Being a single parent is as shitty as it is rewarding, there, I’ve said it.
As with everything else in life, there’s positives and negatives.
I’d be lying if I said it’s great 100% of the time, but no type of parent can say that it is. And if they do, they’re either extremely blessed or extremely full of bullshit.
Have a read of the things I hate about parenting (but wouldn’t change) here.
Becoming a single parent.
Becoming a single parent for the first time for me was initially scary, but it didn’t take long to get into a new one-parent routine. I’ve always been of the opinion that if you’re not prepared to face the possibility of having to bring up children on your own, then you’re not ready to be a parent. Because anything can change at a moment’s notice and leave you divorced, widowed or facing some other kind of struggle.
This post was triggered by something I read on another website recently that said :
A single parent attaches to her children so badly for company and support that it makes it difficult for the child to leave the house.
Well, excuse my potty mouth, but fuck me. That is just so wrong.
Firstly, the assumption that all single parents are women. They aren’t. There are thousands of single Dads out there absolutely rocking single parenting. Around 15% of all the single parents with main carer responsibility in the UK are Dads. That equates to about 400,000 (based on 2018 figures).
Secondly, for making it sound like single mums are leeches attached to their children so much they are preventing them from living a normal childhood existence. I don’t know of any parent that attaches themselves so strongly to their children that they feel they can’t leave the house. Most of the single parents I know (myself included) welcome their children going out and doing their own thing. How else do we ever get anything done around the house?
As always, I digress. So getting back to what it says in the title, here are the best and worst things about being a single parent.
The positives of being a single parent.
1. Making decisions.
There are no arguments over who does what. You’d think that being a single parent means having to do twice as much as a parent in a 2 parent family, but it’s not really. All that time I used to spend arguing over whose turn it was to empty the dishwasher, take out the bins or hoover. Then either waiting until it was done or nagging to get it done was such a waste of energy. I can easily get things done now in less time than I used to and I’m less stressed afterwards.
2. Spur of the moment fun.
I love the fact that we can just get up, decide to do something and then just go. If the kids want to go for a walk along the beach at sunset in their pjs, that’s fine by me. If they want to go ice skating after school and have a cheeky takeaway on the way home, we can. The world is literally our oyster and we run to our own timetable. There’s no pressure to be home for anything other than bedtime, and I love that freedom.
3. There’s no undermining of my authority.
I remember being guilty of this as a child : running to the other parent when the first one had said no, hoping for a different answer. If I say no to something, then that’s it. There’s nobody else to interfere, nobody else to say ‘oh just let them stay up an extra half an hour it won’t harm them’. Because it does. That extra half an hour is the difference between the next morning being ok or it being a morning when my coffee needs a coffee.
4. My house is mine.
I can decide to redecorate on a whim if I fancy it. Or move furniture around, or change the direction my bed faces when I can’t sleep whenever I feel like it. Without having to have a big conversation about it first. My house is pretty much exactly how I want it (aside from the mess) and I don’t have to look at framed pictures of football grounds, football legends, or football scarves hanging from every window.
5. Quiet evenings.
I don’t have to turn the TV on, or listen to football commentators shouting. Or watch a grown man playing a computer game and shouting at the screen. I don’t have to listen to someone snoring on the couch instead of watching whatever guff they insisted on putting on the TV in the first place. Very often I just sit in my lounge enjoying silence.
6. We are all so close.
Sure, there’s still the normal sibling arguments, nothing will ever change that, but I feel a much stronger connection to them as a single parent than I did as a coupled parent. I’m not distracted by anyone else’s needs. I’m not in mid-row with anyone else. And I’m definitely not harbouring unhappy feelings about the state of my relationship. The children all know they can come and talk to me about anything at any time.
If that means having a drunken chat at 3am because a boyfriend has caused upset, so be it. They come to me with every problem, big or small. Even if I cant solve it, they know I’m always listening. And they know me for me. Just me. And they really get me as much as I get them. They all have my sense of humour and are as sarcastic as I am (nature or nurture?) which makes for a lot of fun times and laughter.
And occasionally drives me mad when I’m not in the mood to be out-sarcasmed.
7. I get to a starfish.
This is one of my biggest joys. I can stretch right across my bed and sleep however I feel like, wrap as much duvet around me as I please and have my pillows in the middle of the bed without annoying someone else. I can have my window open in the winter and my winter duvet on in the summer. Also, if the kids are ill or have had a nightmare, or just wake up way earlier than they should have done, I can just move over, let them climb in and snuggle them back to sleep. (The small ones obvs, although the big ones are welcome too if they really felt like it).
I can put my Christmas tree up whenever I want. Even in November if I want to. I have an army of people desperate to go and hang out in the loft when it’s time to get the decorations down, so I don’t have to do it all on my own. Both of the Dads in their lives choose not to see them, so Christmas is always on our own schedule and always together.
9. Time management master.
If there’s one thing single parenting teaches a person, it’s mastering time management. When you have to do everything on your own, you just get into a rhythm and can do many things at once. For example, if I’m cooking dinner in the oven, I will often fold laundry, empty the dishwasher, take the bins out and wash out lunchboxes at the same time. If I’m cooking on the hob and need to keep an eye on things, I’ll do something different like listen to the girls read, or fill in their homework/reading diary. I’ve done it so often now that I feel like a bit of plum just standing in the kitchen only doing one thing.
