I try not to focus on the fact that I’m a single Mum too much. It doesn’t do me much good most of the time, often it just flags up things that feel difficult, although admittedly there are occasions where it feels alright to be a single parent.
Today I couldn’t help but notice that sometimes there just are times where I’m hyper aware of being a single mum. I started a new group today, one for mums who are battling with postnatal depression, or depression postnatally in general. Being that we live in a pandemic, groups are all run via zoom at the moment. For me, with my anxiety, this is both a blessing and a curse.
I kind of love doing the meetings via zoom because I’m at home, I’m cosy, and I can be in my pyjamas from the waist down and usually no one has a clue (apart from a few times where something’s happened with the baby, and I’ve have to stand up in my paw print pyjama bottoms in full view for all, oops). All I have to do is grab my tablet, it’s pretty simple.
On the other hand, meeting via zoom can be anxiety provoking. It’s an unnatural setting. For all that we’re used to technology these days, we’re not used to it in this way. You can’t tell who’s looking at you, and when you’re asked to speak aloud you’re suddenly aware you’re sitting in your own home, with a bunch of strangers staring at you… in your pyjamas. It’s fairly surreal.
The thing that makes me really aware of being a single mum is that obviously, in a group for parents, facilitators mention the participants partners a lot. Or the even more awkward thing is when they almost use the word ‘partner’ but then awkwardly change to something like ‘family’ half way through… like, it’s ok. I know that the norm is for someone to have a partner, I’m not offended when you say the word. Saying ‘Your par…family’ definitely draws more attention than just saying partner.
I mention the fact that I’m a single parent a lot but it’s not something I talk about in depth very often, only the odd bit here and there to friends. In fact, I find I’m really embarrassed to talk about it much, even to my friends. I definitely don’t bring it up as often as I would sometimes like to. I’m happy to refer to myself as a single mum in passing, but I find myself feeling quite uncomfortable talking about it in detail with people. I think there’s a lot of stigma around being a single Mum. So being me, I’m going to do my best to open up about some of my thoughts and experiences, because we all know my stance on stigma (it’s bollocks!)
So… being a single mum. For starters, I feel really self-conscious of it in groups, mostly near the beginning when other participants don’t know. It can feel awkward when people talk about or mention partners, but way more awkward when people skirt around saying it. I feel like people are going to judge me, although I think mostly I judge myself. I feel it’s important to say that I have actually never had a bad experience so far, I’ve never had judgement from anyone else, I think I just feel the tension of the stigma.
Of course it’s really tough to be on your own with a baby. It’s shit to go through the difficult nights feeling alone. It sucks not having someone else to support you, or maybe tell you you’re doing a good job, or take over the odd night so you can catch up on some sleep. Even to just have another adult physically there with you (even if they’re sleeping) so you don’t feel like you’re the only fucking person in the world whilst suffering sleep deprivation in the dead of night, trying to console an upset baby. Yeah, the nights have definitely been some of the loneliest times of my life. Even the idea of someone to crawl into bed next to and give me a supportive hug is one I find myself longing for often.
Sometimes, I get to the point of feeling unbelievably overwhelmed, unable to cope, and there is so much pressure on me alone. The feeling that everything is down to me is pretty overpowering at times.
There are the fears around burning out or becoming ill. The panic over the fact that you really can’t afford to do either of those things that are entirely out of your power. As if these weren’t enough before, we have Covid to worry about there now too.
There’s the part where you have to talk to your ex, the ex you don’t really want to speak to but who’s going to be in your life for the next, well, ever. Who you have to make small talk with, smile and pretend all is good when actually it was one of the most subtly (and sometimes less so) toxic relationships you’ve had, and you have to keep careful boundaries to avoid things becoming so again. It’s also knowing that he’s paying you absolutely pennies towards raising your child whilst you spend a small fortune.
Which leads on to the fact that there’s the money side of being on your own. Of course there’s going to be a money side of things, there’s a money side of things for every parent, babies are bloody expensive and incomes are rarely enough these days.
I find myself envying friends who have partners sometimes, as well as envying them for being the ‘norm’ and not standing out. My friends are incredible, super supportive, and I’m lucky to have them, but I still find myself wishing I knew just one other single Mum to talk with. I often don’t want to discuss my ‘single mum problems’ with my friends, I’m not even sure why.
At my absolute worst – I’m talking the times where Pickle is inconsolable, I’m sleep deprived, hungry, exhausted and pulling my hair out whilst battling my mental health – I have admittedly thought ‘what do they know?’ type thoughts. And whilst they’re only fleeting thoughts, and few and far between, I feel so, so guilty for having them.
I want to make it clear that I don’t think things are harder for me than other mum’s who have a partner around. Whether someone’s a single parent or parenting in a couple, each of these things raise their own set of difficulties and stressors. They’re just two rather different settings for raising a baby.
It really is a ‘grass is greener’ thing. We’re human, we want and envy things we don’t have. We create images in our minds for how other people’s lives are, out of our own fantasies and ideals. Single mums envy mums who have a partner around, and sometimes mums who have their partner around envy single mums, and that’s all ok.
Even if I do sometimes envy my friends for having a partner around, I still recognise that I have no idea what things are like for them behind closed doors. Just because in my head their partners are these wonderful people who do loads (or even just a couple) of helpful things, I know that doesn’t mean that’s how it is. Having a partner poses a whole load of other stressors I’m sure, ones that I have no idea about.
A good friend of mine went out the other day, to do something for herself that she had been looking forward to. She left her little one with her partner. They basically wrought havoc, created a tonne of mess and then fell asleep leaving her to clear up after them when she got home. When she told me about that I found myself thinking ‘phew, at least I don’t have another adult to clear up after.’ Another friend told me that she’s jealous of my independence, something I would never have thought up myself if she hadn’t said it. It just goes to show that things are different for every mum, and for every parent.
So, ladies and gentlemen, life as a single parent is hard. Life as a parent in a couple is hard. Life as a parent, is fucking hard. It’s ok to feel envious of your friends sometimes, it’s ok to admire them, or to feel like they don’t get things for you sometimes, and honestly they probably don’t sometimes which is also ok. We’re all only human, after all. I think it’s important to keep reminding ourselves that they’re also dealing with a shit load of troubles that we may know nothing about.
The people who really have my empathy right now are the mums who have no one. I’m lucky that I have my mum, she’s supported me so much through being a new parent on my own, she’s been my absolute rock and I couldn’t imagine the place I’d be in without her. My friends are also lovely and have listened to many a rant when I’ve needed them.
If you are on your own with a baby, I really encourage you to reach out to people. Speak to Children’s Centres, join groups, join facebook communities, I promise you there are people out there who are there for you. There are some incredible communities of mums/parents on facebook, and forums. There are loads of great groups you can join, even though they’re running via zoom.
And to all the mums I know, you’re doing a fantastic job of one of the craziest and hardest things there is to do. Take a moment right now to recognise that, and to feel proud as heck for it, I know I’m proud of you.