"Our kids are with us for only a short time, but if we want to raise strong, independent young people on our own we need to be able to look after ourselves as well."
Being a parent is not easy. It's the hardest job in the world.
But being a single parent is even harder. Doing absolutely everything without having someone to take in turns with is exhausting.
I know. I was a single parent to three daughters, now aged 20, 18 and 14 up until my youngest was 12 when I met my partner, Kind Man.
If you are a single parent and are having a bad day, this is what I wish I had known.
1. Make time for yourself.
You need to have balance in your life and that might be a sport or hobby or working or just having one night a week to binge on your favourite show. That time you have for yourself is just as important as looking after your kids. If you have a shared custody arrangement, appreciate your child-free time. I did NOT have a second parent to raise them with. He was unwilling, so I had them 24/7, 365 days a year for 18+ years. There are times when I desperately wished that he would have them so I could have some time for me, just to remember who I was. I'm now at the other end and in the midst of an identity crisis because I've forgotten who I am without my children. Don't let that happen to you. Nurture you, your interests, your friends, your spiritual self, remember who you were before children so that when they spread their wings, you can just roll back into your life.
2. Surround yourself with a tribe
The biggest mistake I made in parenting, was taking them away from their family support network for too long. We went on an around Australia adventure (see point 10), but we never went home. I never had my family's support as they started entering adolescence and that was when I needed their support the most. I needed to have that support around me, but instead I was doing it all on my own and it exhausted me and to be honest, the problems I had during Miss 20s adolescence broke me. I'm not the same person I was because it was so hard to parent her.
3. Stop focusing on being single, enjoy the ride of being a parent, it'll be over before you know it.
Dating can wait. While it would be lovely for your child/children to have a step-parent or other siblings, my experience of dating was a nightmare. I always thought I wanted a partner, but when I look back on the realities of introducing them and the attention required for a new partner in the early stages I realise that I really was being selfish to waste all my time on that, What I should have focused on were all the amazing and beautiful FRIENDS and role models in my girls' lives instead of trying to hurry a relationship that I, and they, weren't ready for. Of course, if you feel you can do it, go for it. My experience was that like all relationships, they take work, and when you are a parent, 99 out of 100 times you will choose your child. Wait. There will be time after for making love on the couch in the middle of the day without being interrupted. Sometimes we get what we need, not what we want.
When you have a 4 or 14 year old in the middle of some existential crisis about bananas or yoghurt or something else, focus on your breath. You are no good to your child in teaching them calm and rational conversations if you lose your shit. Take a breath, ask if it's worth a battle and then move on. If they are not in any danger, or putting others in danger, it really just is a battle of the egos and children's egos are always bigger than yours. Breathe. Inhale love, exhale compassion.
5. Pace yourself, life is a marathon, not a sprint.
You don't need to get your career sorted or do all the things you've ever wanted to do while they are little. We only get them for about 13 years before they start making their peers more important than you. It's not long. There will be time after they've gone to get the promotion, or study, or travel or have a career change. Of course, you can start the process of these things while they are younger so you are ready when they leave.
6. Ask for help.
My biggest regret in parenting was pushing away help. I never accepted offers of help and always felt like I had to do it all because they were my responsibility. If someone offers to help, accept that help. Nobody offers unless they mean it. I have had suicidal thoughts at various points in the parenting journey - mostly during their adolescence - psychological and familial support is so important. Your kids might be little bitches or bastards right now, but they will still need you. Look after your mental health and ask for help.
7. Remember not to say bad things about their other parent or his/her family, it will come back and bite you.
This goes without saying. Whether you like them and their family or not, the children have a right to know where they came from. This is an important part of their identity. I wish I hadn't said bad things about him in-front of them, but it's hard when you are hurting yourself. They will either seek out their other parent or choose to live with them later. You need to be ready for that because ultimately they have a right to know their parents, regardless of what you think of him/her.
