‘My eldest’s dad has always been in her life, my youngest hasn’t seen hers for eight years. It’s hard not to feel guilty about their different experiences.’
This is Jenny. Jenny has a seven year age gap between her two daughters – two children from two separate, long-term relationships.
‘Single parent‘ is a term used as a very broad brush, but it actually covers a huge variety of experiences, including parents who are managing parenting relationships with more than one other parent. These situations can pose multiple challenges, not least in practical terms, trying to organise the calendars of not just two people, but three or potentially more.
Emotionally too though, there is potential for a lot of difficult feelings and questions, as different children experience different relationships with their other parents.
‘It just feels so hard to explain,’ says Jenny. ‘How can you look at your two children, both incredible human beings, and explain to one that their father isn’t able to see them? How do you do that without them comparing themselves to their sibling and wondering what they did wrong?’
There’s no easy answer unfortunately.
‘The biggest issue for me is that things aren’t fair,’ says Abbie. ‘One of my daughters has extra siblings, the other daughter will inherit more. One gets to go on family ski trips, the other is not invited to extended family events. I do a lot to try to balance things out. Mostly I have to spend a lot of time biting my tongue, reaching out to people I’m not related to, or stumping up costs on my end.
‘The extra siblings have luckily been absorbed into our ‘extended family’, I’ve befriended my ex’s ex-wife and we have weekends away together with all of our children. We call them ‘bonus siblings’ and we have decided to treat their relationship like that of cousins. It’s hard for my eldest daughter though, because her little sister looks more like the ‘bonus’ sister, I think she feels a bit left out, but we work hard to include everyone. I imagine this is an issue for most blended families.
‘The phrase ‘half-sister’ really does sting a bit.. people say ‘oh but you’re just half sisters’, which seems to undermine the fact that they are growing up together, with me, a solo-parent. They are sisters, genetically less so, but they are sisters. People seem to have a very rigid idea of what siblings are and what they should be. I reassure my eldest a lot, and I make an effort to discuss blended families whenever we meet any or see them on TV, so she knows it’s all normal and she’s not in an unusual situation.
‘I top up one of my daughter’s savings account so it matches what the other receives from her Dad. I don’t want them to get to 18 and have vastly different levels of wealth. One will also inherit, the other will not. I don’t know how to balance that other than to try to teach them how important it is to share and be kind to one another. One Dad pays for ballet classes, the other can’t afford to, so I pay. I imagine the difference will feel greater the older they get but I will work my ass off to not have one ‘richer’ and one ‘poorer’ child.
‘My biggest bug-bear is when Grandparents don’t send the other sibling anything for birthdays. No gifts, not even a card. The realisation of how cruel that feels has made me double check I send things to each and every family member, especially friends who have step-children.’
‘Sometimes they get jealous if one Zooms more often. I get a lot of ‘I want MY Dad’ but, I think that’s sibling rivalry again. If one has had a lot of extra Dad time I’m very upfront about it, I will just whatsapp the other Dad and tell him he needs to call. I have to be the boss and organise everything, you can’t expect people to know what the right thing to do is. I have a zero tolerance policy for anyone who disrespects our tribe.
‘I worry sometimes,’ admits Jenny, ‘that the fact that my youngest doesn’t have her Dad means I have a different relationship with her than I do with her sister. I think over the years that I’ve overcompensated. I feel like I have to be everything to her – I’m her only person, and that’s a big responsibility.’
‘It took me a long time to find myself,’ reflects Abbie. ‘I didn’t expect to be a single parent with two kids from two dads but I’m confident enough now to not be bothered by the stigma. I think some people look at me and wonder how I managed to ‘mess up’ so much, but.. it wasn’t my doing and I refuse to feel any shame for it. I hope the kids don’t feel any stigma growing up with just me. Someone did refer to us as a ‘car crash family’ but I’m bloody proud of us. Not many people go on glamping holidays with their children’s siblings.. we’re fine Jack.’
We don’t claim to have the answers when it comes to but we do know that single parenting isn’t as simple as ‘every other weekend, off you go.’ We hope at least that reading these stories reassures you that you’re not alone. For more support download the Frolo app now and join a community of thousands of single parents who get it.