"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.
Dear my teenage daughter,
I am honoured to be your mother. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that you would choose me as your Mum.
I have endeavoured, always, to give you the sort of childhood that I always dreamed about having with my children, filled with love, adventure and togetherness.
I have taken you to beaches, ski-fields, remote rivers and swimming holes and mountains. We have shared Christmases, family weddings and celebrations and amazing milestones that you each embrace with strength and wisdom.
I have taken you to the birthplace of your father on the other side of the world and encouraged you to meet your grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins at an enormous emotional cost for me.
I have taken you to New Zealand, Bali, Egypt, Fiji and Vanuatu, to every State in Australia on our around-Australia adventure, which was the best time of my life so far.
I have facilitated your learning with music and sporting lessons and we as a family have had a shared love of circus arts and alternative and folk music festivals.
I have given you the world that I want to experience, but technology is playing an increasing role in your lives. I feel like you are being sucked into this vortex of false realities and it is becoming all-consuming in your lives at the expense of balance, compassion and reality.
I, too, enjoy technology, but as an adult who grew up without any phone until I was 21, I can see the instability of a life that is fully-lived online and how it warps the sense of reality. I see how it can consume hours of your day and you don’t even notice time passing, of the trees that I taught you to hug, of the flowers I taught you to appreciate and of the movement of time that occurs naturally with the spinning of the Earth on its axis.
I see you focusing on so much negativity that exists in cyber-world at the expense of seeing the wonder of life, of the miracle of life, of your deep inner knowing and of the positivity and exciting things to be found if you clicked elsewhere. Focusing on the negativity is warping your sense of reality of the world and it’s making you bitter, not empowered as I have always encouraged you to be.
I wish that you would use the manners that I taught you, to put the phone down at dinner and to focus on the people around you as we eat.
I know I’m not the perfect Mum but I try my very best. Everything I do is to give you the opportunities of the world so that when you eventually go out on your own, you are armed with information, experience and wisdom so you can have the very best life that you possibly can.
Maybe if we had stayed in one place and given you a more stable existence, you would see the world differently, but maybe this is who you are and I have to accept that you will find your own way in the world, even if it’s a path that I do not like – and yes, that’s my stuff.
Maybe I need to trust that I’ve given you the best possible foundation in life and that yes, maybe you are ready to be out in the world, making your own decisions, without me.
Maybe this is just me lamenting the fact that your childhood is over, that our time together as a close-knit family is ending.
Maybe I need to see you as the woman that you are becoming and for you the journey is a little rocky at this time.
Maybe this is just me not accepting that you aren’t a little girl anymore.
Maybe this is me grieving what was and not being open to what will be and not enjoying every moment. But some days, the moments are so draining. Your negativity and anger drag me so far down that I need extra meditation to find myself again.
I love you with every beating of my heart. You are all the reason I get up in the morning and the reasons I’m grateful for as I close my eyes at night.
I am really struggling in your adolescence and I’m hurting, but I will get through this time, as will you.
I believe in you and know that you will make the best decisions for your life and when you make a decision that doesn’t work, I will be here to hold you and pick you up, as I always have been, even if you don’t understand the way I express my love.
" I have learned that adolescence is much more than a time of transition, but a time when girls particularly, want to know that their parents love them and will push all sorts of buttons to get you to prove it."
As a single mother of three daughters, I have to finally admit that it’s a very hard job. For a long time I wondered what people meant when many people, sometimes strangers, have said to me what a great job that I’m doing in raising my kids, “and you’re doing it on your own, that must be hard?” they sympathetically question. But I don’t know any other reality. I don’t know how to share parent, how to juggle a fantastic, intimate relationship with being a mother, breadwinner, housekeeper, doctor, counsellor and professional. I have no sense of what it means to parent as a team. I just do what I do because my kids need me.
I have done it all on my own; raised them, bathed them, clothed them, worked hard to put food on the table and to cater to their interests and needs like any good parent, yet, anyone can be a parent, but it is very, very hard to be an outstanding one, particularly on your own. (Not that it’s a competition, but sometimes you know other parents can be very competitive).