8. Keep the lines of communication with your kids open, you will need them to communicate with you when they are teenagers.
When they become teenagers, they stop talking to you in the way that they used to. To be honest, I don't know how I have lived through the past 5 or 6 years, it's been hell. I was just about to give up when Kind Man came along. I was fortunate though that the girls and I had open lines of communication and the they continued to talk to me, even if it was just grunting sometimes!
9. You are allowed to make mistakes, you are human. Don't be so hard on yourself.
I have made a lot of mistakes - not put the nappy on backwards sort of mistakes - but disciplining mistakes, bossy parent at school mistakes, not making boundaries strong enough mistakes and losing all rational control with them mistakes. We all make mistakes and even if they don't forgive us now, they will later. Being a single parent is hard, you have nobody to bounce ideas off, nobody to be the good cop-bad cop and nobody to hold you when you cry curled up in a ball at night. As long as you did your very best as a parent at the time, that's all you can expect of yourself. Besides, when you become a grandparent, you can hopefully get it right!
10. Create adventures with your children.
Create memories, because one day you'll wake up and they have moved on and those memories will be your heart's treasures. My greatest memories are the ones we made when we were camping, travelling around Australia, or trying new things together. Some days, when I sit alone in this big, empty house, those are the things that keep me smiling. Money is just money, but memories are priceless.
Our kids are with us for only a short time, but if we want to raise strong, independent young people on our own we need to be able to look after ourselves as well.
©Alyssa Curtayne 2019
Please let us know if you have any more tips to add in the comments below.
" I never predicted how the influence of violence in society would affect them and smother their critical thinking about violence."
When you raise your children you have hopes and dreams for them; that they will be kind, successful and happy. But what I never counted on was the influence of violence in our society on the way my three young women interact with each other and the world. There are times in our household where it feels like World War III has broken out. Vitriol surges out of them.
In 2005 I wrote a winning letter to The Weekend Australian in response to an article entitled “The Triumph of the Airhead”; at the time my biggest concern was making sure that my three little girls grew up to know they were more than their beautiful faces and bodies. I wanted them to think critically and challenge the societal norms about beauty. I think I have been successful in that, but I never predicted how the influence of violence in society would affect them and smother their critical thinking about violence.
I’m not talking about physical violence (statistics show violence is decreasing form of assault.), but the violence with which humans now speak to each other, not only on social media, but in the community. Road rage has escalated; Australia now ranks ninth for road rage worldwide. The winning song by Kendrick Lamar of the Triple J Hottest 100 in 2016 included lyric references to women as “bitches” and tomurder: “If I kill a nigga, it won’t be the alcohol, ayy” and people lap it up without any question.
Finally, the disdainful way that humans talk about each other in politics, media and entertainment, including social media has hit new lows, with the norm being the vilification of people on mediums such as Facebook and Twitter for their opinions and appearance.
American author Arthur Brooks suggests we are speaking to each other with contempt. I would go further: we have lost our regard for our fellow humans and society is teaching our children that violence through words is acceptable. We are told the old saying: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” is untrue. But words do hurt. Contempt hurts. Disdain hurts. And it’s time we talked about it.
http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4906.0~2016~Media%20Release~ABS%20survey%20shows%20decline%20in%20rates%20of%20violence%20(Media%20Release)~3 accessed 18 Feb. 18
 https://practicalmotoring.com.au/car-news/australia-ranks-9th-global-road-rage-league/ accessed 18 Feb. 18
 https://genius.com/11593217 accessed 18 Feb. 18
 https://www.facebook.com/harvardkennedyschool/videos/10154251688431403/ accessed 18 Feb. 18
"There are some outstanding teachers out there. They are hard-working and are making an impact every time your child walks into their school. They do their jobs without complaining about the workload or the abuse that some young people give us daily. And we show them compassion and give them boundaries and ultimately, we see a part of them that parents rarely get to see; how they interact with their peers."
