It’s funny isn’t it, how we can adapt to sudden new/exciting/hard/scary changes in our lives, it seems most of the time that we humans are pretty good at taking it on the chin and soldiering on. Even if we are struggling, there’s always something there that tells us to keep fighting- whether we choose to listen to that though is another thing entirely.
It’s the same with parenting, even though becoming a parent completely changes your life (mostly for the better) and takes you right out of your comfort zone, you adapt to it- no matter how hard it is. And then you find that suddenly your old child-free life becomes something of a distant memory, leaving your new life as a parent- with all its highs and lows as the norm.
And with that in mind its interesting how quickly our ‘norms’ whether good or not, also become our comforts. Most of us I’m sure in-between the moments of wanting to pull our hair out or bang our heads against the wall (no? just me?) find that the little lives we build for ourselves, perfect or imperfect, are our own and we become used to them and find comfort in them.
So what happens when your own little norm is completely turned upside down? What happens when you suddenly find yourself as a single parent, after spending years living with a partner who can share the burden of the daily grind? How do we cope? Do we fight or do we flee? I’d always wondered that- looking out from inside of my comfortable little normal two-parent bubble. I’d always had the highest amount of admiration for single parents, I’d always say on the hard days when me and my ex were having a tough time with the boys “my god how do single parents do it?!” I had nothing but the highest of respect for them.
The thought of becoming a single parent scared me so much, that I think perhaps that’s what held our family together for quite some time. Luckily I’m still good friends with the boys’ dad, despite the way things ended; but just because we worked as friends doesn’t necessarily mean that translates into a good relationship; and so when things did come to an end and the prospect of suddenly having to live alone and raise my boys on my own quite frankly scared the shit out of me.
I remember having awful panic attacks and being on the phone to my family and friends, sobbing about how awful I was for breaking up the family and abandoning my children. I used to worry about how the youngest would make do without me when he was with his dad, as we’d always had an incredibly close bond and did almost everything together. I worried I’d scar him for life, and he’d always feel abandoned by me.
And after breaking up with my ex, and with all of these worries I still had to find a new home. After rushing around for a week trying to find a new house to rent that would let us move in straight away, I would worry about how I would be able to afford rent and bills on my own. But the worries were also tinged with excitement too- on my good days I would look forward to a new and bright future with just me and my children; on the bad days I’d torture myself with images of pure chaos that I could not control, and loneliness that would overpower me.
The first night in my new house I *was* excited. I had a new place all of my own. It was very small, but cute and charming; and best of all it was across the road from my mum and stepdad, who were my pillars at the time. Slowly but surely over that weekend I unpacked all my boxes and arranged and then rearranged my furniture and belongings; hung up pictures and made the boy’s room look nice for when they came back. It had been the first time that I’d ever been away from my youngest, I’d never spent a single night away from him, and although I appreciated the lie ins I missed my boys terribly.
The first day I was due to have the boys back I was terrified. I wondered how on earth I was going to cope. How do I keep them happy? How difficult will it be to do the most basic things on my own with no one else around to keep an eye on the kids- housework, cooking; even going to the loo!
I worried about how Jacob would cope without his dad, with whom he had an incredibly close bond. I’d had PND very badly with Jacob when he was born and as such it had affected our relationship and had resulted in a bond that never really fully formed. I worried that because of this I would not be able to keep him happy or make him feel loved; no matter how hard I tried.
I can’t really remember much of that first day. I remember feeling very teary, I was grumpy and short tempered with the children because I was so stressed, and lack of wifi in the house meant I felt completely alone too as I wasn’t able to contact friends easily without running up (an already huge) phone bill.
Days and then weeks passed and I found myself slowly falling into some kind of new ‘norm’ with the boys. The days in the week when I had the boys were hard, I felt like I was on a merry-go-round, just constantly running around after the boys, trying to keep them happy, full and comforted. Paying attention to both of them and rationing my time with each one so neither felt left out was hard on my own- I worried that they’d never be happy, that I wasn’t doing enough to keep them entertained. I’d put them to bed at night and dread the next day when I’d have to do it all over again. And yet I missed them on the weekends when they weren’t with me; I’d enjoy catching up on the sleep I’d lost during the week and catching up with my artwork; but I missed them. But then when they were with me I couldn’t fully enjoy them because I was still adjusting to this new life as a lone-parent and found myself being overcome with stress, followed closely by guilt. I felt like I just couldn’t win.
