"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.
"In that time, I wrote lists of all the qualities I wanted in a partner, little did I know that what I should have done was written a list of all that I NEEDED. I had men come into my life in this time and I had convinced myself that they were exactly what I wanted, but they smelt my desperation a mile away and thankfully they knew that they weren’t what I needed; they knew they couldn’t give me what I needed."
Valentine’s Day, you either love it or hate it, or indeed have a healthy cynicism about it which I completely support. Valentine’s Day started as a remembrance to Christian martyrs and involved violence and bloodshed and women being hit by “hides of animals”, it had nothing at all to do with what we equate to romantic love. It has turned into a mass marketing juggernaut which taps into our insecurities about our relationship and indeed our social expectations to have one, when in reality maybe we don’t actually need a relationship in our life right now.
For 14 years, I was one of those people dreading the inevitable marketing nonsense that comes up around February each year which brings up feelings of rejection, dejection and hopelessness about being a single person when deep down we just know what an amazing person that we are if only someone would just give us a chance.
I spent so much time and energy lamenting my single status, thinking that something was fundamentally wrong with me, when what I should have been appreciating exactly where I was; able to create time for me, my kids, my career and my creative projects. That time of being single was a gift, not a punishment. That time was exactly what I NEEDED to heal my previous relationship, to do the inner work on myself and to parent how I wanted without the complications that come with step-parenting and blended families.
In that time, I wrote lists of all the qualities I wanted in a partner, little did I know that what I should have done was written a list of all that I NEEDED. I had men come into my life in this time and I had convinced myself that they were exactly what I wanted, but they smelt my desperation a mile away and thankfully they knew that they weren’t what I needed; they knew they couldn’t give me what I needed.
If you read back over my blogs you’ll see that I had gotten to a point where I had surrendered to single life. I accepted that I was okay with or without a partner, I had accepted the rejection to a point where I no longer took it personally. And then Kind Man arrived. You can read about it here.
Had I known, I should have asked for someone who loved and accepted me just as I am.
Because that’s ultimately what I needed.
So before you go and write down all the things in a potential partner that you want. Stop, pause and ask yourself what do you NEED at this time? Do you actually NEED a person in your life?
Do you need time on your own to grieve a previous relationship?
Do you need a person to support you with kids?
Do you need a person who is honest? Trustworthy? Kind?
Do you need someone who is good with money? Who is flexible in their sexuality?
Do you need someone who accepts your family?
Do you need a friend who is also your lover, adventure buddy and cheerleader? Or do you just need a sex with benefits sort of friend?
Do you need someone to party with? Have children with? Chill with?
Go through all areas: sexuality, family (yours and extended), career, time, love languages, financial, dreams/goals, values. It’s in narrowing down what you need that really makes it easy to find someone who fits you and more importantly accepts you.
To be honest, I didn’t have electric chemistry with Kind Man when we met, like I did with GSM (gorgeous sexy man), but his kindness and patience opened my heart in a way that immediate electrical sexual charge never could have and that chemistry has just grown so much into an exquisite slow burn because I trust him. I trust him not to hurt me. He is just what I needed.
Sometimes just what we need, gives us exactly what we want.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
©Alyssa Curtayne, 2018
 . https://www.npr.org/2011/02/14/133693152/the-dark-origins-of-valentines-day
"I’m completely stripping back the layers of who I think I am and looking at who I was and who I want to be. Some of the activities that I was doing no longer were serving me, so I let them go. It just randomly coincided with his arrival into my life."
I’ve now been in the most healthy, functional relationship that I’ve ever been in for twelve months and in that time, I have put on 8kg, quit yoga (which formed the basis of my identity) and feel more supported by another human being than I ever have in my life. I have changed. A relationship is more than two lives together, it is a blending of habits, routines and ways of being with another person. It is an interesting shift from being single to partnered and it challenges us to look at ourselves and the other person with some depth.
Is it normal to put on weight in a new relationship? According to a study by Taheri et al, increase in body mass index was due to less sleep and certainly, my sleep habits have changed, not only sharing a bed but sexual activity has altered my sleeping habits. Certainly, he cooks wonderful food and feeds me much richer foods than I was eating. I was on a fairly routine diet which included sometimes not eating at all in the evenings and I was certainly exercising…well, differently than I was. I do not blame him at all for my weight gain or change in lifestyle, but it has made me wonder what is going on within me to allow this? Is there another reason?
