Ok, I admit, the transition was difficult. One of the hardest parts in becoming a single parent in fact was telling my mum – despite the fact I was already a well grown and allegedly responsible adult, the old schoolgirl embarrassment came rushing back. In fact it was so hard, I tried to keep it secret for 8 months, pretending my husband was working away or out on a project. It was only when she had suspicions he was in prison that I came clean. We had separated and I was….choking on the words….a single parent. Of course it seems quite comical now, many years after the event, but I felt I was confessing to my failure. I was joining the ranks of the Great Unwanted, weren’t single parents the scourge of society? And wasn’t I condemning my children to a life of dysfunction?
No actually. I waited but it didn’t happen. We didn’t fail. I didn’t turn into Vicky Pollard sat outside the off-licence feeding my kids tea out of their bottles. We carried on as normal, just without the bickering and arguing that had accompanied our previous years. In fact, once the emotional earthquake had passed, I actually realised we were enjoying ourselves, we established new routines, replaced the ex with a Spaniel and set off back on track with our new ‘team’.
So when did we suddenly start to live and love our new life? Well time plays a major role. The emotional upheaval stops the clocks and for a while you feel you’ll never recover. Each day can be torturous as you go through the motions whilst your heart is breaking, not necessarily at the loss of your ex, but your hopes, your dreams, your shared life together. Each day is also one step closer to the next, and one day you wake up and realise it’s going to be a good day. The next you wake up and feel damn lucky the grumpy one’s no longer lying next to you.
Of course time isn’t the only medicine, over the years I’ve found a number of tactics which have helped us stay positive and embrace our new lives rather than grieve for our last.
Plan the Diary
Of course time isn’t the only medicine on this, there are plenty of ways to get back on your feet. Plan events that give you something to look forward to, no matter how big or small. A day out with the children at a local attraction, or even just a stolen couple of hours for yourself to visit an old friend. Each serves as a distraction, as well as an enjoyable afternoon – suddenly you find you’re so involved in planning your next outing or event in your diary that you simply haven’t had the time to dwell over the situation.
Think of You!
The whole change of circumstances can take your family some time to adjust to and you’ll be pulled in lots of different directions. Don’t try and be superwoman, we all need time to recharge our batteries and this is even more critical in times of stress. We may not all have the opportunity to take a day out, but even if it’s just a stolen hour for a hot and bubbly wallow in the bath, curling up with a good book or going for coffee with a friend, it’s important to have a little time just for you.
Many mums feel lost when their role of Wife & Mother suddenly changes. In time you’ll see the opportunities this presents, the chance to go back to who YOU really are and embrace the things you want to do. There’s no one to stand in your way and you’re now the one calling the shots. Liberating? You bet!
Managing as One
When you first split, it’s only normal to miss your partner in the little tasks. I have no one to put out the bins, no one to mow the lawn, no one to catch the spiders, or fix the shelves. I also have no one I have to nag to do any of these tasks; no one to leave their dirty washing on the landing or empty the fridge in an evening, no one to use all the petrol in my car and forget to fill it. There’s a flip side to every coin, and occasionally it’s brighter and shinier.
Life does demand changes and won’t be without its challenges. The best advice I was given is to remember you can’t eat an elephant in one bite, but in small, manageable chunks. Concentrate on breaking down what seems insurmountable, and tick these off in smaller yet satisfying bites. This leads seamlessly onto the next point…
All Help Gratefully Received…
If things get tough and you haven’t 4 pairs of hands to see you through, don’t be afraid to accept any help that’s offered, and if you have to ask then do! Sometimes as single parents we seem to be coping far too well for friends to notice we’re in need of a break.
Friends Like Us
A major part in my ‘recovery’ was new friends. Other families in similar situations who implicitly understand the challenges. Not only was it useful for me to spend time with other lone parents, my children see families of all shapes and sizes and it normalises it all for them. … a big difference to the traditional 2.4 family set ups prevalent in their Catholic primary school. We don’t sit alone on holiday or days out, we spend our time on single parent holidays with groups of new and old friends and have more fun than we ever did. (The fact my married friends have tried to gatecrash does hold a certain irony).
Abandon the Guilt
Hands up who’s a perfect parent? No, I thought not. There are lots of things that come in the way of perfection – work, money, patience to name but a few. While we’d love to give our children a Utopian childhood, few of us live in the rose clad cottages, in our happy nuclear families, baking home made cakes all day whilst teaching our beautifully behaved offspring their times tables, without ever a raised voice or grumble. And yet our little darlings survive, and not just that, they prosper. My children are much more balanced and happy now than they’d ever have had the chance of being had they been raised in a marriage punctuated with animosity and hostility.
Children need love and attention, whether that comes from two parents, one parent, or any other form of carer. They need to feel secure and loved in their new family set up and whilst kid gloves are needed during the transition, life with one happy parent is far more conducive to a balanced childhood than living amongst marital warfare. Don’t feel guilty about what you can’t give them, but concentrate on what you can – your time, your affection and the reassurance that whatever happens between mummy and daddy, they are loved and cherished and will always be centre of your world.
The Final Piece in the Jigsaw
A very simply piece of the jigsaw yet a key one in learning to value our own family set up. Over the years I’ve also learned not to compare. It’s all too easy when you’re alone to imagine everyone in cosy couples and to envy them their shared lives. Scratch the surface though and how many of those lives are actually the bed of roses you imagine? I know very few and would swap with none. I’ve realised in time that the grass in our own patch is every bit as green and lush as on the ‘other side’ and likewise envied by more than we imagined.
Chrissie Lewandowski is co-founder of www.SingleWithKids.co.uk, offering single parent holidays and breaks as well as support and social network for single parent families. A long term single mum herself, with absolutely no intention of living life any other way!