Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Ten Years a Single Mum





It was ten years ago this very day – at 2:28pm to be precise – that I entered the world of single parenthood*. It wasn’t entirely unexpected but I don’t think anything could have properly prepared me for what landed in my lap on Wednesday July 26th 2006. 

Early days. Junior not quite three.
I won’t dwell on the details. Suffice to say...

Hooray for happy endings! 

So much has happened in the last decade that I cannot imagine in my wildest nightmares ever returning to that old me. I put back the broken pieces of myself differently and now the cracks are barely visible. I like the new me very much. 
Happy

Junior turns into a teenager at the end of the year so I am aware that we're about to enter some choppy waters. 

But the last ten years have seen some bumps in the road (and a couple of major potholes) and my boy and I are standing stronger than ever. We are an unbreakable team. 


I think this ten year landmark is one worth applauding so I am writing a blog post to mark the occasion. It is a very honest account of the last ten years and at times it may come across as self-indulgent but that is not my intention. 

Nor do I want to sound like I'm blowing my own trumpet. I make no apologies for writing from the heart; I always have and I always will. This is a celebration of love and survival so the last thing I want to do is throw myself a pity party!

Junior said something very deep when I expressed my concerns about getting negative comments about this post. He said, "Mum, it's your story and you should tell it because you might make a difference to just one person who is going through the same thing." 

What a wise little bear.

 

It’s a lengthy blog post - well, ten years is a very long time so there was rather a lot to say! 

It took some time to put this post together and I found the process very therapeutic. I kept thinking of new things to add and I uncovered some interesting stuff about myself that I hadn’t realised before.  

Writing about my journey has helped me to see how far I've come since those lonely early days and it has given me a new found strength to keep going. I will no doubt think of other things to add the minute I hit 'Publish'  but in the meantime here is a list of what the last ten years have taught me.


(*I do the work of two people when it comes to raising a child therefore I am a Double Parent but for the purposes of this blog post I will use the term ‘Single Parent’. I am also aware that there are men out there doing the work of a Double Parent.)



     Sometimes just carrying on is a superhuman achievement. I am the ground on which my son stands so I have had to be strong not only for myself but for him too.
 
Walking away/giving up was never an option. It’s hard to imagine how anyone could.


It currently costs more to bring up a child than to purchase a house. And that's just the food bill!

Hungry Baby Bear

Feeling like a single parent is most definitely not the same as being one. 

Aargh!

Thinking too much about the future can be overwhelming. I constantly have to force myself to stay in the moment.



Single parenting is the easiest thing in the world to have an opinion about but the hardest thing in the world to actually do.

Even though it sometimes feels like it, I am not alone.

Pregnancy, childbirth, painful breastfeeding (nipple in a pencil sharpener, anyone?), sleepless nights, potty training and toddler tantrums were the easy part.

Life is a struggle for some more than for others. Some people could fall into a muddy puddle and come up wearing bangles. I'm not one of them but that's okay.


 
There is no way to accurately describe what being a single parent entails. People can empathise but only those who have been through it can truly understand. That is not to say I have not had some amazing support from my family and friends who co-parent. 

Not everyone you lose is a loss.


I have instant respect for people who have raised or who are raising their family alone. It’s like being a member of an exclusive club that you didn’t choose to be part of but in the end feel proud to be associated with. As a result there is an immediate feeling of support and mutual understanding between those who hold membership cards.


I feel bonded to other single mothers whether I like them or not. I am a woman’s woman and strongly believe that when we build one another up incredible things can happen. 



Go with the flow’ has become my mantra.

Don't force yourself to fit in where you don't belong.

There comes a point when you realise who matters in your life, who never did, and who never will. It is a pivotal moment.

It has been necessary to keep my mouth firmly shut on many occasions. This is deeply frustrating but has proved to be a vital survival technique. 

 
However, it is often the unspoken words that eat you up.


Life can sometimes feel like an exam I didn’t study for.

I don’t care if it’s purely psychological; ‘Rescue Remedy’ works. 

So does music. The louder the better.


It is better to have no partner than to have someone who is only half there or who doesn’t really want to be there at all. You do not need a partner to feel complete. 




Never put the key to your happiness in someone else’s pocket.

You can achieve remarkable things with love and not much else.

When the wrong people leave your life the right things start to happen.

Writing has kept me afloat. Putting pen to paper was a last ditch attempt at stopping myself unravel completely. Writing has helped to organise the chaos in my life, given me hope and made me feel whole again. Sometimes you need fantasy to survive reality.



Baking has also helped to keep me sane. Not so good for the waistline but excellent for my mental health. Check out my Bake With Bree blog.



