"...increasingly they don’t need me around and have their own lives that don’t include me, which leaves me in a sort-of unusual position where I’m not quite sure what to do with myself."
I’m a single mother of three girls. I’ve had 100% parental responsibilities for them pretty much the whole time. I’ve put them in childcare so I could support us, I’ve had no rest, no time-outs and the most that I’ve ever been child-free is about three days at the most (and that doesn’t happen much). I’ve never received any money from their father for their needs and he is (relatively) happy for me to take responsibility for them.
But our family dynamic is changing now. It used to be that we did everything together. When I packed us all up in my 1994 Toyota and 1978 “Special” camper to drive around Australia in 2010, apart from a bit of huffing and puffing from my (then) ten-year-old eldest, they accepted the adventure and were more than happy to join the ride. Increasingly, I’m having time on my own or just with Miss nearly Eleven and even she has started to develop somewhat of a social life.
It’s a strange feeling being responsible only to me again. For more than 16 years I have cooked, cleaned, sat with, bathed, told stories with, laughed with and washing…oh, the washing that never ends – I still don’t understand where all those socks go. I have been their primary caregiver, the centre of the family and the hub that holds us together. But increasingly they don’t need me around and have their own lives that don’t include me, which leaves me in a sort-of unusual position where I’m not quite sure what to do with myself.
This past weekend, I got a small taste of what my life may look like post-kids. It was an amazing feeling to have no responsibilities except to myself for two whole days. I spent the weekend doing everything I love and being responsible only to me. I knew where they were of course, but I had this sense that I can start to choose more things that I enjoy now. At Christmas when they fly interstate to visit family, it will be nearly three weeks without them. I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do until my free weekend. I know now! Fill my life with things that bring me joy, walk around the house naked, sing as loudly as I can, buy a treat at the shops and not have to share it and best of all, there will be minimal cleaning up after them!
It started about the age of 10 when kids started to do sleepovers. Once they start high school their social lives became much busier and where I started to become nothing much more than a taxi driver to all of their social adventures! But that’s the good bit. I can start to formulate where I want to go and do with the abundance of time that’s starting to open itself up to me. I’m excited. It’s not that I’m in a hurry to get my kids out into the world, but they will go their own way, probably sooner rather than later, but it’s more of a re-embracing of who I am and where I want to go in the next part of my life – post kids (and before grand-kids and caring for elderly parents).
I suppose it’s what coupled people call the “Empty Nest”, but in a couple, they still have each other. Single parents have nobody to adventure with anymore once the kids grow up. I’m increasingly back to being a single woman with limited responsibilities and my life is mine to choose again and that’s sort of like moving out of home again. I get to have my energy and direction back, but also to define new adult-like relationships with my daughters.
Their childhood has flown by so very quickly and as the saying says, “You only get 13 summers with your kids” so really, make it last. That means I have only two years left with my baby. I imagined us being together all the time would last forever, but when they were little I never really had time to see the “light at the end of the tunnel”, so to speak. But I can see that light so clearly now and it’s rushing towards me and I’m desperately clinging onto the precious moments that I have with my daughters as they take off into the world.
I hope that I have given them the right tools to make their way in the world and know how precious that time we had together was. It has been the best adventure of my life however their adolescence is no pleasure trip. It’s a trauma for single parents – there is no respite, there is no back-up, no-one to share the stress. People used to say to me how amazing it was that I raised them on my own, but I don’t know how to co-parent and the only time I wished there was a second parent is now. Adolescence is extremely hard to parent for me; not only are they finding their way in the world without me, but I am too. I am trying to figure out where I fit in and how much they need me in their lives and balancing their decreasing needs while I see a new sort of freedom on the horizon, whatever that may be.
©Alyssa Curtayne 2015
I remember when the kids were little and the hardest it got was sleepless nights, a bit of vomit and juggling three kids, a trolley and a supermarket. But it just was one great adventure, we laughed, we played and we created memories. I loved those days. Admittedly, I’ve done everything on my own and have no idea what it’s like to co-parent and I imagine that I would find it a challenge after doing it for 16 years but I could do with some support right now.
When they were little, it was fun. Now, it feels like drudgery and counting the days until they move past this moodiness and turn back into smiling, happy human beings. I found a way to make my 10 year old laugh the other day and it was the most beautiful sound in the world. I miss those days, when we would laugh and be silly with each other. We don’t have fun with each other anymore and as you would expect, teenagers are not keen to hang out with their family, how embarrassing Mum!
We all make mistakes as parents and we all reflect on things we could have done differently, but the biggest misjudgement that I made was not being prepared enough for the changes or realise how very fast they turn from children to teens and from teens to young women.
1. If I could offer any advice to parents of kids, I’d say, start preparing yourself when they turn 10. Yes, 10. The first physical signs of the transition appear about then, but even if your kid isn’t having these things happen, it’s guaranteed that kids their age at school are starting the transition into adulthood and therefore are beginning the moody transition.
2. The second thing I would suggest is to take Don Miguel Ruiz’ advice and never take anything they say personally. For my eldest, I took everything she said to me to heart and as if it was remotely offensive or radical, I took her literally. If I could do it again, I’d take everything with a ‘grain of salt’ and not catastrophise every little thing. Obviously, don’t ignore the signs of suicide, anxiety or depression, but definitely provided that you are happy and content in yourself, their behaviour is a reflection of them, not you.
