I’ve been a single parent since just before my daughter was 2 years old, so that’s 12 years now.
My name is Sally, I’m a journalist and social media marketer, and I live in Lancashire. My daughter Flea (we use her family nickname online) is 14 and we live with our slightly anarchic dog, Teddy. We both have a passion for travel, and exploring new places together. I’m a single parent by choice, in that when I got divorced I wanted my daughter to grow up with as much stability as I could give her, which meant one Mum and one Dad. Although now she’s a teenager I’m slightly panicking about the whole “dying alone” thing.
It’s harder as children get older, which I didn’t expect.
When Flea was younger, I was able to give her all my attention between the hours of 7am and 7pm, then I’d have my evenings free to work.
Now Flea is a teenager, she tends to go to bed at almost the same time as me, and she gets upset if I am on my laptop in the evenings, instead of spending quality time with her. So at the moment I work while she’s at school and try not to work if I can help it during evenings and weekends. That’s not always easy when you run your own business.
I don’t have a lot of free time, but I like to meet up with friends for coffee and a chat. I’m lucky to be my own boss, so I can take a sneaky break here and there. I’m a big fan of cinema, especially in the afternoons when it’s quiet. And I love to swim, it’s great for my overall wellbeing.
Single parenting can be so unbelievably lonely. Splitting from a partner or spouse can involve losing friends, and single parents often need to move house, and into new areas. Added to which we can’t always afford babysitters to get out and about and have the same social life as married people. Meeting people online, sharing experiences, realising you’re not the only one feeling this way – that’s enormously powerful.
Challenging. Humbling. Hilarious.
To stop worrying about the relationship my daughter had with her Dad. I felt horribly guilty at making the choice to split our family and for a long time, I tried to impose my view of what their relationship should look like, when inevitably my daughter grew up and developed her own relationship with her dad, on her own terms. I wasted a lot of emotional energy on that one.
You feel what you feel. My Mum told me this a long time ago and it stuck with me. The idea is that sometimes you feel tired, or bored, or frustrated, or angry. Trying to make yourself not feel those things, or feeling guilty for having those feelings is a waste of time and energy. Accept that you’re human and you can’t control your emotions. You can only control how you respond to them.
My daughter. I was adopted, and she’s the first and only person I’ve ever been physically related to. There’s something so precious about that, to me.
California. I love the sunshine, the open beaches, the laid-back lifestyle. We’ve been there for the summer four times now, and each time we hire a car and spend a month or so driving up and down the coast, stopping here and there to explore. For me, California represents an escape from everyday life and some of our happiest, most carefree memories.
I read all the time, but I’m not sure anything single parent-specific springs to mind.
I’ll tell you what I did read recently that’s stuck with me, though – it’s a Young Adult Fiction book called Dear Evan Hansen and it’s about how no matter what mistakes someone makes, their life is valuable and they are worthy of being loved, and saved. As someone who has a tendency to dwell on my past mistakes and choices sometimes, that was an important message for me to be reminded of.
It’s fun to have fun, but you have to know how. My family for a long time thought I was “frivolous” because I spend money on travel and adventures, not home décor and expensive clothes. But the recent lockdown really brought it home to me that I don’t regret a second of our adventures. Replacing those skirting boards can always wait.
Apart from being recognised at the grave of Jesus (true story, which I’m only permitted to tell once a year), probably just raising a great person, while keeping us afloat.
Loads. I am that person who wakes up at 4am worrying about whether I’ve offended someone, or said the wrong thing, or behaved poorly. But I also recognise what another single Mum once told me – there are no wrong choices. Only choices that felt right at the time. So I try and live by that.
It’s better to be happy than to be right. I spent a lot of time in my teens and twenties wanting to be right. Oh, the arguments I had during my divorce!
These days, I don’t care. I will apologise freely for things I don’t think were my fault or let it go when someone behaves poorly, because I have learned it doesn’t matter what everyone thinks is right or wrong – it matters what I think is right or wrong. If I know I’ve done my best to do the right thing, with good intentions, then that’s more than good enough for me.
I watched The Office back with my daughter and laughed so much. It’s controversial, but I love the American Office better than the British version.
About two days ago, when I wanted to make a special lunch for us and my teenager was in such a grump that I told her she’d ruined it, and stomped to my bedroom. Sometimes it has to be said, I’m more teenager than she is.
There’s a country song called “Sway” by Danielle Bradbery and it’s honestly just the BEST song to play to cheer yourself up and dance around the kitchen.
Don’t neglect you. You’re a better parent if you have good friends, and something else to balance your parenting life. If you don’t have time to go out and make friends in real life, then don’t dismiss the Internet. Some of my very best friends today are people I met online when my daughter was young.
That I really should have learned more DIY when my Dad was alive.
You can follow Sally and Flea’s adventures on Instagram @thesallywhittle and her blog.