I am worthy of my dreams.


There are no shortcuts. It takes a long time to build a stronger, happier version of yourself. Be patient, it is worth it.

 
Over the last ten years I have met some amazing people and formed incredible new friendships. This would never have happened had my path not changed direction.




The best people have been the ones who have popped up unexpectedly and helped me to see twinkling fairy lights where once there was only complete darkness. They are the same people who believed in me enough to make me start believing in myself again.

Stay clear of anyone who makes you feel like you are hard to love. 

Trust your gut. It knows the way.

 
It is quite a challenge teaching a small boy how to pee into the toilet when you have zero experience of peeing standing up.   




Anger is a soul eating emotion. It might help you survive for a little while but in the end it will eat you alive.


Sometimes you have to be your own hero. 




It has been a battle to stop myself from being swallowed up by this one particular aspect of my life. I am multi-faceted, multi-layered, multi-coloured – a collection of everything that has happened to bring me to where I am today. I am a mother...



...a writer...


...an educator...



...a presenter...



 ...a blogger...


...the author of three published novels...


...and baker extraordinaire...


I am a sister, daughter, auntie and friend. I am imaginative, talented, intuitive and compassionate. I have achieved many things both personally and professionally and I know there are still corners of me that are waiting to be explored. Being a single parent is a massive part of my identity but it does not define me. It is, however, the thing I am most proud of in my life.



Being happy and doing well is the biggest middle finger of all time.

Just when I think I have everything under control I’ll find my glasses in the fridge.

Worry is my constant companion. To quote Bonnie Tyler, “Love is like a shadow on me all of the time.” So is fear. It’s the price we pay for love.

In spite of this fear I have encouraged Junior to take up risky activities so he can embrace life to the full – kickboxing, climbing, horse riding, rock hopping, canoeing, outdoor survival training, hiking and climbing trees to name a small handful. He is a confident and daring young chap!

Gold!
I'm up here, Mum!

That's him on the left

I have given him roots and wings and many opportunities to take flight. This has required massive courage and commitment on my part so I will simply not tolerate being described as “over protective- Unless of course those who say that are referring to matters of the heart for I am a warrior when it comes to protecting my boy’s feelings.

DON'T MESS WITH MAMA BEAR


My kisses have magical properties. I hope they always will.

I am proud that my son has watched me change a fuse, put up a shelf, assemble flat pack furniture, hang a curtain rail, bleed a radiator and unblock a sink. I am the proud owner of a very well-stocked tool box although my favourite screwdriver does have a flowery handle to keep things girly.


Single parenting has taken multi-tasking to a whole new level. Cook, cleaner, nurse, secretary, counsellor, teacher, chauffeur, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, monster slayer AND best friend – all done with no holidays or sick leave.


Summer holidays, Christmas holidays, Easter holidays, Bank holidays, September break, October break...


Being a single parent is like running when everyone else is walking. Routine and organisation is the key. It’s flippin’ exhausting ensuring everything is in order to the point of military precision but I have discovered it’s the only way I don’t completely lose my mind. 

I don't like being told to calm down or worse, "chill out". Just don't. It is like a red rag to a bull.

 

Since becoming a single parent I find going to the dentist a strangely relaxing experience; half an hour lying back in a comfy chair listening to Radio 2 with no interruptions or demands. Bliss.

 
I have had to learn how to walk the fine line between being best friend and strict disciplinarian (often at the same time). 


This has been a tricky balancing act but Junior respects my standards and boundaries, even if he does test them at times.

Suffice to say my death glare still possesses immense power.

   
Coffee is my survival juice. I learned early on how to enjoy it lukewarm.   





Some days I am Maria Von Trapp and others I am Agatha Trunchbull. I try not to beat myself up on the ‘bad’ days. Life is too short to spend it at war with yourself. I am doing the best I can.

I have learned that it is easier for some people to criticise than to praise. It is not uncommon to find the blame dropped at my feet and it’s not always easy to step over it. Some people ought to know better. I'm with Douglas Coupland who says, "Blame is just a lazy person's way of making sense of chaos."

The flip side to this is the immense feeling of pride and satisfaction when things go well (and this happens much more often). After all, I only have me to thank for all the successes.


My time and energy is VERY precious. I no longer have patience for certain things and I have no desire to waste a single second on anything that hurts or drains me. I have no respect or sympathy for people who behave like they are the only one in the  through a tough time and I simply cannot tolerate fragile egos and arrogance. Some people need a ladder to get over themselves. 




