Saturday, 3 January 2009

Being a single parent

Being a single parent has its highs and lows. For the past 6 years I have been the lone parent to my two lovely girls and somehow we have managed not only to survive, but to thrive. And I say that with some level of pride.

There is no denying the loneliness and isolation being a single parent brings. I have become an expert as making money stretch, have got used to not having much of a social life and can manage to do most small DIY jobs around the house on my own. I know that once the girls are in bed by 8.30pm the front door gets locked because there will be no spontaneous trips to buy milk/a takeaway/visit a friend.

I make all of the decisions for the family, attend all of the girls' school events on my own, arrange and attend parents' evening meetings alone, doctors and dental appointments are organised by me. Their father - my ex-husband - sees them every so often, when it suits him. He did recently decide to have the girls to stay with him once every two weeks but somehow, unsurprisingly, this arrangement has fallen by the wayside.

But being a single parent also has its benefits too.

We have learned that time spent together is more important than money; that we have to stick together and support each other if we are to make the best of this family unit; that good friends are hard to find and you have to work hard to keep them; that those same friends are worth their weight in gold when times get tough. We have learned some of the more important values. Money is great - of course it is! - but even when it's limited you can still have a good quality of life based on fun, friendship and family. And I think that will stand my girls in good stead for when they're older.

But there is no doubt that being a single parent is a tough gig. Nobody can prepare you for it. I would compare it to becoming a parent for the first time. You can read as many books as you like about it, watch TV programs and observe your friends with their children but nothing - absolutely nothing - prepares you for the shock of the real thing. When my eldest daughter was born I was amazed that the hospital allowed us to take her home. Without supervision! Nobody checked if we could cope - and as all new parents do we struggled at first.

It's a similar thing being a lone parent. Once you realise that you are it - the buck stops with you and you alone, then it's a bit of a shocker to be honest.

Lone parents are also the butt of all society's worries about the breakdown of family life. Single mums are encouraged to go to work, yet married mums are encouraged to stay at home.

Why am I writing about this now? Because I've come in for a lot of criticism just recently from my ex-husband who called me an 'unfit mother'. No, not because I need to lose weight (although that's also true!) but because I had shouted at my eldest daughter. Hands up any mums who have never shouted at their children, especially pre-adolescent ones?

The situation escalated to a preposterous level where he threatened to call in Social Services. It has been very unpleasant and upsetting and all completely unnecessary.

I've spent the past two or three weeks feeling hurt, angry, stressed and vulnerable. But do you know what? I refuse to be cowed. My motto has always been "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger" and it applies now more than ever.

Forgive me for being self-indulgent in this post, but I felt I wanted to say something about this odd situation I have found myself in recently. I can't (and don't wish to) go into more detail, but I feel better for getting something down in writing.

I'm not looking for sympathy, far from it. I think on the whole I have a pretty nice life. But, if you could find it in your heart to just bear this post in mind next time you read another newspaper article about a bad single mother, then that would be just wonderful. Thank you.


Jane said...

I am at a loss for words after reading your poignant post. I always knew how hard single parents work as many of my friends are. But what upsets me the most is your ex-husband's bullying from beyond the marriage.
Be strong - your girls will one day understand everything you have gone through for them.
As for shouting. I don't think a day passes when I don't shout.

notSupermum said...

Tessa, thanks for the support. And I don't think you're a pathetic little wifey - the knowledge that you have someone to back you up, to discuss everyday issues with and to share the responsibilities of being a parent is what most people want. Perhaps one day I might even find a partner for myself?!

Jane, thanks so much. I wasn't sure how people would interpret the post and wondered if I came across as a bitter ex-wife. I'm not - and I just want a quiet life, but because I have children with him I have to live with the interference of my ex every so often.

And this will sound really weird, but I'm glad you shout too. Makes me feel normal :-)

Yummy Mummy said...

I was raised by a single mother. My sisters aka the second family (who I am extremely close to) grew up with the typical household. It was hard when I was young but now I realize that I am so much better off for it. I love them to death but all three of my sisters are pampered little brats. They have never seen struggle, they have no idea what a dollar is and they have no motivation.

I now realize I am who I am because I was raised by a single mother. I was extremely motivated and successful almost to spite my father and in the end that turned out to be a good thing. I saw how hard my mom worked (3 jobs) so we could have a good (although very modest) lifestyle and seeing her work so hard taught me to work hard.

Sure there was screaming, I dare your husband to find a household where there isn't. The only difference is in mine I yell at the husband, not really a better option.

You are doing an amazing job and your girls will be better for it.

And for the are a dick. My dad played the whole social services game on us twice and you know what? They came, they saw, and they left with their apologies. You are a good mother. Maybe someone should report mister absentee father?

Thinking of you from across the pond.

see you there! said...

Yummy Mummy nailed it! Father's who don't have day to day responsibilities should shut up. He isn't doing your daughter any favors by stirring things up because she told him you yelled either. Sheesh! I could say more but it wouldn't pass child safe ratings.


notSupermum said...

Yummy Mummy - I was really touched by your response, thank you. The Social Services issue scared me when I threatened it to be honest, but then after talking to them (I was advised to be proactive by someone who works with them) they said pretty much what you said. They know that ex-husbands tend to make malicious calls, and although they have to check things out they usually find nothing to worry about.

