When I was pregnant, I had a somewhat turbulent relationship with S’s father. We split up and got back together a million times, and S’s birth was not exactly a bunch of laughs. I spent most of my pregnancy and the first months of S’s life feeling like I’d failed her. I’d let her down, and she wasn’t even old enough to know about it.
I always thought I would meet Prince Charming and he would rescue me from my life. We would get married, have 2.4 children and live in a house with a white picket fence. But now I was a single mother, going it alone with this tiny jaundiced baby, in a grubby first floor flat on a council estate. Not a picket fence in sight; I felt like I’d failed, and it didn’t feel good. I had an idea of how things would be, and when things turned out to be nothing like my idea, I felt like a failure. I struggled to reconcile the way my life looked with how I had expected it to be.
Over time, I learned something that helped me to feel good about the way my life was turning out. My number one tip for successful single parenting is also my number one tip for successful co-parenting; my number one tip for successful any-kind-of-parenting; my number one tip for life in general… Are you ready?
Just let go of how you think it should be.
I know that sounds incredibly simple; perhaps too simple. But it’s really a rule to live by in life, as far as I am concerned.
When S goes to bed at 7pm, I have one hour to myself before I start heading to bed. During that hour I like to catch up on TV viewing, read blogs, write blogs, arse about on Facebook and just generally be Vicky rather than Mummy. Sometimes, S struggles to get to sleep and I end up spending that hour going up and down the stairs to her. My evening is disrupted by trying to get her to just stay in bed and go to sleep, and it can make me really stressed.
Over time though, I’ve discovered that the “Just Let Go” rule is the only way to deal with this. Let go of the idea of having a nice relaxing evening downstairs with my feet up, and adapt to the current situation. I switch the TV off and go upstairs to sit on my bed while S falls asleep. She settles much better when I’m in the room, and I can read a book or something instead. If I really need to catch up on some work I just bring the laptop upstairs with me.
When S was smaller and found it hard to settle in the evenings, I found the best way to deal with it was to Just Let Go of my idea of having a quiet evening to myself, and just get an early night instead. Again, S settled better with me next to her (we shared a bed), and I got some extra sleep too. Win-win!
I think a lot of us are unhappy because what happens in our lives doesn’t look like we thought it would.
Some ideas are easier to let go of than others; it took me a couple of days to just start giving up and going to bed with S, but months if not years to let go of my idea of what parenthood would look like.
Here’s the thing: a lot of what we think is a problem, is only a problem in our own heads. I might feel awful that I don’t have enough money to buy certain things for S, or that she doesn’t have a daddy, or for a million other reasons. Looking at it from S’s point of view though, she doesn’t care about any of it. She’s as happy playing with a cardboard box as she is with an expensive toy I was sent for review. She’s never known life with a daddy so she doesn’t feel she’s missing out. It’s my expectation, not hers.
Being a single parent is hard, but we only make it harder if we cling to a long-lost ideal of what we thought parenting would look like.