I would not have made it through the last ten years without my parents. Their arms must ache from holding me up. The ironic thing is you spend years wishing your Mum and Dad would get off your back only to realise they are the only ones who ever really had your back. My parents are awesome and I love them very much.


Co-parenting is vastly different to single parenting. Two pairs of hands, two salaries, a divided load and double the support. It can sometimes be draining and upsetting to see how the other half live.

It's less lonely this way.


I love getting a phone call halfway through my working day to say my child is ill and needs picked up from school,” said no single parent ever.

As Junior grows up new challenges come our way. The broken sleep, messy weaning and toddler taming was not for the faint hearted but they were nothing compared to tweenage angst, peer pressure, homework, exams and worries about social media. Single parenting is an ever changing landscape. There will always be obstacles in the way, they will simply change shape. I will have to adapt in order to cope with them. Coming to terms with that has helped a little with the anxiety.

If you continually have to waste your breath explaining the same thing to someone and STILL they don't understand or change their behaviour then they clearly don't respect what you are saying. There comes a time when you have to let go.


"Let it go..."
 
A house + love = home. Add a fat, quirky cat to that mix and we’re talking big time happy home. 

A furry brother from another mother


I will forever be in awe of the single parents who are raising more than one child. Some tell me it is easier than doing it with one but I think they’re just being kind.

In the absence of a supportive partner difficult decisions have had to be made alone. Not only has this resulted in a huge amount of guilt and regret but it has also made me  extremely unpopular at times. Every decision I make is because I believe it is best for my child. 

If you have never been hated by your child then you are doing something wrong.

By nature I am not a nosey person but if needs be I have superb detective skills. Never underestimate my ability to find stuff out. A worried Mum does better research than an FBI agent.

Stalker Mama Bear
Whoever wrote the phrase “Easy Like Sunday Morning” had clearly never been a single parent.

I laugh when people ask me what I do in my spare time. I am a single parent who has studied for a degree, has two jobs, three published novels and writes. Spare time is a major luxury! My wheelie bin goes out more than I do.

When your child’s heart breaks, your heart breaks too. 



This is true for parenting in general but single parents make a very unique emotional investment. We shoulder twice the responsibility with no-one there beside us to share in the anguish, heartache, triumphs or moments of sheer giddiness. 



Every day we make small deposits in the memory banks of our children. Make them count.

I have to constantly remind myself that not everyone was raised as well as I was.

I have to constantly remind myself that everyone has different ideas about what makes a good parent. 

There's no point in fighting with someone that you don't respect.

You cannot change someone who doesn't see an issue in their actions. 

Not every "Sorry" deserves an "It's okay" in return. 

Sometimes the only way to stay sane is to go a little crazy.

 
Life is a series of small miracles and magical moments. Notice them. A random, hilarious text, a cheeky wink from across a busy room, a sleepy Facetime call, a perfectly-timed fart, dancing together in the kitchen...

...sharing a mountain of homemade pancakes...


...cruising in the car with the volume up and the windows down, finding a hidden message when the mirror steams up, laughing till our bellies hurt, watching a movie under the cosy blanket, 'Pick and Mix Roulette'... 

I see your Percy Pig and raise you a fizzy Cola Bottle

...spicy noodles at ‘our cafĂ©’...


...a game of badminton in the park on a summer’s evening, Christmas Eve, playing Hangman over coffee and cake. 



  
It is the simple things that make being a single mum the best job in the world. 

Junior is my best friend. I don't think we would have the same bond had it not been for the fact I've raised him alone. He brings out the silly in me and I love every single second of being with him.


People can be quick to believe the bad things they hear about good people. Single parents can fall victim to spiteful criticisms, misguided opinions, bitterness and insecurities. Often the people who criticise your life are the same people who don't know the struggle it took you to get to where you are today. No-one really knows how hard you work, how many hours you put in, how many tears you've cried or how many rejections you've pulled yourself up from so it's best to rely on yourself for approval, not the outside world.


Ignoring small minded people is the best form of self-defence. I choose to distance myself from negative, toxic people who make assumptions and judgements.  


Instead I have chosen to surround myself with people who dream, support and actually do things rather than spend their time gossiping about those of us who are busy getting on with our lives. I am proud of who I am, and not ashamed of how someone else may see me.



It  is not easy being a single mother raising a son in a rapidly changing world. Being a boy brings with it a unique set of demands, pressures and expectations. I have had to swot up on subjects about the cultural, social and individual factors that impact on boys in society and familiarise myself with terms like ‘modern masculinity’ and ‘precarious manhood’. I try my best to dismantle gender stereotypes and work tirelessly at cancelling out the barrage of negative images of women that are bombarded at my son via social media and music videos. 

