Dorothy started blogging at “Singular Insanity” in January 2009, as a way to process what was happening in her marriage break up. She is now a solo parent of two boys, aged 5 and 9 and writes about her life as she tries to heal and move on from years of psychological abuse.
She also loves to attend, and write about, blogger events, especially when they involve chocolate, or champagne, or both. Dorothy was included in Kidspot’s 2011 Top 50 Bloggers and describes herself as a “writer, thinker, mother, friend and a wanna-be artist”.
I really appreciate Dorothy sharing part of her story here on Planning With Kids. My family fits your generic nuclear family model: mum, dad and kids. I know that this isn’t what everyone’s family looks like, so it great to be able to publish tips and a viewpoint that is different to my own – thanks Dorothy!
Single parent, sole parent, is there a difference?
If you’re a sole parent, like me, you parent alone. You are fully in charge of your children and with your children 100% of the time (well, apart from school and childcare and work). There are no shared parenting arrangements, no time off, no negotiations over holidays, choosing schools or family celebrations. You are IT.
If you are a single parent, you probably share the parenting decisions with the children’s other parent, your children’s time is shared in some way between two households and you are regularly communicating with the other parent about any issues that may be arising.
I’ve experienced both situations. For me, being a single parent was much easier than parenting solo. For others, the reverse is true. It all depends on the relationship you have, if any, with the other parent.
In my case, I was initially forced into sole parenting, but later chose it for the safety and emotional well-being of my children.
I have now been a single/solo parent for over two and a half years. During that time I have come close to chucking it in more times than I care to count. Yet, that was never really an option. I am all that my kids have. And the reasons that I’ve survived and kept my sanity so far are these:
1. Always remember – YOU ARE ENOUGH!
My biggest fear from day one of becoming a single parent was “Will I be enough?” How can I possibly fill the void left by my children’s father. How can I be both mother and father to them? How can I do all the things that he did with them?
Since then, I’ve learnt that, whether you are parenting alone, or co-parenting, you will always be enough. Because YOU are your children’s parent, no-one else. They don’t want anyone else. No matter how you think about your parenting skills, no matter what others tell you, your children just want YOU! They want you to be with them, to be their parent. Even if you loathe arts and crafts, don’t produce beautiful nutritious meals on a daily basis and can’t help in your child’s classroom – YOU ARE ENOUGH! That one thought has saved me more than once from completely dissolving in an ocean of self-pity.
2. Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.
Face it, parenting alone is hard work. Even co-parenting can be a juggle, particulalry when one parent carries the bulk of the parenting responsibilities. There is the ferrying to and from school and after school activities, the cooking, the cleaning, the washing, the shopping, the refereeing of fights, the dealing with issues – whatever they may be.
Initially, I tried to continue as if nothing had changed. But when I became a sole parent and then started full time work as well, I knew I could not keep it up much longer. I decided to cut back on the work that needed to be done at home.
I arranged for both boys to do their swimming lessons on the weekend, at the same time. I chose not to involve them in any further activities. I began cooking in bulk and freezing meals. Meals I knew they would both eat without a drama. This was not the time to fight food battles.
This is also part of simplifying. Once I accepted that I could not do it all, I hired a cleaner and a lawn mower man. And of course both boys were in full time care. I am lucky that our school offers before and after school care and that my child care benefit made it affordable. There were also holiday programs. And my younger son was in day care. Any mother guilt went out the window, because there was no other choice. Any other jobs that needed doing, that I couldn’t or didn’t want to do, were done by people hired for that purpose.
4. Ask for, and accept, help.
From conversations with other parents, I know that we don’t like to ask for help. I had to swallow my pride and finally asked for help. Help with child-minding when I couldn’t get full time childcare straight away. Help with school pick-ups when I was trying to ease my older boy into daily before and after school care. Sometimes even help from strangers , when the situation called for it. I really had to loosen up.
When we went away on our first holiday alone, I found out just how amazingly helpful people are when you are on your own. On a boat, while whale watching, all of the other women took turns minding one or the other of the boys, while the second one was with me. Because of course they wouldn’t stay together….!
