I think everyone will agree that single parenting is hard. In fact I read a great article on Scary Mommy about it, the difference between solo parenting, where you’re parenting alone because your partner’s away and single parenting where every day is parenting alone with no support, no partner and quite often, a whole other set of dynamics to do with the partner you’re no longer with.
I don’t regret for even a single second going it alone and wish I had done a long time before I actually did. I felt like I was pretty much single parenting anyway with my husband not being involved with any of us, just doing his own thing and leaving the kids and I to get on with it. Eventually we split and on the very first day my little one got ill and I had to try to negotiate getting the big one to school whilst looking after a very poorly small person. It was a challenge but we managed it and it’s safe to say that my very first day as a single parent was a baptism of fire.
Luckily not all days are like that! We are nine months in and life flows as well as it’s going to with two small children, a slightly crazy dog and large cast of friends and family. However, throw PTSD into the mix and single parenting is a whole different ball game to just being responsible for you and the kids. I had no experience of PTSD before having it myself so it’s all been a very new and bewildering experience.
Here’s what I’ve learned about single parenting:
People can be wonderfully supportive of you, your kids and new setup but when you close the door at night and it’s just you and the kids, it’s just that. You guys, everyone else has gone away to their own lives and it’s up to you and you alone to keep everything in your family unit going.
People will use it as an opportunity to rewrite the history of their divorce so they can make their story parallel or worse than yours. They’ll take up a lot of your time. Disengage with them. You don’t need this in your life right now.
No-one will really understand what you’re going through. Friends may have their own experience of separation, single parenting etc but no-one will know the dynamics of your household and what went on before to emotionally get you and the kids to this point.
Some days you will feel so alone. You may be surrounded by people at the school gates or with family at a party, yet no-one knows what you carry or how you are dealing with it.
There’s no-one to tell you no. I started smoking again after my ex moved out. At first it was a social thing and then it was an every day thing. People told me to give myself a break, if it helped me through this period……. Whilst it was really freeing to be able to do what I liked, even if it meant smoking, I now have a habit I need to give up.
Everybody has an opinion. When you don’t have a partner people think it’s ok to tell you what to do, with your life, your children, your career. It’s almost as though not having anyone to defend you or consider makes you public property when people want to voice their opinions.
People will seek you out. Being one of the first of my friends to separate and the first out of my age group, people who are having relationship troubles often seek me out, inviting themselves for coffee, lunch or wine to discuss them, as though I am some sort of oracle. I am not.
PTSD will take things to a whole other level. Especially as you won’t always know what the triggers are and PTSD takes on many forms – flashbacks, muddy head, loss of sequencing, inability to multitask, feelings of bleakness, not being able to really speak, eat or form thoughts properly.
Parenting through bad PTSD days is the absolute hardest and you won’t even be able to communicate with friends what’s going on. Muddling through and knowing it will pass is the only way.
There is no guilt like single parent guilt. This is probably the biggest point I can make. Friends, older than me, who were single parents used to talk of the guilt and I never really understood how, why. All I could see was my friend who was doing an amazing job. Now I get it. Every time the kids ask to see Daddy and it’s days before they get to actually see him. No matter how much they like my ex’s girlfriend or the guy I’m dating, they ask if Daddy can live here again. I will never be able to fully explain to my kids why Daddy and I can’t be together, in what ways he was abusive and therefore, trotting out the ‘we’re all happier this way’ line, often falls on deaf ears.
OMG the tiredness. You think you knew tiredness before. Yep, you did the newborn years, in my case neither of my children really slept through the night before they were 4 (that’s right – 4 YEARS, not weeks or months) and to date my little one (aged 4 and 2 months) has only slept through the night 5 times. I’ve never needed much sleep so that’s not really the issue. The emotional tiredness of being the one to run the whole show day in, day out is exhausting.
You may strive for amicability but there’s a reason you and your ex split, making the painful, difficult decision to tear your family apart and when you look at it like that, it’s no wonder you drive each other mad. Just because you no longer live together doesn’t mean that he won’t speak to you like dirt or still try to control everything you say or do. Once an abuser, always an abuser right?
People will take sides. When my ex and I split I painstakingly explained to friends and family that we were hoping to do it amicably and would like to consider each other when it comes to family events, celebrations etc. Everyone promised they’d be supportive of that. They weren’t. Very quickly life felt like an ‘us and them’ situation. Frustrating consider these people knew a lot of what went on in our marriage and have managed to blank that out.
The first 6 months are the worst. I’m not going to lie – I thought I had dark days before. I thought if I could survive my childhood, I could survive anything but wow. This was a whole other level. I was lucky, I had 2 amazing friends and a cousin (all living abroad) who showed up relentlessly, messaging, calling, daily, making those 6 shitty months the ones where I have felt most loved and cherished.
You’ll look back and realise how far you’ve come. For me, 2017 was about survival, literally just get my head down, love and care for the kids, get through it and hopefully see everyone in 2018. Erm, yep, that didn’t happen. The surviving bit did but wow! Within 5 weeks of my ex moving out I lost 2 contracts that had been paying my rent, my little one had been hospital worthy poorly, relationships with long trusted friends were in tatters and everyone seemed to want a piece of me which, due to PTSD, I couldn’t really give. On top of this, both kids needed to move schools, my ex started to threaten me if I didn’t stop blogging or going on podcasts. I had to give up my name online (not his name, I never took his surname) and some days trying to see the wood for the trees felt impossible. Not going to lie, some days it still does but there are less of those days than before.
All in all, it’s been a massive learning curve and I’d like to say it’s a year (9 months) that I wouldn’t want to repeat but…… I got my freedom!! After years of abuse, misery and being controlled I got complete autonomy. Ok, with my ex trolling my blog etc, it doesn’t always feel like that and I can have full scale meltdowns with friends due to lack of confidence etc but Rome wasn’t built in a day and with my incredible friends helping lay the foundations a much better life awaits us all.
Images, once again, are from the Unbounded Spirit Facebook page.