I need at least triple the amount of hands and feet to be able to count the number of times “I don’t know how you do it” has been said to me since I gave birth to my 15 month old baby boy and became a single mother.
What I normally say back is simple and true: “I don’t know any different.”
I had hoped my son’s father would be present in his life but just before Henry’s first Christmas at just under three months old, he no longer visited. So I really do not know any different. I actually think it would be harder to have lived with a partner and grown comfortable with the support and the companionship in those lonely evenings only for it to be taken away, and then have to learn to cope as a single parent.
It is hard. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t but it’s also been the most rewarding and happiest time of my life so far. Of course, I miss the spontaneity of doing what I want and being able to pee on my own. However, I would not swap my old life for the life I have with my son. I have built a little family and it might only be small but it’s filled with routine, love, giggles and rediscovering the simple things in life, as I see everything again for the first time through my son’s eyes. Structure and knowing what lies ahead is actually good for me.
I couldn’t do it without my support network. I have two loving, wonderful parents only a five minute walk away. We stay over most Saturday nights and I am free to go out for a drink and my mum will then get up with my rampaging son so I can lie in.
I’ve made some lovely new friends who I would not have met without having my son. This Christmas I was at my new ‘mum friend’s’ Christmas party which featured a private performance by a rather famous folk singer. I sat there listening to this beautiful music with a tear in my eye, thinking back on the ups and downs of Henry’s first year and realising how far we had come.
Now Henry is a walking toddler, this parenting lark has got even more exhausting than when he was a newborn. He is constantly picking up anything he can get his hands on and gets frustrated when he can’t express his needs now he knows what he wants. He has recently gone through a difficult patch of not wanting to sleep due to growth spurt and a major teething spout. It’d start off well but by 10pm he would be awake every two hours and then would want to start the day at 4.30am! The only time I think that is an acceptable time to rise is when you’re going to the airport.
My son and I were both frustrated and tired due to these early rises and I ended up shouting at him and made him cry before I did his nursery drop. He had taken my glasses for the fifth time and wouldn’t let them go and I just lost my patience.
I dwelled on the teary episode that day and felt guilty. So guilty. If I had a partner who could take over on those early mornings, I wouldn’t have shouted at him, I thought. My son’s on the receiving end of my tired frustration because I am a single parent, I thought, blubbing into my coffee.
After scrolling through Instagram, I found solace in some of the mummy bloggers I follow. I realised I wasn’t the only mum who loses it; single parent or not! I find social media very reassuring and it connects me to the adult world when I am alone in the evenings after Henry has gone to bed. I know the current trend is to have a social media break or stop using it altogether but for me it is a constant reassurance that I am not alone in this game called parenting and not the only one losing the will to live.
The best thing I do for surviving life as a single parent is to give myself self-care. I do yoga once a week and have daytime naps when I can. And I also have a glass of wine in the evening when I fancy it. Dry January does not exist in this house. If I have to have a vice, that is it. There’s no better feeling reclining on the sofa, watching re-runs of Sex and the City whilst sipping my small glass of Malbec with a sleeping son upstairs tucked up in his cot. Another day is done and although the unpredictability of parenting means I don’t know what the night will bring - it’s okay. In the end we survive another tiring day with plenty of help from tea, coffee and chocolate for me and playtime, CBeebies and fun in the park, for him.