I feel confident that having a strong and independent female role model will provide a solid foundation on which Junior can build his understanding of the world and his respect for women. 



Effort is the best indicator of interest. When someone truly cares they will make an effort, not an excuse.

There  is such a thing as too little too late.




The best thing about the worst time of your life is finding out who really cares about you. Value those who go out of their way to make sure you are okay.

Sometimes a long, tight hug is the only thing that'll help.

The strength of a family, like the strength of an army, is in its loyalty to each other. My son has my back and that means more to me than anything.

"Stop being mean about my Mum! She's awesome."
"Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough!"
It has been vital to keep the lines of communication with my son open at all times. I have had to learn to be completely un-shockable!  A good sense of humour has helped with this.  At this juncture I am my son’s first and only port of call when it comes to sensitive issues so he must know he can come to me with any worries or problems at any time.


I have had to learn to be gentle with myself. My son is loved. Tremendously. I would give my last breath so that he could have one more. He knows that.

My child is safe, healthy, happy, confident, hilarious, clever, kind, sensitive and intuitive. I made that happen.

Too many grown-ups demand unconditional respect from their children without taking the time to observe and learn from them. Often it’s the children who need love the most that will ask for it in the most unloving of ways. Children often communicate in quiet ways. If you don’t understand their silence, how can you possibly understand their words? It is a wise parent who knows their child.


Some mornings all I want to do is pull the duvet over my head and there have been nights when I have cried myself to sleep under the sheer weight of responsibility. Sometimes I look around frantically for an adult only to realise I am that adult. Being a parent is physically and emotionally draining, being a single parent is double that work. 

Weight of the world...


It is frighteningly easy to get into a spiral of self-neglect. The daily grind for single parents can be exhausting and all consuming. Often we are so busy managing the practical aspects of single parenthood alongside work/home-life that making it through the day is nothing short of excruciating. A 6am rise, breakfast, packed lunches, clearing away, the school run, a day at work, meetings, appointments, pick-ups, drop offs, ferrying to clubs, help with homework, housework, cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, shopping, a motorway of information to cope with, squeezing in some ‘me’ time (which usually involves more work from home) before collapsing into bed exhausted at 11pm. 

Exhausted Mama Bear

It’s no surprise that a recent study showed that single mothers are at greater risk of poor health in later life. I have had to learn that caring for myself is not self-indulgent, it is an act of survival.

Yoga Bear
Getting ill is pretty catastrophic when you’re a single parent. There is nothing harder than having to take care of a child when you are the one needing cared for. My default position has always been “I haven’t got time to be ill” but battling through an illness can lead to sheer exhaustion and periods where you shake off one thing only to be hit by another. You can’t call in sick for single parenthood. The show must go on.



You need to take responsibility for your own happiness. One of the scariest moments I remember in my single parent journey was realising that nobody else could make things better; the only person who could save me was me. 




I found small, appropriate ways of rewarding myself as regularly as I could. It is important to be kind to yourself.




This also means finding healthy boundaries. Saying "no" without feeling guilty, saying "yes" because you want to, asking for help, staying strong to your values and beliefs, not feeling responsible for other people's happiness, being in tune with your feelings, knowing who you are and what you like, clearing out clutter (physical and emotional), pursuing a hobby, prioritising, slowing down, stepping out of your comfort zone, embracing your mistakes, laughing, making new friends, re-connecting with old friends, withdrawing from people if you need to, creating something, appreciating what you have, writing down your successes. The list is endless.

It’s a lot of fun being the only female at traditionally male dominated events. One particularly fond memory I have is being the only mum in the football stands, eating hot chips from a paper cone as we cheered on the losing team in the wind and rain.

It's not as much fun cheering on your son's team in blizzard conditions, especially when you realise it's your turn to wash eleven muddy strips at the end of the game.

I am now familiar with the off-side rule, how much Gareth Bale is worth, that Paul Pogba invented the most famous football celebration and that Zlatan Ibrahimovic has played for over five clubs. I know the terms Nutmeg, Stepover, Drag Back and Rabona and I am a dab hand at dabbing.



Oh, and I'm pretty mean in goals.

There is still a huge amount of stigma attached to lone parents. The unique brand of vitriol aimed at single mothers is often so cruel and misguided that I find it unbearable to listen to it. Channel Five and ‘Take a Break’ magazine have a lot to answer for. 

  

Ignorance is almost as unbearable as stigma. Get your facts straight folks! It is a constant battle trying to prove society wrong but this challenge has made me stronger and more determined. 

Time proves everything.

Celebrate every tiny victory.

