I’ve been a single parent on and off for nearly 25 years now, which seems like a crazy thing to say as I’m sure I’m only about 28 myself, but there you go.
I first became a single parent aged 19, when my eldest daughter Bee was two years old. It was tricky, especially financially, but I had a wonderfully supportive family who took care of Bee while I drove up and back to university, and we lived a simple but quite happy life, despite lacking some of the basics. (We only went without a fridge during the winter, which just meant leaving the milk outside on the back step.) I do remember it being tough, but I also remember a strong sense of freedom and autonomy, of being in charge of my own life.
My second daughter, Belle, was born five years later, when I was 24. I was in a relationship with her dad for nine years, but part of me wonders how much I really let the single parent mentality leave me. How much of his apparent hopelessness was actually down to him, and how much was enabled by me, not wanting to relinquish control after having had to manage alone?
We separated over 12 years ago now and although I’ve had long term relationships in that time, I’ve never felt like I was able to share the role of parent, I have always been a single parent in my heart and practically too, even when I’ve lived with a partner. Perhaps I’ve always chosen badly (I absolutely have) but it’s always felt more like having an extra child to look after than an equal that I could depend on. I’ve always known that the buck stopped with me.
What I’ve found most interesting over the years as a single parent is how children present new and different challenges at every age. When my girls were little I was convinced, naively, that the older they got, the easier parenting would become. I counted down the weeks and months until they started school, ticked off milestones as they grew up, all the while waiting for that tipping point where the sense of responsibility started to fall away.
Spoiler alert: it still hasn’t.
They have ever-changing, complex emotional needs, needs that aren’t easily met any more by a firm hug and the offer of chocolate buttons.
Although the physical demands are different – (sleepless nights and early mornings are far less common, although not unheard of) – their emotional needs have grown. They don’t have tantrums in supermarkets any more, but they do have ever changing complex emotional needs, needs that aren’t easily met any more by a firm hug and the offer of chocolate buttons. Toddlers are intense for sure, but they are much more straightforward and although their tears are exhausting, there is a satisfaction in being able to easily put a smile back on their faces.
Parenting teenagers and young adults is a completely different ball game and one that I’ve found much harder to deal with as a single parent. I felt the lack of another adult much more strongly as they’ve grown up and the challenges they face have become more complicated.
More and more often I’ve found myself longing for another parent to share that responsibility with – someone to talk to, share ideas with, someone to reassure me that I’m doing the right thing and that everything is going to be okay.
Everything WILL be okay, I know that on one level, but sometimes it would be nice to hear someone say it.
Jo lives in Somerset with her 18-year-old daughter Belle and her three cats.
She’s also written a novel – Playgroups & Prosecco – which you can check out here.