My Child Laughs in the Face of Plans


I shouldn’t be here right now.

By which I mean, I shouldn’t be on the sofa, with my 10-year-old, watching TV.

I should be in London, having dinner with a friend, after spending the day at YouTube, learning how to make better vlogs.

The hotel was booked, the train seats reserved, the workshop place confirmed.

It was tantalisingly close.

But here’s the thing: being a single parent means your plans are always just a little bit more delicate than tissue paper. One thing goes wrong, and the entire plan collapses into one big old soggy mess.

As a single Mum, spending two long days in London means I need childcare to cover three days.

I was due to catch a 6am train, which means Flea gets picked up from school the day before I leave by her Dad, then she gets dropped off with my brother to spend the night, and my niece walks her to school.

After school, my Mum collects her and takes her back to her place for the night, then back to school the next day. After school, my parents collect Flea and bring her back to our house, until I get home around 8pm.

This patchwork of care means bags that need to be packed with school kit, swimming kit, spare clothes for evenings, toothbrushes… not to mention the dual arrangements for the dog involving the dog-sitter and my parents and multiple drop-offs, which obviously don’t co-ordinate with school pick-up times. Obviously.

I always feel more than a touch of guilt about this. I wonder if Flea feels like luggage when she gets packed off here and there, with overnight bags and spare this and that.

And the thing that’s guaranteed to make it worse? That call from school at 2pm, telling me Flea’s ill, can I come and collect her?

I’d already achieved Parent Fail Level 5 earlier in the morning when Flea announced her head hurt as I dropped her off at school, and I gratefully accepted the office’s bottle of emergency Calpol and the offer to ‘keep me posted’ on how she was doing. Bad Mummy.

Then I ratched it up to Level 6 in the car on the way home, when Flea overheard me cancelling dinner plans and mentioning that if I couldn’t cancel my train and hotel, I’d be £500 out of pocket (thanks, Virgin Trains) and she started to cry.

By the time I’d ordered pizza for dinner and told Flea that if she didn’t go to school today, she’d need to sit on a bean bag in the corner of our office and watch Netflix, I was on Parent Fail Level 10 and accepting my Lifetime Achievement Award from the Bad Parent Club.

I have no great lesson learned from all of this. Except that when you squeeze another person out of your body, for 20 years, maybe more, we’re basically powerless against teary, big eyes and croaky voices that say, “It’s okay if you need to go to work in London, but it would just be nice if you could stay with me for a little while if it’s alright…” 

I mean, what are you supposed to say to that?

Other than, “Darling, it isn’t important, and you are. I don’t want you to give it a second thought, and I’d like a binding contract stating that you’ll do the same for me when I’m old and can’t tie my own shoes any more.” 





16 thoughts on “My Child Laughs in the Face of Plans”

  1. I totally get it that you needed to stay home when she got ill. However, before that – why can’t she just stay with her Dad for an extra two days instead of all those other arrangements patched together? Or 3 nights at your Mum’s? I’m sure there are reasons but it seems like there should be an easier way of arranging child care.

    1. Oh, reasons upon reasons.

      1. Flea doesn’t stay overnight with her Dad. Big issue. Don’t ask.
      2. Flea’s brother lives close to her Dad and to her school so it’s great but they’re vv busy and one night is a big favour to ask!
      3. Flea’s grandparents live far from school and my Mum’s in her 70s, so if I can minimise the early morning and rush hour school runs she has to do, then I will.

      It’s always just a patchwork of not wanting to wear out people’s goodwill – especially because I travel a LOT and you can’t always rely on people being around, and not having other plans. We rely on a network of family, friends and Flea’s school friends and it does usually work, but it’s fragile and prone to falling apart when the unexpected happens! Single parent life!

  2. I am lucky that I have shared custody but at the same time I fail at being able to make plans without asking my son’s permission. One weekend I was meant to go to London and my parents look after him. He announced he didn’t want that and I wobbled. So I decided to take him with me but then found out there were not just one set but two of engineering works making a 2.5 hour journey into 5 hours. With me, ok, I’d take the pain. With a 5 year old? No.

    So I didn’t go. I missed out on a friend’s 40th birthday and it honestly made me really sad. I should have insisted but I didn’t and he just rules my life in the best way and I both love him for it and get worn out by it at the same time. But then I think part of the problem in a way is because I do have shared access I do have time alone so any time I want away from him when I have him is tinged with MASSIVE guilt, even when my ex often says “can you have him for extra days?” which meant we’d been together alone for weeks on end before this weekend I cancelled and I do and I love it and he loves it too and ooh heck it’s complicated.

  3. Always the way and you are bloody good parent Sally. YouTube will have you back with open arms. I’ve had a few meetings there and attended some content days which were fascinating, I’m pretty late to the YT party although early for our sector apparently. Hope Flea (and you) are feeling better.

  4. Oh I am sorry to read this and I hope that Flea is feeling better and that you have stopped beating yourself up! You are doing a fab job at parenting, you just need to be kinder to yourself (that’s an order!) Sending big hugs to both of you 🙂

  5. Urgh I cant imagine how tough it is doing things on your own. Especially with situations like this. You stayed home though. Don’t beat yourself up – no parent fails here! x

  6. They are always ill at the worst times as well aren’t they?! I honestly think I need to give up on ever trying to pre-plan anything as it just tempts fate! No parent fails though Sally, just a normal parent trying to juggle a ridiculous amount of eggs all at once whilst doing a hopskotch 😉

    Stevie x #PicknMix

  7. Gosh, that does sound like a super complicated childcare arrangement. Huge respect to you for managing it at all! My work related mummy fail this week was leaving two tiny children, one of whom has chickenpox, with my husband who can’t walk as he currently has no shinbone. That and secretly enjoying the freedom…

  8. I know this feeling at the moment – except it’s not the little one that is ill, but his mum. Suddenly I’m solo parenting much more of the time than was expected, or than work life is organised around. But he needs me, so I do it.
    If I can convince myself that it’s actually a parenting win (despite the big sighs and occasional grumpy moods) then you have to convince yourself too – if only to bolster my argument.

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