3. Number three is to pick your battles. Decide early what’s worth an argument and what isn’t worth it. This is a really personal one and very much about personal values of issues such as drugs, respect, swearing and curfews. I can’t offer any more here, except get clear on what you expect and what’s reasonable for the age. What I view as something worth arguing about, will probably be very different from what others do.
4. Technology is a nightmare for parents, but for me, I’m part of the first generation of parents to encounter social media and smartphones and associated technology and I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve made some mistakes in this area. It’s very hard to parent something that is like a new toy to me, let alone figure out what my boundaries and then what the boundaries are for my kids. So, the first priority here is to establish your own boundaries before creating rules for your teens who will call you on your hypocrisy immediately.
5. Be grateful for the little things. It’s so easy to focus on all the things that are going wrong as your child transforms before your eyes. I’ve found it better to count my blessings, for the very few positives that occur, particularly between 13 and 16. I’ve started writing sticky notes daily and leaving them where they can see them, I’m hoping that by shifting the focus to positives, it will lessen the arguments and they’ll remember how much I love them.
6. But, by far the biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that I cannot control who they will choose to be. I can send them to the best schools we can afford, keep expressing my values and expectations, but ultimately, they will be who they will be. I cannot control that. I cannot control their choice of friends, career or schooling choices and disapproving and judging them for it makes me the “bad guy”. I have to trust that I have given them the values and behaviours that make them good people and step back and be there to pick them up when and if they fall and to celebrate in their small wins and the fact that they are growing up.
Stepping back and knowing how much to let them go and make mistakes has been the biggest challenge. Watching them make errors in judgement is heart-breaking, but there comes a time when I need to step back and let them live their own lives, just finding the balance between holding on and letting go is a precariously fine line. I suppose mostly, I’m grieving for those wonderful days that we had together as a young family and perhaps I’m not ready to be the mother of two teens and a pre-teen, but they can’t wait until I’m ready, I need to be ready now.
There’s a few more years to go until our little family is out of the dark days of moodiness, outbursts of anger and words that can’t be taken back, but I hope and trust that they will come through the other end of this tricky time being the women who they were born to be – whatever that looks like. In the meantime, I just love them for who they are right now and focus on being the most balanced, happy and centred Mum I can be.
©Alyssa Curtayne 2015
This article appeared @elephantjournal on 4/7/2015
I wrote this two weeks before my 40th birthday and I wanted to reflect on the lessons learned in 40 years. I wish I could tell my 15 year old self this stuff, but that wouldn’t be life then would it!
No 1: Love freely and without attachment. Attachment to people, ideas and outcomes only lead to heartache. Just love.
No 2: Affirmations really work! You might not believe it for a long, long time, but one day you’ll wake up and your thoughts have changed. Go those affirmations.
No 3: That for every girl who ignored or who was mean to me in school, I want to thank you for showing me:
a. The person who I never wanted to be and,
b. How fckn awesome I was then and I just didn’t know it.
I was called a goody two shoes – that’s not a bad thing because I have one and a half degrees and am starting an advanced diploma next week and one day soon I’ll publish my novels. Being smart and attentive in school trumps popularity ANYDAY!
No 4: Even though you may think you’ll never get your heels down in downward dog and master the handstand, it’s never too late! The body is THE most amazing vehicle to travel through life in and I’m more healthy, flexi and strong than I’ve ever been!
No. 5: That our sexuality is nothing resembling what we think we know from television/movies/books…it is something so much more deep and profound and starts with our deep intimacy with ourselves.
No 6: Deep heart-felt gratitude is the key to attracting the exact life that you desire. The tricks the mind plays on you are fleeting and temporary and are ultimately an illusion.
No 7: I love spending time with my kids more than anything else in the entire world. Treasured memories. Love truly is everything it’s cracked up to be.
No 8: The earlier that you let go of the crap from your past lives, childhood and the past, the happier and easier life gets.
No 9: Opening your heart to love in a relationship is a bloody hard thing to do when you’ve been hurt, but life’s too short not to give it a go.
No 10: There is no right time to follow your dreams, passions or hopes. Now is the right time because now is all that there is.
No 11: Once you get a taste of nirvana/enlightenment/connection to the divine/instant manifestation – you spend your life returning to find that feeling so you are constantly in that state. It is the ultimate perfect wave…ever elusive, yet just on the horizon!
No 11a: The closer you allow yourself to be guided by the universe, the more synchronistic it becomes.
No 12: Love is all there is – everything else is ego and bullshit.
No. 13: The universe takes care of all the details, but you still need to be pragmatic…chop wood, carry water, enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.
No 14: Take chances in your life, try new foods, get out and meet people, talk to that guy at the gym. If we have no courage to take chances in our lives then we are just going through the motions. Courage makes us feel alive!
No 15: Turning 40 is not the end of your life or mean that you’re old and infirm. 40 is an opportunity to reset your life and redirect. It is like a rebirth and a wonderful opportunity to really start living the life you want and deserve!
©Text and images copyright Alyssa Curtayne 2014