10. No gender specific roles.
For me, one of these greatest things is that’s there’s no blue or pink jobs in this house. I am as good at DIY as I am at breastfeeding and my children have seen me do it all. This is great for the girls, because they see that girls can do it all (except pee standing up), and it’s great for the boy because he has a really positive view of women, their strength and abilities. He also understands the importance of chocolate at certain times of the month.
When you don’t have anyone else to rely on, you have to keep going. Even when you’d rather stay in bed with Netflix and a packet of biscuits, you can’t. You have to pull strength from somewhere to fight another day. Not only do you develop resilience, but the children learn it too, which has got to stand them in good stead when they’ve flown the nest.
12. I’ve never been caught in flagrante delicto.
Some of my coupled up friends have been caught out and whilst their tales are hilarious to me as a listener, this is an embarrassment I never have to worry about. It’s maybe not so bad when the children are young enough to think you’re wrestling, but mine are old enough to know what’s actually going on and I’m not sure I’d be able to face them the next morning.
13. There‘s nobody to nag me about my mobile shit tip (my car).
I don’t miss this at all. My car is full of useful stuff, like spare shoes, coats, socks, lonely gloves and hairbrushes. And if you ever need some empty Mcdonald’s packaging, or plastic bottles I’m sure I could rustle some up for you. My car is basically like my mind, full of things I need to do, full of some things that are useful and some that are just crap.
I’m full of it. I’m not saying that coupled up families aren’t, because of course they are, but for me, every achievement, success, new skill and even struggle gives me double pride. It’s my encouragement and my support that’s got them there, so I get to celebrate their good job and mine.
The negatives of being a single parent.
1. There’s no backup.
This is hard. Especially when I’m feeling really ill. On the days where I feel like death, and just want to lie in bed feeling sorry for myself, I can’t. There is nobody to pick up the slack. Nobody to get the kids up, fed and ready for school apart from me. Actually having to force myself out of bed when feeling so ill is probably the worst thing about being a single parent.
2. Lack of support
Again, this is hard. Everybody needs a bit of encouragement and support in their life. But being a single parent usually means you have nobody cheering you on. Not having another adult to check you’re making a good decision is difficult. During periods of doubt, I often wish there was another adult to ask for their opinion.
I’m lucky that I have my Mum to ask, but not everybody has a trusted adult to ask.
Being a single parent means there is only a single income. And this makes things very tough. It makes it harder to pay for everyday items, and near on impossible to afford a family holiday. Budgeting is so difficult when there’s only one income. The simplest things, like an unexpected school shoe purchase can put finances out of whack for ages.
If there was a way of going back in time and advising myself, I would tell myself to always have a rainy day fund. Because rainy days seem to happen more often as a single parent.
4. Sharing the good and bad.
Has your child every mastered something or said something really funny and you just want to tell someone? Being a single parent often means that you don’t have anyone that you can just tell these things to. You might be lucky enough to have a good relationship with your ex. In which case, share away. But if you don’t have a good relationship, this can be a massive negative. A lot of single parents I know share things on Facebook. I’ve seen people accuse them of bragging or moaning, but they aren’t. These parents just want to have a dialogue with the outside world.
So if you see a bragging post, congratulate them.
If you see a moaning post, offer sympathy or advice.
At the end of the day, humans are social, and we need the input of other people.
Loneliness is another struggle. For all the reasons I’ve said in 1-4, there’s a common theme : having to do everything on your own.
Single parents can often become very lonely and need someone else to talk to. When your whole life revolves around your children, there isn’t time for a grownup social life.
If you have children that are a similar age to your friends‘ children, get together. The children can play, and you can have a cuppa and a chat.
Unless you’re the most zen person on the planet, it’s natural for a single parent to worry about everything. From money to nutrition. Or worrying that your child(ten) don’t see the other parent as often as they would life. It’s all very tough. And coupled up parents also have worries. Probably very similar to your own. It’s perfectly natural to worry about everything when you have a child. That is essentially the definition of a parent; worrying about every little thing.
This one doesn’t really apply to my situation, as neither of my childrens’ other parents choose to see them very often.
You may have the kind of ex that wants to have their children every weekend, or who wants to share custody with you, which is great.
Maintaining contact with the other parent, and the other parent’s family is really important. It helps your child, and also gives you a bit of freedom or downtime to do something that makes you happy. Children are happiest if they can see both parents working together.
Obviously, there are some scenarios where this isn’t possible, or where the other parent cancels contact at the last moment. And this can have a knock on effect for the child(ren).
If at all possible, try to keep to the same routine of contact, and make sure your ex knows how important contact with their child is.
8. The fallout.
Unfortunately, the parent with the most caring responsibilities is usually the one who has to deal with the fallout of the relationship breakdown.
Try not to take it personally. You’re your child’s place of safety and security, so it’s normal to get the brunt of their emotions. Whether that’s anger or disappointment or confusion or sadness. Chances are, you’ll have to deal with it all.
But it will pass. Children are really resilient and adapt to new routines fairly quickly.
Gingerbread has a lot of advice specific to single parents.
Single Parent Action Network has some general advice about work, housing, finances and legal advice.
Home Start is a fantastic resource, full of support for the whole family and loads of links to other organisations that can help or give advice with specific issues affecting single parents.
Gov.uk has a load of information about financial support, parental leave, tax credits, grants and benefit information. It’s not specific to single parents, but still has some good info.