There have been times when we have survived on pasta (without sauce), two minute noodles and baked beans just to get through to the next payday. I have stayed in jobs long past their use-by-date just because we needed the money and we receive no maintenance from their father. I have had to say “no” to the kids more often than I would have liked, not because I think it’s a bad idea, but because I have not enough money to spend on anything that is not essential.
When they were little, I have to admit, they were easier to parent. They were easy to bundle into the car and do what we needed to do, but as they got older, it’s become exponentially harder. I had to say no to Miss 13 last night when she asked for some uniform item that meant she wouldn’t stand out as different and as a result get bullied for it. What do you do when you haven’t enough money to provide school uniforms? Or when Miss 15 asked for some money for lunch as she had nothing and didn’t want to seem to be scamming off her friends for lunch? I’m sure not all single parents have had this experience, but it has been mine, money, or lack thereof, has made being a brilliant parent harder than it probably should be.
But it’s harder in other ways when they start shifting into adolescence too. As they build confidence with their own voices and expressing their needs and desires, conflict inevitably occurs. I have learned that adolescence is much more than a time of transition, but a time when girls particularly, want to know that their parents love them and will push all sorts of buttons to get you to prove it. Miss 15 has done everything in her power to get me to kick her out of home and tried to get me to tell her that I don’t love her. I will do neither of those things. It’s a curious situation then to reflect on my own adolescence and how I actually wanted to know that my parents loved me. I wanted proof of their love.
In the past few years, I’ve become very fond of Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages and realised that in the whole of my childhood, adolescence and even adulthood when I thought my parents didn’t love me and I rebelled and withdrew from them because I had these thoughts. But they did! But they had a different way of showing it. In Chapman’s book, he outlines the love languages: Physical Touch, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service and Receiving Gifts (www.5lovelanguages.com – definitely look it up). Learning this changed everything in the way I viewed my parents, relationships and of course my children and how I’m managing this adolescent transition.
The other tricky part of adolescence is letting go; of keeping firm boundaries, but simultaneously allowing them the freedom to start to make decisions on their own about their lives and then being a loving witness when they make mistakes, to not judge or criticise, or say “I told you so.” Seriously! What human being wants to hear that! I suppose that is a fine line between neglect and allowing them to fall, but I never wanted to over-parent my kids. I’ve always wanted them to learn how to look after themselves within a supported environment. I’m seeing my role more now as being open to communicating with them about their lives and being here for when they fall down and to be their champion to get back up. I remember when they first started school and experienced that first life changing moment of the first let go. This is harder. Some of the mistakes that they make could be fatal/life-changing, such as drugs, driving or unprotected sex, so it really is a balance of ensuring they understand my core values and of trusting them to do what’s right. I need to trust in all that I’ve given them and trust that they will turn to me or the support networks I’ve helped them to set up when things don’t go right. The last thing I want to do is smother them, because all that tells them is that I don’t trust them. It has been a tricky time, but by articulating to them that I am feeling uncomfortable with them catching the train for the first time, they understand that language and in-turn are more patient with me. I am very lucky in that way, I communicate to them when I’m not coping and I need their help and somehow they know how hard I’ve worked and sacrificed for them. I know I’m loved, even when they tell me they hate me…it means I’ve pressed a button!
Adolescence would have to be the hardest part of parenting for anyone I imagine, but I’m doing it on my own. I have no back-up, no place to cry or rest or even reset button so I can feel good. Some single parents rush into new relationships, use their friends or family for support, but I have chosen to use professional help in the form of Psychologists and Counsellors. I have found that as much as I love and care for friends and family (many of whom will read this), they just don’t “get” it about raising three daughters on my own. A professional is a neutral third party, I find this empowering. The kids don’t have their own instruction book, specific for what works for them – I suppose all parents experience this – but for me it has been very much a trial and error process and I have made a lot of mistakes. I am not perfect. Knowing I am not perfect and that all three daughters are intelligent, funny, healthy, creative and socially conscious means that I’ve laid the foundations for them for their lives and now, I get to enjoy their unfoldment into womanhood and that, that for me, is the most precious of gifts, so I’m going to sit back and enjoy it – while putting in reasonable boundaries and learning to trust of course!
© Alyssa Curtayne 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