The Semi-Detached Parent: How The Other Half Live...

17/08/2012 13:57 | Updated 22 May 2015

The Semi-Detached Parent: How the other half live...


I've often wondered how I would manage if I had more than one child. I have close friends who are single mums to two or three children, and there's no denying that it appears so much tougher for them than it is for me. Particularly for those who have different ex-partners in the mix, too.

Given that I am prone to the occasional melt-down over the sharing of childcare, access and other co-parenting bugbears with my son's dad, I really do not know how my friends who are dealing with two former partners and the associated children manage to keep it all together.

But even those who are only juggling one set of kids with one biological father seem to have a whole load of different problems to what I do, with just the one child - anymore than that really seems to alter the status-quo.

Stories I've heard from friends in this sitch range from one dad who just wanted to take one of the children because he 'couldn't manage' both, to another who had his children every other weekend but then hired a babysitter to mind them while he went out, and one who would only have his two pre-schoolers overnight if his mother stayed too!

I never intended to just have one child - and it is one of my biggest regrets that I allowed myself to remain in a situation in my optimum child-bearing years which would not allow me to extend my family, but given how things did eventually pan out, I am rather relieved that I am only wrestling the guilt, demands, and needs of one little one.

Because given the hoops - financial, logistical and emotional - I see my multi-child single-parent friends jump through, I really do not think I would manage if I'd gone on to have the Brady-style bunch I'd so desired and ended up on my own with them.

A recent exchange with a happily married friend and her perception of what it could be like to be a single parent did make me laugh though. Having just got off the phone from listening to tales of woe from a pal who was on her own with three kids and was desperately trying to juggle school holidays, work and a less than accommodating ex, I was looking forward to some light relief from married-with-two-children friend X – whose stories usually revolve around her boozy nights out, latest fashion finds and her cleaner or au pair woes.

She is very happily married, but has a very lovely and indulgent life and an extremely 'hands-on' (read: hen-pecked) husband. But no, this time, she too was full of child-related angst - and, apparently, she 'now knew' JUST how I feel:

"I just don't how single parents do it," she wailed down the line as I heard her two young children screeching in the background. For a split second I thought she was trying to tell me her husband had walked out on her, but no, he was away on business. For ten days. The same ten days as their usual mother's help was on holiday.

"It's just relentless," she told me, "I can't bath, I can't read, we are living off ready meals. The house is a tip, and I have aged ten years in three days."

I assumed she had spent the week ferrying the kids back and forth from their different clubs, different friend's houses and was dealing with all the logistics of childcare that she usually shared with her partner and the au pair. But no.

She explained that their clubs had all finished for the summer, and she had already told them that while daddy was away she wasn't chauffeuring them both around different parts of London single-handedly. So she had two fractious, bored children cooped up indoors and no idea as to what to do with them. And it was, apparently 'killing' her:

"I would NEVER cope if I was on my own," she told told me. I said that of course she would, it's just that she has never had to. But in a moment of sympathy, I empathized and said that yes, it MUST be much harder with two of them, especially if you are not used to it, and I probably would have to lead a much different life if I had more than one child to look after on my own.

A couple of days later she called again, and I asked how it was going. "Still awful," she groaned. I was just about to launch into more words of sympathy - perhaps even suggest visiting to help out - until she confessed: "And that's just with ONE of them - I packed Ellie off to my mum's for the rest of the week - it's just been me and Oliver for the last two days. And it's awful. Constant games on the Wii, football in the park, questions 24/7. Non stop talking all day long and no one coming through the door at 6.30 to hand over to."

My only response was to stifle a laugh and mutter under my breath, 'Welcome to my world'.

Do your in-a-relationship friends annoy you when they moan about having to temporarily deal with their kids on their own?

Do they really have any idea when they then claim they 'know what it's like to single parent'?

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