I was chatting to a friend the other day when they pointed out to me how they thought the systems that be often expect single parents to be more like superwoman than anything else. And it wasnt until she said it that I realised how much I am expected to be able to manage on my own. And what a good job I’ve been doing actually. I have been feeling somewhat overwhelmed by it all since last year when this became my living status, that being me and my daughter on our own.
Now she is three and a half, has just started pre-school and is growing so fast it scares me! I am a busy single mom trying to work out what to do next whilst wondering how the hell I will fit going to work into the equation next year when she starts at school. I have a lot to juggle and would really love to hear from any of you that have done it and succeeded! Here is a bit of an insight into what living with a three-year old is really like for those of you who think it’s a walk in the park!
As it’s approaching next September, I find myself more and more daunted by the day. I am sure some of you reading this have been there and can assure me it will be ok. I know deep down things will work out in whatever way they are supposed to. That is usually how life goes. Just getting there is always scary. I would be a liar if I didn’t admit to this. My head is a cloud of decisions I have to make pretty much alone and I often feel ready to give up. I don’t though. I suppose that’s my saving grace. I’ve come close to giving up. But the benefits of having children, single or otherwise, far outweigh the negatives and that is why us parents carry on when faced with only one other option.
Choosing a school: I’m just realising how scary it is making sure you pick the right one! Even if you are happy with a decision and make a choice, there’s no saying they will have space for your child anyway. School life is a whole other ball game to just having a baby. Its getting very real. Choosing a school is something you hope to be doing with a partner on a lazy Sunday in bed, with her tucked up in the middle of you both, looking over the relevent prospectuses whilst cooing over how fast your little one has grown up. To progress as a unit is always the ideal. I looked forward to that bit. You work with what you have. I will of course discuss it with her father, but, inevitably, I will be the one taking her and dealing with the school every day, so it is on my shoulders to make that final decision. It already takes me 25 minutes each way to walk up hill to her pre-school, that’s each way, 25 there and 25 back. Twice over each day. Nearly 2 hours of my day taken up with getting to pre school and back. No wonder my calves ache! Yes I could spend £4.40 per day on the bus but you do the math, especially when she’s at school. It may not seem much to some of you but every penny has to count when you don’t have excess.It has to work for me too whichever I choose.
School runs: Managing school runs with work as a none driver is not going to be easy. (Those who have helpfully said why don’t you just learn to drive have obviously never survived on £45 income support per week.) I had a friend once who said I would manage as everyone else in my position had to. It’s a good point in theory, but coming from someone who was driven to the school gates door to door every morning by a family member and who had a supportive partner paying the bills whilst she got to raise her kids at home, it didn’t really bring me much comfort. Remarks aren’t really helpful unless they come from experience. We have a practice routine now of course, which will help us prepare for the real thing, as she’s been at nursery for a year now and the hours are pretty similar to a school day (9am until 3pm) But that’s just two days per week,whilst I am at home and don’t have to rush to work after. The five day week is going to take some getting used to I think!
Getting out the door:Trying to get yourself up and out the house is one thing. Getting up to an alarm for anything in the early hours is never nice for anyone, kids or not! If I leave without food on my clothes or lipstick on my arm it’s a successful morning. (Ever tried just nipping upstairs to do your make-up without a 3 year old following you and destroying every piece of makeup you ever owned?! Not managed it yet myself!) Trying to get yourself and a young child out of the house, on the other hand, is a whole different kettle of fish. To be clean, dressed, packed and fed and at the place you’re going on time is a challenge. We are managing it so far! Just about!
Inconsistencies: There are smooth days where she is so good that I feel a little smug my seemingly angelic child at the time does all she’s told. Then there are days when angel is not the preferred choice of word and she doesn’t co-operate at all. Those days where you will get her dressed, leave the room with only 10 minutes to spare until you need to go, come back in and she’s running around with her trousers on her head and a completely naked body apart from her pants and one sock. All in good fun of course. But not in the least bit helpful. Or those days where you get her dressed and she spills her whole bowl of cereal down her top and it pours under your tv cabinet, giving you another job to add to your morning, reducing your time to get ready and meaning you have to then power walk up the hill arriving very sweaty and frantic but just about on time! Buy hey, if you’re going to be inconsistent at any point in your life, three is a good a time as any to get it out the way!
Above: Who, me?!
Invasions: Mornings, at times, can be a mammoth task. Eat your breakfast (No!), go and get your shoes (Sits watching tv ignoring me), go and have a wee before we leave (cries saying she doesn’t want to try then after 5 minutes of stern mom talking she goes and does a massive one that she obviously needed all along anyway.) You find yourself often sneaking around the house trying to do things in secret. Like tiptoeing up the stairs to have a lone bath whilst she’s watching Bing, only for her to hear me getting in, run after me, then harass me to get in too until I can’t bothered to say no anymore. She proceeds happily making it her own private water world fun time regardless of its original occupier and I quickly wash my hair in the only corner she hasn’t taken over with toys and bottles. Cold water runs freely no matter how much I say to turn it off,my knee is throughly washed at least 12 times whilst I watch my best body wash I was trying to make last at least another week rapidly disappear before my eyes and my 10 minutes of peace become yet another long-winded mess to clean up after. More work for Mommy. Its exhausting sometimes. Mentally draining. Of course there are mornings shes wonderful and does whatever I need her to. And at other times I adore her company in the bath and love that everything is fun at that age. Who am I to spoil her fun. Simple pleasures are all a three year old really needs after love and food. But when you have somewhere to be, its hard work to see the fun side too often. The clock waits for no man once they are in the system.