I will not allow my son to become a statistic. Our family is NOT broken despite what the Tory party and tabloids would have you believe. 

Families come in all shapes and sizes

I love the family I have made, the home I have built and the kind of mum I have become. The journey that requires the strength of two is carried on the shoulders of one but I have VERY strong shoulders.



I try my best not to judge other parents and I avoid comparing myself to them either. This is my journey, I will do it my way. 



I only have to look at the people who are trapped in miserable relationships to know I am in the right place.

When I have bad days I remember that I am stronger than I feel in that moment. A bad day does not mean a bad life. Each new day is the chance for a new beginning.



Some things are inextricably linked to memory. For example I only have to hear the theme tune for ‘Balamory’ to instantly be transported back to those lonely, grim early days of single parenthood. No amount of Miss Hoolie's sunny cheer and relentless positivity would have pulled me from the dark hole I was in at that time.


The sound of Formula One brings me out in a cold sweat and I cannot listen to Coldplay’s X+Y album. No offence, Chris Martin but it literally makes me feel sick.

There should be no such word as ‘sacrifice’ when it comes to children. I never signed up to be a single parent but I DID choose to be a mum – the best mum I could possibly be. Many other things have had to go on hold as a result of my circumstances but I have accepted this and would not change my life for the world. Junior has never been an inconvenience or a burden to me.




What is best for the child is rarely what is most convenient for the parent. But being a parent is never about doing what is easy! It’s about doing what is best for the child regardless of what that costs you personally. For the single parent multiply this by ten.

Actions speak a whole lot louder than words. 


My son is not a replica of me and nor should I expect him to be. I don’t impose on him my own hopes and aspirations because he is an individual; a human being in his own right. Everything I find terrifying, he finds brilliant and vice versa. His favourite subjects are maths and P.E, the two I failed most drastically at. I stopped trying to fathom where these qualities came from and I no longer worry that I brought the wrong baby home. I cherish our differences and marvel at the fantastic young man who is growing in front of my eyes. 



Just when I think my son is nothing like me I witness his gentle nature with animals, see him come alive around music, get angry about injustice or inequality or find myself on the receiving end of his caustic wit. It’s in those moments I think to myself, “Aha. There I am.” It is both terrifying and exciting to find parts of yourself in someone else.

No-one makes me laugh like Junior. My son and I share the exact same sense of humour which has helped to seal our remarkable bond over the years. I love him not only for who he is, but for who I am when I am with him.

"And if the homework brings you down then we'll throw it on the fire and take the car downtown..."


I am connected to my son, no matter where he is.


I avoid putting pressure on Junior to be the ‘man of the house’ but there are times when he makes me feel like the child in our relationship. He prefers to have the music down a notch when I’m driving and tells me off for using fruity language. He won’t let me get a tattoo.

Sensible or not, Junior is an adventurous extrovert, prone to leaping before he looks. Like most good mums I come out in a cold sweat at the mere mention of balconies, diving boards, motorbikes and rivers...

"Can't look"

...I also suspect the sensible part of his brain may take a sabbatical when girls come onto the scene.

It would appear the way to a man’s heart is not through being a single mum, which is sad when you consider our unique set of skills, superhuman abilities and general awesomeness.

Compliments go a long way, especially when they are heartfelt and sincere. The simple ones mean the most. Single parents underestimate themselves so much that when people compliment them on the wonderful job they're doing it can feel like winning the lottery. I have been known to burst into tears when someone says something nice to me.

 

I'm still learning. I am a work in progress.

No matter how much I sucked at parenting today, someone else sucked more.

I am incredibly, unbelievably, spectacularly, lucky.


Nobody can do the job of raising my son like I can.


A simple thank you would have gone a very long way.

"You're welcome!"
Being a single parent is double the work, double the stress, double the tears and double the responsibility…

But it is also double the love. And in the end love is enough. 


  



For my darling boy.
Once upon a time you were only a wish.
I carried you in my pocket every day.
No-one knew you were there.
Sometimes I dared to reach in and touch you.
I hung wishes on you like you were a star.
You were the centre of my every hope and dream.
I was patient and I never stopped believing in you.

So if you ever feel lost or unworthy,
Unwanted or doubting your value,
Remember you existed for me even before you were real.
The thought of you roared louder than my demons.
You kept me alive.
I would miss you even if we had never met.

You have fire in your veins, love in your heart and the whole world under your feet.
Know who you are and know that it is enough.
You are a star and you were born to shine.
Go out there and do amazing things.

I love you.

"Perhaps Love" by John Denver and Placido Domingo
"If I should live forever and all my dreams come true, my memories of love will be of you."

© Hazel Allan 2016