Am I changing who I am for someone or am I protecting myself from being hurt? Am I putting up barriers for his love? In Louise L. Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life, extra fat is what we do in order to protect ourselves. But if anything, Kind Man (KM) makes me feel safe, he makes me feel supported and he makes me feel loved. However, I have changed a number of my behaviours and routines, particularly around diet and exercise in my efforts to accommodate this new “normal” in my life.
I have been in relationships where I changed who I was for a man, but this feels different. I don’t feel that he is changing me, per se, but I do feel like I am changing as a result of having him in my life and apart from the weight gain, it is a good change. I’m completely stripping back the layers of who I think I am and looking at who I was and who I want to be. Some of the activities that I was doing no longer were serving me, so I let them go. It just randomly coincided with his arrival into my life.
For most of my adult life I have been seeking a significant other, not having any conscious thought about what I would do when it arrived and now, I have someone who is willing to commit to me and my family for my entire life! I don’t need to seek anymore, yet there is still that space where the “seeking” energy sat. There is a space where much of my thoughts were directed and now, I’m not quite sure what to do with this new space in my head. So, I guess, I eat. I fill my mind up with worries about not being enough or other such nonsense. I create excuses why we shouldn’t be together when there is not ONE single reason why we should break up.
When we are dating, we make ourselves look nice and consciously or not, try to make ourselves more attractive to a potential mate, but I’ve heard the term, “letting go” of things like not shaving regularly, or wearing make-up and not bothering to dress nicely. Have I just let myself go? Have I unconsciously figured that he loves me no matter what so I can be as unattractive as possible as a way to push him away? Or as a test of his love for me?
It is an unresolved space, but it is where I am right now and I accept what is. In the meantime, I am back on the treadmill and building up my exercise routine and being more conscious about the food that I eat and filling my body with nutrition rather than worry about weight. Eight kilograms is not an easy ride, but perhaps what I need to do is just love my new bigger body for teaching me that even at my worst, he will still love me, even if I can’t fit into that fabulous dress anymore!
©Alyssa Curtayne 2017
Share your new relationship stories in the comments below:
 Taheri, Shahrad, et al. "Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index." PLoS Med 1.3 (2004): e62.
"We repeatedly push people who love us away to a point that they either rise above and show us their unconditional love or they don’t."
We are sold this idea that it comes easy; that it should come easily.
But some of us are different.
Some of us put huge barriers around our hearts to protect it from harm.
Some of us don’t let anyone in unless they pass through a series of tests that we unconsciously give them.
And some of us try very hard to push the people who love us most away.
I am one of those people and unconsciously I have taught my daughter to be one of those people.
You can tell me a million times that you love me, but it will take more than a million times until my walls start coming down, until I believe you, until I trust you.
I can’t tell you when I first put these walls up, maybe it was pre-birth, past life or from an early childhood experience. The moment that it started really is irrelevant, what is important is acknowledging that it is there now and that I really own them.
I’ve subconsciously known these walls are there and I have done a blog about how my current partner is helping me to break them down, but it was when I noticed my 17-year-old daughter doing the same thing – pushing her family away – that I realised that it was actually my problem. I have been modelling a defensive heart to her. I have been modelling a testing heart to her.
A testing heart.
It’s an interesting concept but I’ve done it and I can see her doing it too. We repeatedly push people who love us away to a point that they either rise above and show us their unconditional love or they don’t. If it’s the latter, we walk away from that person they haven’t shown us that they are willing to love us no matter what, if it is the former, we welcome them into our tiny circle of trusted loved ones.
We keep those close who love us and rarely do we let others in. If they want into our testing hearts, they will have to prove to us time and time again that they are willing to fight for us.
It’s a defence mechanism that we use to try and weed out those that love us unconditionally and those who have judgement, criticism or love us with conditions that we are avoiding.
Gary Chapman in his popular book, The Five Love Languages, speaks about the five ways we like to show and receive love, but I propose an alternative explanation. As a testing heart, I don’t care how you show your love to me, the method is irrelevant, I just want to know that you really do love me, even if I do something despicable. It’s a very adolescent behaviour and maybe I just haven’t grown out of adolescence, but it’s a behaviour that I have, that I own and that I see in others too.
For now, that’s where I am and I hope that I can model a more open heart to my daughter but until
then, I have deep self-reflection to do with my Chakra Cards.
May you love those who need to be loved most with an open and unconditional heart, because those of us who test you know for sure that we are worth it and are just checking if you are too.
©Alyssa Curtayne, 2017