Saturday, 9 June 2018

Ode to a single mum




 What I didn’t know about becoming a mum is there’s an unspoken code between mums that others wouldn’t understand until they became one. Being a mum is something you can’t begin to understand or empathise with until you are living and breathing it on a daily basis.


 There’s this look we give each other, a slightly different smile that we just know. We can see if things are going ok, if the other mum is struggling or perhaps just needs to connect. I know that when I was a first-time mum, another mum just knew by looking at me that I needed urgent support and help and took me to a doctor, where I was diagnosed with postnatal depression. We didn’t talk much about it. We both just knew that this had to happen and I surrendered.

 This is the mother code. Well, I’ve called it that anyway.

 Once I understood this, I settled into this new role as mum, knowing that I had a village of support around me. You often face judgment as a mother, but I largely managed to avoid the groups of mothers who had too much time on their hands and so spent it judging other mums. That’s just not my jam.

 When my kids were still quite young (3 and 6), I separated from my husband and entered a new world, the single mums world. What I didn’t realise at the time was again there was this subliminal understanding between single mums that no human can actually understand or appreciate until they are one. Including other mums.

 This isn’t a superior or inferior place, this isn’t a place where things are harder, easier, better or worse, it’s just…different. Like, really different.

 I had no idea. Like child birth – you can’t comprehend the actual pain of child birth until you have been through it. People think they know what it’s going to be like. You don’t. Especially men. Trust me, you don’t. I remember asking my mum two days before I went into labour with Josie what the pain was going to be like and her response was, “like nothing you can ever imagine.” She was right. Being a single mum is the same. You can’t comprehend what this is like until you are living it. The chaos and all.

 We all learn to adapt and we make it work, but we have to make it work differently to how we knew it and none of us had any understanding or comprehension of this world until we faced the reality of it. I thought this would be a simple transition for me because my husband had always travelled extensively, I was used to being on my own, right?

 I could not have been more wrong and I apologise to all single mums for my lack of understanding and appreciation for your world. You almost have to learn how to be a mother again within different parameters. You have to be the good cop and the bad cop.

 What this experience has taught me is that we must never pretend to understand what someone else’s world is like unless we have genuinely walked a day/week/year in their shoes.

 Admittedly, I am one of the lucky ones. I have a superb ex-husband who approaches everything with maturity, a sense of fun and friendship, and always knows that the kids come first, not our differences. I also have the luxury of a nanny thanks to the hours I work. My hours are split days, so I can’t be there every morning and every evening; it’s an extra set of hands that I can’t live without, which allows me to do what I do. But I appreciate that this makes my circumstances different, and that’s the thing about being a single mum – everyone’s circumstances and arrangements are different because we have to do whatever it takes to get through each day successfully (and a successful day looks different to all of us too!).

 I am also surrounded by a LOT of single mothers and we support each other, because we just know. I have heard the worst of it and the best of it.

 So what’s different?

 Money

You go from relying on two streams of income to just one. Even with the parental support payments or whatever you may receive, there is no denying that the frightening realisation that you are now solely responsible for the bills, the food, the rent or mortgage repayments, can bring you to your knees. Most weeks I run down to the last couple of dollars in my bank accounts and have been known to move a few dollars from one account to another and then a few more dollars from another account to make up enough money to be able to withdraw $20. I have laughed about this with other single mums; it seems to be a common theme.

 I have gone from never worrying about how to pay for things to just getting by each fortnight, and sometimes not quite making it. It’s tough having to ‘borrow’ some pocket money from the kids or dig into savings, with the hope that one day I can transfer that back. I have often had those heart stopping moments where you realise you legitimately can’t get food on the table for the next few days, but we get there, we make it work and we are doing ok. On the flipside, I have become so much better at saving. I have multiple saving accounts and I have my next few events/adventures mapped out and I save for them. Just little bits each fortnight, because I never want my kids or I to miss out.

 When a child is sick

This is a big one for me and I never really understood this until I was on my own. When you have another adult in the house, whether or not you are happily married, you at least have that other adult. So if there is an emergency or a sick child, you have a second set of hands. When you’re on your own and illness hits at midnight, you are quite literally screwed. Especially if more than one child is sick, or worse, if you have to get one to a hospital. All of these scenarios have played out for me. Again, I am lucky enough to be able to call their dad and get him over in the event of a genuine emergency.

 But when you are faced with a night of gastro and you have a child hurling their guts up and nobody to help you clean it, or keep the other kid away, or take over when exhaustion strikes, some silent and very lonely tears are shed. All these scenarios don’t occur when you have that extra set of hands. I have very vivid memories of a particularly bad night with Josie when she was very sick with gastro and she managed to spray a big section of my hallway, stairs and bathroom in vomit. I just sat on the floor and stared at it. After I managed to get her back to bed and the feeling of overwhelm and loneliness hit, I just didn’t know where to start. Thirty minutes after I had cleaned it up, she started again and the cycle continued until sun up.

 When YOU are sick

Well let me tell you, this is possibly the worst scenario of all. When you are frightfully ill and you also have two small children to care for. They don’t understand that you need to rest and can’t prepare their food. Or that the throbbing migraine has taken away your sight and ability to tolerate loud noise, or any noise for that matter. The world revolves around them when they are little and they just need you. You literally have to find that super human side of you and get on with it. Even when you absolutely don’t think you can, you have no choice because there is no other adult in the house.

