I was reading this post over at Not Supermum yesterday about the differences between single parenting and married/partnered-up parenting, and it got me thinking.
I’ve always said on this blog that single parenting isn’t a competition. I’m not getting into a stupid “my life is harder than your life” debate – because probably, it’s not true.
I know there are plenty of families out there, of all shapes and sizes, that have struggles I can scarcely imagine. Being a single parent isn’t necessarily about being poor and frustrated and miserable and lonely (although it has its moments).
But single parenting is a very different experience of family life. And I do occasionally shake my head at how people – including friends I’ve known for years – just don’t ‘get’ how single parenting works.
Yes, your husband might work away during the week, or your wife might be uninvolved in the day-to-day care of your children, but unless you’re in sole charge of a child, night and day, for years on end then I don’t think you can understand what being a single parent truly is.
There are upsides. I get the freedom of knowing my spice rack stays alphabetised (don’t judge it till you’ve done it) and there’s nobody to stop me watching five episodes of Vampire Diaries in a row, if I so please.
In terms of parenting, I get to set the rules, and I don’t have to negotiate, or compromise. The result is a household that’s a lot more harmonious than your average two-parent family.
But there are downsides. There’s the assumption that I’m a burden on the state (despite never having claimed a means-tested benefit or tax credit in my life). There’s the assumption that my child lacks discipline (I’m stricter than most married parents I know). There’s the assumption that I have set my sights on stealing someone else’s husband at the first opportunity (trust me, he’s not that much of a catch, in most instances).
But mostly, I think, single parenting is just scary.
- It’s knowing that there’s one income coming into the house. That you, and you alone, are the one keeping a roof over your child’s head and food in their belly – or not, if you get it wrong.
- It’s knowing that if there’s a scream in the middle of the night and something awful has happened, you’ll have to choose between ringing the ambulance and doing CPR.
- It’s knowing there’s nobody else to hold responsible if you made the wrong choice about that immunisation/school/religion/haircut.
- It’s knowing your child will never know what it’s like to have someone else in the house to talk to when they’re pissed off with you.
- It’s knowing that if you get carted off in an ambulance, or if you die, there will be an unholy mess around who looks after your child, because there’s no clear-cut answer to that question.
- It’s knowing that even if you’re exhausted or emotional or at the end of your tether in one way or another, you’re still the only parent in the house, so you need to get a grip, and keep going.
Maybe I’m a bit neurotic, but I think about these worst case scenarios more than I should.
Of course, Flea has two parents, and a wider family that loves her and has her best interests at heart. We have a stupid amount of fun, and I definitely think we’re happier than most families I know. But when I come home after a long day and close the door as a single mum, it’s me she’s stuck with.
And that’s scary.