After 20 years in and out of the education system, I have come to some conclusions. I have taught in four Australian states, in Catholic, Islamic, State and small private schools and across many learning areas and from Kindergarten to Year 12, but what I have learned is that the most important things we should be teaching young people, we are not, and we don't celebrate it when we do.
The Curriculum is a full and expansive list of what the Government-of-the-day collates as the things that they want all young people to know by the end of their schooling; English, maths, science, history and social sciences, arts, health and physical education, information technology and foreign languages. It is hoped that during their schooling, young people will have the minimal required exposure to all of these things. I, for one, love curriculum. I like its comprehensive nature of all the learning areas and it really does create a level playing field whether you are in a private or public school (but that’s altogether another debate). I like the fact that there is flexibility for individual schools and/or teachers to add their own spin on it. I like it for its order.
And yet, within the curriculum, there are cross-curricular priorities: Sustainability, Australia, Asia and the Pacific and Indigenous Australia – all integral parts to creating a wonderful future as well as the General Capabilities that teachers need to integrate into their planning across all learning areas: literacy, numeracy, ICT, critical and creative thinking, personal and social capability, ethical understanding and intercultural understanding. Teachers need to integrate all of these formalised ideas into the curriculum in our daily interactions with your young people and for most of us, we do our very, very best. Phew! Still think teachers get paid too much??
Yet, underlying all of this is the most important job of a teacher. It’s not delivering curriculum, it’s not making sure they pass all of their subjects, it’s actually two things:
1. Building honest and open adult-child relationships. That means, we build relationships with young people. How do we do that? By sharing who we are and being ourselves but also valuing and asking about the lives of the young people in our care. There are some spectacular young people in schools and in 20 years of teaching there have only been three students who I could not find any redeeming qualities in. And all three of those needed professional psychological assistance and/or diagnosis for sociopathy or psychopathy as a result of severe trauma. So many young people do not have responsible adults in their lives and they come from homes where abuse, drug use and violent conflict resolution reigns. These young people, in particular, need honest and open adults in their lives who genuinely care for them and have access to services that they need to heal and grow into honest and open adults.
Our young people need and want adults in their lives who will role model and live by their own values – not parade a false set of “Australian values” as laid out by the government. Australia is a diverse country and just as our students come from a variety of cultural, religious, socio-economic or just plain strange families, as do teachers. Students want to know what makes us tick, they want us to be ourselves (within the confines of professional behaviour), they want us to ask them about their lives, their story and their worries and their happiness. They want to know about how other people live their lives, especially teenagers who are experimenting with their identities. And yet, many teachers are so bogged down with the heavy curriculum (above), marking, meetings and other things to be able to spend time doing this, or indeed, don’t know how to do this. Our system has become so curriculum driven, thereby forgetting exactly why education exists, and that is to pass on our knowledge to the next generation and hope that their ideas sprout roots and become even greater than what has come before. The goal of a teacher should be to develop such a positive working relationship that the student is self-inspired to do well, which brings me to point number two.
2. Secondly, we need to teach young people self-responsibility. This means being prepared for classes, finding and asking for help if required for uniform, food, shelter, schoolwork, a shoulder to cry on. Self-responsibility means listening and learning and taking charge of their own education, by being attentive and doing the very best that they can. We need to teach them to be able to resolve conflict with others without violence, to not distract others who wish to learn and to learn the socially-acceptable behaviours – yet at the same time allowing them to be exactly who they are. It’s a delicate balance. I see so many people in our communities that take no responsibility for their actions – of violence, of crime, of poor relationships, of the struggles of life. A mature adult is one who has taken responsibility for their lives and their decision-making process that lead to the scenario.