Darla, thanks. I did indeed yell at my daughter but she needed it, she usually doesn't hear me when I use my normal speaking voice :-) She has learned a very hard lesson though - she was very upset by the fallout from it all.

notSupermum said...

That should have read "when HE threatened...."

grumpyoldwoman said...

I am so glad you put up this post. I too am a single mother although my youngest is now 17. It has been interesting being solely responsible for my kids, and challenging, and YES I do shout - a lot; but then so do my kids! I once had a neighbour who said that she liked to hear me shout at my kids cos if I was using all my energy to shout that loud I couldnt possibly be physically harming them - and she was right.

You are doing a wonderful job and one day your kids will repay you as mine did by taking special care of me after a major operation.

Dont let an absentee part-time father undermine you or upset you - the girls will grow up knowing who loved and cared for them through the fun and the fury - and also who didnt....

You go girl xx

La Belette Rouge said...

I know you are not looking for sympathy but I have to say that I am so sorry you are having to go through this. You are clearly a fantastic mother and the idea of you being unfit is laughable. I hope he has come to his senses.

I admire your strength. I am so happy to see you here and that you didn't let him stop you from having a community that does see that you are a supermum!

notSupermum said...

Grumpyoldwoman - thanks for your support. It means a lot to have so many people saying positive things.

La belette, sadly he has not come to his senses although things have calmed down a lot since just after Christmas. I did consider not blogging again, but after taking advice I am reassured that I can continue as before.

that girl? said...

NSM - You can see by the responses here how wrong your ex was. Its just too ridiculous for words that he should behave that way. I think he's only happy when he's making you feel bad, and attacking your blog (which we all love!), is another way to do that.
And if he was the great parent that you are and put them first in his life, he would realise that everyone shouts at their kids sometimes... because we're human! I don't think you were looking for sympathy at all either - sometimes you just have to get these things out there in order to move on. So sorry he upset you as you dont deserve it.
Being a parent is the hardest thing ever and I have every admiration for single parents... especially one who is clearly doing a great job like you!

notSupermum said...

Kayleigh, you are too sweet. Thanks.

That Girl - I'm afraid he does use the girls to get at me, but they are getting older now and are starting to see him with slightly different eyes.

lunarossa said...

I think you should drop the "un" and stop being so humble and call yourself "Supermum" because you are one. Think about all the things you do by yourself. How many men would be ablet to achieve that and still smiling? Officially I'm not a single mother but he's never around when I need him. He comes back late at night from work and you cannot even talk to him! Etc etc. But this is not the right space to talk about this. Let's talk about you! The girls will be so proud of you, they will really appreciate what you've been doing. So be proud of yourself! Ciao. Antonella

notSupermum said...

Thank you so much Antonella, I'm used to doing everything's second nature but exhausting! I usually manage everything by the skin of my teeth.

A Confused Take That Fan said...

What a worry! I am from a single parent family and not a mass murdering drug addict. Well, the last time I checked anyway. What a nast thing for ex husband to threaten!! Especially when he dips in and out of their lives as he chooses. As teenagers we all fall in and out of love with our parents. It's all part of the growing up process. I am sure you are doing a fab job which is why I ALWAYS refer to you as supermum and exclude the NOT.

notSupermum said...

CTTF and Michelle, thank you thank you thank you. You really have no idea how reassuring it is to have the support of such a wonderful and diverse set of people. Up until recently I would never have thought that support from people I have never met could be so amazingly uplifting. How amazing is that?

Dave Fowler said...

I’ve always felt you have to walk a mile in other people’s shoes before you can really understand why they do the things they do or why the feel the things they feel.

It’s all very well for outsiders to look in criticise based only on a snapshot. A fleeting moment in time is exactly that and by no means does it represent all that we are.

I shouted at my boys on Wednesday. We were walking the dogs in the woods and they asked to see the lake. We had a good look at the ice covered lake and threw a few stones and watched them bounce. They asked if they could walk on the ice and I explained that we were not to walk on it and I explained why. I turned my back for 30 seconds as the girls began to walk off and I followed. The next thing I know someone was shouting at my boys to get off the ice.

The thought of my boys being trapped under the ice and drowning flashed trough my mind. Not even a minute had passed since I’d told them not to do it and they did it anyway. It was too much and my reaction was to shout at them. It was pretty much involuntary but to be honest I could have stopped after the first five seconds, but I wanted to fix it in their minds that they must never go on the ice.

It’s non-negotiable like sticking fingers in electric sockets, or looking at the sun, or playing with knives, or touching the cooker hob.

It may have been the wrong thing to do, there may have been a better way to do it, but it felt right at that moment in time.

My thoughts on how tough it is to be the primary carer for children is well documented. Mothers throughout the world have my deep admiration, but I can only imagine how difficult it is to be the SOLE carer.

I love the way you’ve bounced back. That’s real strength of character and speaks volumes about the kind of person you are.

Sorry for writing a book :)


notSupermum said...

Dave, thanks so much for leaving a comment - and don't apologise for writing a book!

The funny thing is that since the episode of shouting at my daughter (she wouldn't tidy her bedroom) we have come to some sort of understanding. She, sadly, learned a very hard lesson about her Dad and we also talked about how we could use this experience to shape our future relationship. We have agreed to talk about things more, and she has agreed that I am not unreasonable in my requests for her to tidy her room (which she actually finished doing this week!)

Dave Fowler said...

That's a great outcome. Building understanding through discussion has obviously paid dividends. I'm really pleased. :)