Guest blog: Striving to thrive, not just survive
I never planned to become a single parent. I doubt anyone ever does. Once it became clear that my marriage was unhealthy, to the point of being unhealable, there was only one clear choice for the mental health of all concerned.
Of course, there’s a lot of emotion around the end of a relationship. It’s a difficult time, even when it’s the right thing to do. While I was relieved to be moving on and felt it was a positive change, having no family support I felt anxious about the impact on my three-year-old daughter, Milla, and I worried about the way people would react to me as a single parent.
I’m pretty typical of lone parents, our median age is 38 (only four months to go!), most of us have only one child, the majority of us are women, and 64% of us work. We’re also not that uncommon; with 170,000 of us in Scotland, that’s one in four families headed by a single parent. Even though I’m pretty much the most average of single parents, I moved into this new phase of my life feeling apprehensive, disoriented and heartbroken.
During this time there were challenges that I hadn’t even anticipated, typified in the way my relationship with food changed. I’d gone from doing most of the shopping and cooking for a very hungry family to a family that, due to shared custody, fluctuated in size. The wasted food each week felt like a shameful reminder of my inability to adjust to my new situation. Still, my biggest practical dream is not to be the person who cooks and washes up every night.
Over the last five years, however, I’ve not just adapted, I’ve been able to thrive. Since becoming a single parent I’ve had a double pamphlet of poetry published by Burning Eye Books, completed an MA in Creative Writing, learned to swim, and achieved an important career goal. This year’s aim is to carry on developing and learning in my dream job and to gain my driving licence.
That’s not to say there haven’t been problems or discrimination. There was the feminist organisation I volunteered for that wasn’t conscious of my differing needs; disappointing. There was the single father who didn’t want to date me because I had a child; bizarre. And almost every private landlord in Edinburgh refuses to rent to a one-income family; stressful.
There have been amazing and unexpected outcomes too. I thought my younger friends, in their 20s, wouldn’t want to hang out with us; single parents aren’t really cool. Turns out many of them do a great line in sword fighting, crafting, and playing Narnia, often getting as much out of the time we spend together as we get from their company. There have been unexpected kindnesses, supportive friendships discovered and forged, and self-awareness achieved.
The most satisfying change has been in my relationship with my daughter. Under the stress of an unhappy marriage my parenting was not always as child-focused as it could have been. For the last five years with no spouse, no other children to deal with, and my dating life kept firmly separate from my parenting life, my daughter has had my undivided attention.
Our relationship has flourished. We’ve come to know each other deeply, there is an easy understanding between us, and a light-hearted acceptance of our flaws and weaknesses. The home we have created together is slightly chaotic, mischievous, creative, never as well kept as it could be, sometimes calm, mainly warm and a place where friends are always welcomed.
Still, being a single parent has its challenges. Two months ago I had a bout of unrelenting loneliness which lasted for a fortnight. There is only one way I can describe how it felt; it was as though I was walking about with a gaping, bloody, open wound in the middle of me which refused to heal, sucking all life and energy away. But heal it did.
For the most part I see the positive. It’s helped me learn and grow. I’ve become more relaxed, better at looking after my health, better at choosing friends, gained more understanding of human nature and motivation, come to appreciate what an honour it is to be a parent, become more humble, more patient, more understanding, more loving and more able to express myself. I’ve become more me.
It’s the unexpected turns in life that challenge us, and allow us the room to grow and change. Although there have been times which have been hard to bear, ultimately I couldn’t be happier with who my daughter and I are today.