 Loneliness

I’m actually pretty good at being on my own. Whilst I am a social creature, I am still quite introverted, so I do enjoy being on my own. But the evenings really hit me hard in those early days. Once the chaos of the evening is done and your little ones are in bed, you sit there and realise you have nobody to chat to, to cuddle or to fall asleep beside. It’s just you and the house. The nights when they were at their dads were worse because I couldn’t stall their bedtime just so I had company a little longer. Those were the nights I chose to stay a little longer at work.

 I’m blessed with a new partner now so I don’t experience this anymore, but I will never forget those evenings. I’m also a bit of a scaredy cat at night so I would often do three laps of the house checking every window, door and garage door, and would peer out the windows checking the yard. I still do that now, but only one lap instead of three, mostly out of habit.

 When you need to duck to the shops at 8pm

This sounds like such a simple thing, but when you’re on your own you have to bundle those poor kids up in their PJs and take them with you for that emergency milk/chemist/fruit run to the shops. This is a common occurrence for us and yes, this could be solved if I was more organised, but I’m also human and a single mum, so life is chaotic and we often run out of things at the last minute. That’s the reality and it’s a constant reminder that you are on your own when you are dragging them to the shops. It gets harder when they are already asleep…that’s when you phone a friend and beg for help (and forgiveness) and ask them to do an emergency milk run for you. Thank god for understanding single mums who know how to help even when their hands are also tied.

 Good cop, bad cop, ultimate decision maker

Again, I feel like I have it pretty easy in this department, because if I need back up I’ll get their dad over if he is available. I feel like this will get challenged more as they head into their teens. What is hard though is managing your own responses to things when you don’t have the other parent there to help balance things out. The night I sat down to write this post was a really good example of this. I just lost my grandfather that day and the kids were really pushing my buttons. Because I was already feeling emotionally fragile, I was struggling to manage my state and my reactions. Without someone there to grab me and remind me to take a breath and go and have a moment to grieve, I lost my shit unnecessarily.

 This happens. The balance of a good cop/bad cop is lost when you are on your own. You’re also stuck facing some pretty difficult decisions around parenting, consequences, etc. without someone to bounce them off. One of my single mum friends summed this up beautifully when I interviewed her for this blog:  “The resounding silence and loneliness of having to make decisions with a person who no longer loves you. Having to consider them when you hate them. It’s true.”

 When you find a new partner

This has been a really interesting experience for me. Mostly because everyone has an opinion on the role your new partner plays in your children’s lives. Tyler doesn’t play a parenting role. It’s not necessary. They have a dad and he is the perfect dad for them. They have a mum. They don’t need the confusion of another parent. 

 This means that he plays no role in their parenting. It’s only been recently (we have been together for well over three years) that he moved in with us and I was finally prepared to leave one of the kids with him to duck to the shops. Not because I don’t trust him, quite the opposite, but because I’m now in that habit of doing everything myself. Navigating new relationships can be extremely challenging and I found it interesting that so many people wanted to know:


1.     What the kids thought,
2.     How they were settling in, and
3.     What role was Tyler playing.

 I didn’t really think this stuff was anyone’s business, but I guess for some people who live a ‘normal’ life this can be fairly intriguing. So here’s my answer to those questions – we make our own rules and it works just fine.
 Thank you.

 On the flipside, some mums choose to not find love again or share their life with another person. We all make choices based on what we think is right for ourselves and our children. Right or wrong, we never really know.  

 Holidays

This is a BIG one for me. I am committed to taking my kids on many adventures and I don’t want to restrict their overseas travel (or mine!) just because I am on my own. They are extremely lucky kids because they have a father who also has the same belief system, so they get lots of holidays.

 I aim to take them overseas once a year. This is a whole new world of terror. Not just because you have to save up and pay for it on your own (flights, accommodation, food, activities), but you also have to navigate airports, taxis, language barriers and public transport on your own. Again, I am blessed with two seasoned travellers who take it in their stride, but it can be frightening and I understand why some mums just wouldn’t do it. However, I would not miss these experiences for the world.

 We have made some amazing memories. This year I want to take them to Disneyland and LA. Working through the logistics of this trip has taken me months already. I have been saving for well over 12 months and have nowhere near enough money yet. However, I am committed to this adventure with them while they are young enough to enjoy it. So, the three of us are slowly piecing together an overseas USA adventure and we can’t wait.

 As I said in the beginning of this piece, it’s important to never assume you know what someone is going through or what life is like unless you are living it. Don’t offend other mums by telling them you know what their life is like. You don’t. Single mothers are often single by choice because they chose not to live in a situation that made them miserable. And to be perfectly honest, they chose the harder option. For me, I chose the harder option of facing this on my own because my ex and I knew that we were not role modeling a healthy relationship to our children. That was a choice, it was a hard choice and life is a LOT harder. But it is also happier. There are so many other reasons why women are to left to raise their kids on their own. And dads too.

 I have a nanny who helps me out with the early morning starts and evenings when I am at work and I have a wonderful ex-husband. But whilst I am one of the lucky ones in this regard, it doesn’t mean I am immune to the empty bank accounts, the loneliness at night and the terror of facing an emergency alone. So, to all the single mums out there. I salute you and I get it.

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