Me Time: Every one needs this. Shame we don’t all have the luxury of taking it when we live on our own and away from family. I think it must be so easy for men to just walk out on the tediousness as they see it, of a nagging women and young noisy baby, not fully knowing or wanting to know the full sacrifice they are leaving them to make for the remainder of that child’s life (As if they didn’t sacrifice enough having the babies in the first place-So long tight stomach, confidence and energy) Women often are the backbone of the family and yet are so overlooked at times its frightening. A mother can do a 15 hour day, feed her baby, tidy the house, do the shopping and still manage to get something edible on the table for when her partner gets home complaining about his single task of working that day and being tired. Yet we are made to feel grateful they have earned the money and find ourselves running round after them to meet their needs. Who is meeting ours? We constantly multi task and it’s just not noticed.
Now I am alone I am having to double the multi tasking I was already doing! It never ends! I am permanently exhausted. I am not always able to clean the house properly or go out for yet more food supplies because it’s too much work after cleaning, cooking, chasing and entertaining. It takes several trips sometimes to do top up shopping. On my own, I cart everything back on the bus, juggling my toddler holding onto one bag with the other hand full and a back pack on too. There isn’t much time left over for me. Yet I am proud of myself for rising to the challenge because the alternative is not even an option.I am going to do this job properly and raising a child is nothing to be half soaked about.
Time Restraints: My evenings will be taken up with coursework from October, going from one job as Mom in the daytime, to another of student whilst she sleeps at night. I have to do this to better the situation I have been left with. My day will be something like 6am until 11pm constantly doing work of some sort. Once shes dropped at pre-school, I come back and clean up last nights mess I was too exhausted to clean up last night. I have a real bath to make up for the one she stole that morning (If cleaning didn’t take the morning) I might go food shopping or pay some bills and before you know it its time to collect her again. The day goes fast and the night even faster. God help me fitting it all in next year. I will. I have to. I’m just not looking forward to working even harder. I don’t feel its possible right now.
Self Care: It’s a life of choices and sacrifices on your own I have come to realise. People often say raising a child is hard work in general and even as part of a couple. I am not disputing this. Partner or not, its hard work. But with a partner, at least there is a choice that includes you in the equation getting what you need also. I used to be able to have 20 minutes to myself on a morning whilst me and my then partner tag teamed the care of our daughter whilst the other got ready, all getting to do what we needed and getting out the house on time. Always on time. Always with washed hair. Pre single life I washed my hair every day just to feel fresh. Because I had time to wash and blow dry in those days. And put on make up. And paint my nails. And cut them regularly come to think of it. What a luxury. Post split, on my own time, if it’s a choice between getting her to her nursery on time or washing my hair, im going to be walking up that hill with a hat on instead! I come last now in the household list of priorities even more so than I did when I had a partner because im now doing double the work. It’s not a choice to not make an effort with my appearance. I try as much as I have energy to and as much as time will let me. Sometimes a face full of slap is the least of your worries when your toddlers just been sick all in her nursery bag right before you leave the house!
Employment: Finding a job to fit around a 9am until 3pm day will be hard. Ideally I want to be self-employed but havent quite found that thing that I am really good at yet. I wont have the luxury of juggling the school runs and collections with anyone, it’s all on my shoulders and after this last year I do worry if I will be able to handle it all. I have also just started an Open University degree which I will have to work around next year. Finding a quiet moment to study with that feels almost impossible already being on my own with her, and that’s whilst im at home, so the thought of fitting paid work on top of that next year is something im finding hard to come to terms with. This wasnt my life choice of preference. I believed in my family. On my new handed path, on a systems time scale of when they think im ready, im feeling more than a little bit terrified. But a day at a time is what I keep saying and doing.
The fact is that people often see single parents as moaning individuals who must be saying how tough going it is to get sympathy. I have also found that it’s usually those without children with no day-to-day hands on experience of how draining it is, that have the least empathy for your situation doing it alone.
I don’t want your sympathy. I just like to tell it how it is. Some of you might find it interesting. This blog is something I will look back on with happy memories, knowing I allowed myself to process and progress onto better things for myself and my daughters future. I am not expecting any prince charmings to come and rescue me like in any of the chick flicks featuring any of the famous Jennifer’s that I really must stop watching (Lopez, Aniston, you know who you are giving us false hope these men exist!) I am pretty certain I am doing this alone from now on and all I can do is give it my best shot, exhaustion and all x