5. Get serious about discipline
Changes in family structure lead to changes in family dynamics and therefore to children’s behaviour. My boys’ behaviour was challenging to say the least! Every time there is a change of any kind in our lives, they start testing the boundaries to see exactly how much things have changed. At the time of separation and then stopping to see their father and then me starting full time work, then moving house, they made my life hell. I felt they were going to break me.
I knew I had to get serious about discipline. Discipline, in the sense of being clear about the household rules, expected behaviours and consequences for unacceptable behaviour. I also needed to get clear about routines – again and again and again. If you are co-parenting you need to work hard at consistency between the two households.
There is no one method or system of managing children’s behaviour, of teaching them your family’s values and acceptable social behaviours. Experiment with a few and find the one or two that work best with your family, your children. With us, it was sticker charts leading to rewards and lists of tasks that needed to be done before fun activities were allowed.
6. Be honest
I sought family counselling very early in my marriage breakdown. The advice I received from the counsellor, as well as from other sources I sought out, was to tell the truth. Age-appropriate truth. Having the counsellor present and doing a lot of the talking was enormously helpful. Since then, I have always been honest with my boys about my story. About their story.
I’ve never told them fairy tales to give them false hope of our family reuniting. I have told them facts about their father, about me, about our life, about money, in a language they can understand. I have explained that our family has changed. That there is now three of us. And that they also have grandma and grandpa and Auntie Paulina.
I have explained why we do what we do. Why we moved house. Why I spend so much time on the computer. They uderstand that it’s work.
7. Check your expectations
I can only speak from the female perspective, but it seems that we are our worst critics. We have such enormous expectations of ourselves. This is something I’ve struggled with for a long time and am beginning to understand that I need to do less and be more. I don’t necessarily need to do lots of things with my children – things I don’t enjoy or can’t afford. I know that it’s just as, if not more, important, for me to just be with them.
To snuggle up on the couch and watch TV or DVDs with them. To go for a walk. To watch them be crazy at the playground. They really just want me to pre PRESENT. I’ve learnt to put the phone away, walk away from the laptop and just sit down with them for a few minutes. Because sometimes that’s all it takes. A few minutes.
8. Do the scary stuff!
When you are used to doing things as a “complete family”, or where you and your ex-partner had specific roles in the family and did specific jobs, it can be scary to suddenly have to do these things by yourself.
But being afraid of these things is not going to make them go away. And there is enormous satisfaction in not only conquering your fears, but in getting a job done! Take control back of your life!
- If you’ve never gone to the movies alone – do it!
- If you’ve never eaten alone – do it!
- If you’ve never put together flat-packed furniture – give it a go!
- If you’ve never used a power tool – go and buy yourself one and start having fun!
9. Remember you
As a single, or sole parent, it is very easy to get caught up in everything that needs to be done. For the kids, for the house, for your family, for work. After a while, though, you begin to lose yourself – at least I did. At the end of the day, I would collapse exhausted in front of the TV and just let my brain go numb. Even when I thought I was doing something for myself, like taking time out to get my hair done, I would bury my head in a book and escape.
This isn’t what I mean by remembering you. I mean remembering what brings you joy, taking time to do those things and then being fully present in that experience. It is sitting down with that first cup of coffee in the morning and really tasting, smelling, feeling and enjoying that coffee. It means returning to some of those things you once enjoyed and being present in the moment as you do them. Whether it’s swimming, gardening or painting your nails. Be there. Appreciate the moment for what it is. You time….
10. Have fun!
I found that as a sole parent I am much firmer and more serious with my kids than I used to be. To the point that they look really surprised when I smile, or even laugh. I keep forgetting to have fun. It is perhaps my greatest challenge. Sometimes all it takes is a tickle fight, or wrestling with them on the floor, or chasing them around the kitchen. They love it! And it helps me to loosen up…
Then there is having grown up fun. In the past two years I have just about never said no to an invitation to go out. Even with strangers. I love attending all kinds of events, just on the chance that I might have fun. For someone who is an extreme introvert and anxiety prone, that is a huge effort. But I figure I have nothing to lose and everything to gain, if I just happen to have fun!
What about you? If you are a single or sole parent, what have been some of the strategies you’ve used to keep your sanity?