“Do I have the children?” and “Is it the weekend?” were the first two questions to run subconsciously through my waking mind in the blur of the 05h30 alarm, a sure sign that another busy week with my three children had taken its toll. Thankfully it is Friday and thankfully, due to my children’s father living not too far away, I have a weekend of self-indulgent bliss to look forward to. Or do I?
Becoming a single parent (I have been my children’s ‘primary caregiver’ for 6 years now) is akin to taking on the role of a CEO with no deputy, one for which there is no brief, no guidelines, no rules. We go in blind, unaware of the sheer exhaustion, planning and logistics that it will entail. Survival and nurturing instincts takes over, with little regard for the physical and emotional effects on you as a parent. Our children come first, right?
Divorce is an ugly thing: your whole world changes and shatters into a thousand pieces. The aim, post-divorce, is to gather up each piece and somehow stick them back together in a manner that forms some semblance of ‘normal’. Of course, there is a vital piece missing: the father (or mother) figure. Much as you may have wanted the divorce and life is not as chaotic with that person in the household, they still have an important role to play.
Being a single parent (assuming there is no new partner to lessen the load of daily routine) is the toughest, most challenging and often, loneliest task on earth. It was not meant to be this way, yet here you find yourself forever compensating and taking on the role of both parents, in between the children’s visitation to the non-custodial parent.
In the early days, when my children were still quite young, I used to dread the weekends without them. Instead of catching up with friends or doing stuff I didn’t have time for during the week (usually household chores!) or simply switching off and reading a book (if only!), I would worry that they were ok and looked forward to them returning home. These days (and it is not wrong to feel this way!) I look forward to the precious hours alone, knowing that their father is as capable and as happy as I am, to be spending time with them, much as I am to be able to recharge my batteries.
What I haven’t mastered, though (and I am sure I am not alone in this), is the occasional loneliness of a weekend alone. It may not be true for all divorced parents, but if, like me, you have moved out of certain social circles and been the “one who wanted the divorce” (thereby having your reputation in tatters with people you once considered friends), spending a weekend alone is really not all it’s cracked up to be. It is like starting over, making new friends (not easy as you get older and struggle fit in, coupled with your new responsibilities as a full time parent). During the working week, people are ‘available’ and there is a comforting, predictable daily routine. Come the weekend, this is when families go out to play and though there are exceptions, often, single parents are excluded from the ‘scene’. Of course, there are many things that one can do alone, without children, although often, the whole point of going somewhere was to give them a new experience and store memories of time spent together.
Though undoubtedly a challenging role, it is not all doom and gloom: I am lucky enough to have a very good co-parenting relationship with my ex partner. Not without the occasional blip, but in this job, it is essential to be able to keep all emotion and personal feelings out of the mix. This is half the battle. In addition, unless you intend totally losing your sanity, it is important to have a support network for days when you really need the help of another parent: eg school lift club, a great babysitter (if you even have the energy for a social life or dating scene!). Coffee with a good friend or the occasional night out does wonders for one’s confidence and self esteem.
There have been times of self-doubt, guilt, incredible insecurity and questions to myselfabout whether I truly appreciated the enormity of divorce. Years down the line, I know that there was no other option for me, leaving a toxic relationship (he didn’t quite see it that way) and as a result, I have benefitted greatly on an emotional level. However, my challenge is to make life for my children as stable and happy as possible. They did not want this, though they can see now that their mum is a happier person.
At the end of the day, it is all worth it. Occasional loneliness – as long as you are happy with the person you are alone with – yourself - is something that is tolerable and let’s face it, effort in equals results out. As with any tough job, I live in hope that I am moulding three well rounded human beings, who will be a credit to myself and their father, in spite of their unconventional upbringing.
My message to all single parents (and that includes dads!) is that we are capable of far more than we think, when faced with the challenges. Be kind to yourself, ask for help and consider your own long-term happiness alongside doing the best you can for your children. It is definitely worth the effort.