Teaching self-responsibility starts when children are very young when we teach them to brush their teeth, comb their hair, use the toilet on their own and pack up their mess when they make it. At home, it manifests in helping with housework and cooking, finishing schoolwork and in school, this manifests in the ways above and so much more, particularly the responsible use of electronic devices (again, another topic altogether). Teaching self-responsibility doesn’t end in independence from the mother (or primary carer) it continues well into adulthood and we have a responsibility to teach young people strategies to help them to do this.
There are some outstanding teachers out there. They are hard-working and are making an impact every time your child walks into their school. They do their jobs without complaining about the workload or the abuse that some young people give us daily. And we show them compassion and give them boundaries and ultimately, we see a part of them that parents rarely get to see; how they interact with their peers.
Teachers teach so much more than curriculum. I feel honoured to be the teacher that students have come-out to, have disclosed abuse in their families and to themselves, and have sat with them while they cried through their frustrations and heartbreak. There have been many times that I’ve wanted to leave the profession, but something always brings me back to it, and it’s these big (and small) interactions with children and young people. Think back on your experiences of your favourite teacher; you will not always remember what they taught you, but you will remember who they were and how they made you feel. And this, is exactly what an excellent teacher should teach.
©Alyssa Curtayne, 2017
"Yet, I know it is inevitable. So, I continue to try and create new memories in this time of transition as I realise my own additional freedom of time which comes with being the parent of young adults. I am trying so hard to keep them close that I know that eventually I’ll have to let them go as young people are destined to do."
My children are preparing to leave home and I’ve got to be honest, I’m struggling with it. I remember them as babies like it was yesterday, cliche, I know, but it's true. In my mind, they can’t leave home, they are still so young. My two eldest have recently started driving and talking about what’s next and I cannot possibly imagine our lives where we aren’t all together. It’s always just been me and the girls and things are changing so much, I’m finding that I’m not coping this transition.
I suspect that my eldest, who is about to turn 18 would have left home years ago, but I think she’s humouring me because she knows that it will be hard for me with her gone. I think she feels sorry for me and is holding off until I’m ready. I’ve been looking through the photographs of the past 18 years of her life and the life that we’ve shared together. I cannot believe how fast childhood goes, how very little time we have with them, how very little time that I’ve had with them.
I’ve developed a new appreciation for my parents and grandparents and the rapid passing of time as our children grow. I remember when each of them was just a 3kg baby in my arms, suckling, learning to walk, being curious about the world. I have found a fabulous quote from the outstanding novel: Me Before You by JoJo Moyes which sums up exactly what being a parent means:
“It’s just that the thing you never understand about being a mother, until you are one, is that it is not the grown man – the galumphing, unshaven, stinking, opinionated offspring – you see before you, with his parking tickets and unpolished shoes and uncomplicated love life. You see all the people he has ever been all rolled up into one.”
Full credit to JoJo Moyes, for I wish I had written those words, but it is exactly as she says. When I look at my children, I don’t just see who they are today, I see who they were as children, the adventures we’ve had, the tears we’ve shared, the songs we’ve sung in the care, and who they may possibly become in the future.
“Empty nest” or when our children launch themselves into the world, is a time for celebration, it means that we’ve done all that we possibly can to be the best parents we can and to be in joy with them as they take off. Yet, there is also sadness at what we have shared together and the knowledge that what we have shared will never be the same again. It will be different.
Yet, I know it is inevitable. So, I continue to try and create new memories in this time of transition as I realise my own additional freedom of time which comes with being the parent of young adults. I am trying so hard to keep them close that I know that eventually I’ll have to let them go as young people are destined to do.
I have to trust in the fact that I’ve done all that I can to help them be kind, responsible global citizens and trust them to make good decisions for their lives as they step out into the world. I have to learn to let them go and be who they were born to be. I have to create plans which enable them to come back to me whenever they need me. I need to trust the process of life.
In my heart, I know that I need to let them go, but at the same time, I’m excited for them and the possibilities that lay ahead and the new adventures that await us all as a family of young adults, and not a single mum with three little kids.
©Alyssa Curtayne 2017