As the weeks passed into months I found I was starting to feel like I’d got this down, like I was starting to really understand how to function during the days on my own. We had routines in place, we’d go out most days- even if it was just to the park so that the boys could run off some steam and get fresh air. I started to become more brave with taking the boys out to places, long bus rides stopped being scary and became part of the structure of most of our days. I’d find activities to do with them in the house on those dreaded rainy days and discovered that arts and crafts, while a nightmare to clean up after were a great way to keep the kids happy and quiet. My bond with Jacob started to improve and as each day went on I realised that no matter how much I tried to pull myself down with those niggly worries and criticisms; I had this.
Life started to get much easier after a while. I started to feel like we were a little family, and a happy one at that. I felt like I *was* enough for J&N, and that so long as I kept working hard I’d know I was providing a safe and healthy, and most importantly *happy* home environment for them to live in.
The days when they are with me are always hard to some degree, I mean- kids are hard work. But now I can actually manage the stress of the demands of home life and take joy from it- which is all I ever wanted. I feel good in the week, I have my children around and I feel like I have the right to call myself a parent.
On the weekends when they are with their dad I find that’s when I struggle with my depression and the tormenting thoughts that follow.
Now one thing I always missed when I lived with my ex and the boys was free time. We all do- free time is like gold dust when you’re a parent, and so at first I felt like I was lucky because I had the best of both worlds: I got to be a mum and spend time with the kids during the week and then at the weekend I got to be just Emily. I’d get to go out and explore and focus on my artwork, but after a while, I started to feel quite empty. It was nothing anyone had done-I was happy in my life,I felt free in some ways (mostly from a crappy atmosphere in my old life); and yet one night while I was sat with Al watching the tv, this little voice in my head suddenly said “you’re not a real parent anymore”.
I suddenly felt sick, like I’d only just realised the gravity of the sacrifices I’d made from leaving my old life had had. I *wasn’t* a real parent anymore. I was a part time parent. I’d given up the right to call myself a mother and that tormented me every weekend when the boys were with their dad. I’d find on the weekends my anxiety was at an all time high, I would just want to lie in bed, I’d cry most of the time, all the while tormenting myself with nasty thought after nasty thought. I even abandoned this blog because I felt I’d lost the right to write about parenting because I wasn’t one myself anymore. Not really. I couldn’t even look at pictures of the boys when they weren’t here; it was like the had died and I was mourning. And I suppose in some ways I was, I was going through a grieving process in many ways. I was mourning for the good aspects of my old life; for the good days I had with my ex and the boys, our family days out and the comfort of being a nuclear family unit.
I missed my old home and the old village I lived in, I missed the garden and the views of the mountains of the Nantlle Valley which hugged us from all sides. I missed going out in the garden at night to look at the stars and listen to the owls hooting. I missed so much from my old life, but when I had those things they weren’t enough to keep me happy when my home life on a day-to-day basis wasn’t great.
But that’s the thing y’see- when you remember things you miss, you only ever remember the good bits- it’s like block out the bad leaving behind a rose tinted image of a memory that never truthfully fully existed.
I remember after a couple of weeks of suffering with this awful depressive patch that just wouldn’t go away I broke down on Al one Friday night. I sobbed and told him everything that was on my mind. I felt so guilty for abandoning my kids, for putting my own selfish needs first ahead of theirs. There’s so much that happened that caused my old relationship to end, there was fault on both sides; and yet all I could do was blame myself.
It took quite a while to slowly come out of that unhealthy way of thinking. I talked to a lot of people, to friends and family, and I even did a bit of reading online to see if I was the only parent in the world who felt this way. And of course I wasn’t. It doesn’t matter how alone in the world you feel, chances are there’s someone out there who feels the same way as you do; who’s going through the same things as you are.
I realise now that I *am*, always have and always *will be a mum*. As my mum told me- “you grew those boys, you gave birth to them, it doesn’t matter if you only see them once a month; you will ALWAYS be their mum”, and it’s true- I always will be their mum, and they will always be my babies.
I needed the support from my family and friends to get through the horrible way I was feeling, to shush those horrible little bastard intrusive thoughts that tormented me and made me devalue myself. The people online who told their stories and spoke of their feelings about the guilt they felt splitting up their families and missing their children helped me too.
So I’m adding my story out there, joining it with the other stories of parents who felt like I did In the hope that it’ll help someone else out there struggling with the same feelings.
I hope this article helps you, whoever you are and whatever your situation. You’re not alone, you’re just another warrior doing what you can to keep your babies safe and loved. You’ve got this- single parents and two parent families, we rock.
As for us? something tells me we’ll be ok 🙂