A reader contacted us wanting to share her story of parenting alone. Here’s her story.
I am a mother. I am a sister and a daughter and up until February 2014, I was a wife. My life as I knew it radically transformed and now I am at a new stage of life. One that involves negotiating shared care, birthdays, holidays, and changeovers. It has also been a time of huge personal growth and essential adjustment. This is a phase I never thought I’d go through but now that I am I want to go on this journey in relative harmony with my ex-partner.
Although it took a year from first mention to actually happening, my separation happened with ferocious speed. One day my ex-partner was at home helping me with the dinnertime routine, the next it was just me. Just me cooking dinner. Just me doing the dishes. Just me reading the stories. The gravity of the situation hit me hard. Not only was I now ‘solo’ I had the immense task of being a ‘solo parent’.
The first fundamental shift, beyond a duty-bound sense of goodness and responsibility to keep functioning as a mother, was a move toward acceptance. Acceptance meant that I surrendered to the reality of the deep hurt and guilt that I felt. I categorised my separation as an experience my son did not deserve. I worked so hard to appear happy and in control but my head and heart were in turmoil. Only when I truly accepted that my marriage was over, and that the hurt I was feeling was valid, was I able to move towards constructive communication with my ex-partner.
Communication between my ex and I occurs largely through text message. I thought I could handle being his friend on Facebook, but it was too tempting to snoop and I was doing more damage to my fragile wellbeing. I ended up blocking him and deleting any friend or relative that I thought would lead me to finding out more than was necessary. This definitive action took hours of mental preparation but, once done, was a huge relief.
I needed to create new spheres of friendship and support that had nothing to do with my broken marriage.
Google Calendar is a great tool for organising parenting arrangements that requires very little direct communication. Once my ex-partner and I had completed the Parenting Plan Workbook provided by the Ministry of Justice, I set up a shared calendar using our Google accounts. This enables me to enter pick-up and drop-off times on a repeated weekly basis. It also has the added bonus of a reminder 30 minutes before changeovers, making us both timelier. Google Calendar is easy to change and my ex-partner receives an email notification when things do vary from our regular plan.
Once we had established ‘The Plan’ I made a very simple calendar on Word for my two-year-old son to look at. Days he was with me had my photo in the box, days with his dad had his photo. On the days he was with both of us at different times during the day, had both our photos in the box. This visual guide helped my boy make sense of his shifting world. We looked at it every day and discussed what was happening for him. I only needed to do this for a month before he accepted the change was his new normal.
I recently attended a Parenting Through Separation course run by the Ministry of Justice. The course was four hours long and covered the effect of separation on children and the importance of putting the child first. We were given practical advice and information booklets relating to making parenting agreements and managing our children’s needs through the separation process. If you haven’t done one of these courses, I highly recommend that you do. It was only after both my ex-partner and I completed the course that we were able to write up our parenting plan.
Several months into going solo I discovered a useful app called Poetry of Divorce which gives a coping tip every day. The tips range from practical advice on getting through the legality of the process, to encouraging you to try night classes or a bath with essential oils for relaxation. Some days I find it useful, some days I don’t, but on the whole it brings positivity and focus to my thoughts that is sometimes lacking.
Facebook has several support groups for solo parents. My advice would be to be discerning in the groups you sign up to. I have removed myself from groups that are more about venting about useless exes than productive advice and support. There are solo parents who get together on a regular basis and even go away on family camping trips together. These events are often organised via Facebook. I have seen events including group trips to MOTAT and days at the beach. If you are looking for other solo parents to connect with, this is an easy place to start.
Parenting solo is incredibly hard and at times, very isolating. I encourage you to look for ways to make it easier. There are many books, blogs and support groups out there with practical advice on pretty much everything. I have been very honest with my close friends and family about my daily challenges and have been surprised with the feedback I have received. One of my closest friends frequently calls me an inspiration, but I am no different from her. I am still a mother, a sister, and a daughter, and I’m a heck of a lot stronger and wiser than I was 12 months ago.