your kids.
Imagine the difference when you find someone who wants to be a part of the balance you have now you’re split parenting. Who comes in already knowing who you are as a parent, what you look like as parent, what your energy levels are as a parent. The duties and drudgeries of parenting are held between you and someone outside the house. There’s a whole area you don’t need to wear your partner down with, but they can still help out. You have your routine for the kids, you have childcare with your ex sorted at weekends and you can put all that time into maintaining a relationship. The contribution of maintenance from the other parent means you might even have some spare cash for a date night each month!
You can get inside a bubble during those moments alone and be proud of who you are now, instead of making excuses for why you are not the same person you were pre-kids. Let someone else enjoy this version of you. Remember you are not just someone’s Mother or the Mother of someone’s child – you are YOU, and you have plans and aspirations that go on around and beyond parenting.
Having a new partner in your life has so many benefits to all of you.
It is that back up.
It is that sharing.
More than any of this though, for me at least, it is unequivocally the sheer joy I have watching The Great Dane with my kids. Seeing another human who did not make these kids from their very own insides, love, cherish, nurture, educate, care for and ENJOY my kids as much as I do is something so special. It’s actually something I never had in the relationships with their biological Fathers. Obviously I think my kids are great – but it’s really meaningful to hear someone else you love and trust, agree. If I had chosen to stay for the kids sake I would have denied them this wonderful relationship with him and all the opportunities it has brought them – hobbies, travel, and the fact that more skills and money in the house mean we have a nicer house! I don’t doubt that the oldest has now got a far more balanced, trusting view of men, and both girls have a much better example of how to conduct a happy relationship than if the Great Dane had not been in our lives. Obviously you have to have the right partner – goes without saying – but when you do, that is what you can expect. I love to see their relationships develop and deepen and the love shared between them makes me love them all the more. I know I could, and have, done it on my own. I think I’d have nailed it; but I am so glad I don’t have to. I am enjoying seeing my family happy and balanced for the first time ever and having someone by my side to witness it and share it validates and enriches the entire experience for me.
So if you are a single parent who is contemplating keeping yourself solely for your children, don’t. It’s much more fair to you all if you go and date.
Fall in love for the kids sake!!
Be sensible about introducing the kids, but enjoy your childless days at weekends finding your own Great Dane. You never know – your kids might turn out to be the future Prime Minister if you do!