Over the past twenty plus years my two daughters have been my greatest achievement; they have left me with very little money and no husband.
There are many of us out there; single parenthood came to me at the age of thirty and then thirty-five, through to the present day. Let’s leave the speculation about the why, because that is a long and tawdry tale. I wanted to comment on the stress of being a single parent even before lock down happened. I cannot imagine the pressure on some single parents of the past few months, especially if they have a child with profound and multiple disabilities. Over the past twenty plus years my two daughters have been my greatest achievement; they have left me with very little money and no husband. Moments of greatest impact on my mood and anxiety were exacerbated by my neurotic tendencies pre-disposed and conditioned. Here are some of the most stressful things about being a parent. Which I think were amplified by being on my own. I wonder if you agree:
1. Being both parents – Strong, firm, disciplinarian but also accepting, understanding and educating. Sometimes having to be strict and serious and other times being the fun and exciting parents. It is exhausting, because although parents must be these things all wrapped in one. As a couple you can take turns and share the load. Lack of sleep and food! I was thin in those days and had a greyish pallor. Poor nutrition and sleep are major influencing factors for feeling low in mood and anxious.
2. Sacrifice – You cannot just take your turn to have a night out with your friends, it takes major organisation. You don’t get to take turn with anything and the children’s needs come first so you sacrifice time and looking after yourself. Then there is the challenge of being sole provider, knowing you must provide at a cost to your wellbeing. Buying them the best labelled clothes for fear they will be bullied if you don’t and wearing seconds and hand me downs yourself. Looking like you just got out of bed at 2.00 p.m. on a rainy Sunday when you have finally made it out of the house to let them run around a noisy ball pit and expel some energy and in actual fact you have had them stealing your space in your bed all night and they awoke at 5 a.m. Knowing you don’t look your best can really impact on your self-esteem and mood.
3. Loneliness – As intimated above, I haven’t been too lucky in the love department; but the little angels can get good at sabotaging relationships. It’s a whole new dynamic when a male comes on the scene in the Jenkins household. First it was the ‘no-one’s going to replace my dad’ and then it became ‘sod off old man, I can wrap my finger around my mum and you can’t interfere with that!’ Many nights on my own pondering when will I ever meet Mr Right who will adore me and my children? Yearning to meet someone to put the bins out and change the light bulbs and plugs. Everyone knows the impact loneliness has on your mental health.
What were the top things that helped me stay well?
1. Don’t be a mum all the time – My work gave me purpose, structure and a support community. My childminder shared the load. Even though the guilt would kick in a lot. The value of having adult conversations and feeling that I am contributing to the world and able to provide financially for my children boosted my esteem. I remember once my youngest saying, ‘can’t you stop work mum?’ I told her that I could indeed, but we would have no money for treats, holidays, new stuff and she would have to wear rags. She looked aghast and told me to get back to work straight away. The materialism of the young.
2. Diet and fitness – I’m not sure I truly got this right until more recently, so I wish I had known the benefits of knowing what is good to put in your body and how to get a good nights sleep, instead of endlessly trying to analyse the day and plan for the next one. There are now lots of apps that you can download to keep you on track. My wind problem could have resolved itself much sooner had I known about gluten and red meat.
3. Honour yourself – just remember to remind yourself you are amazing and are coping with so much and doing it well. Look at what you have achieved and reward you. I have tried different things, like treating myself to something new that I like but don’t necessarily need. I started buying a crystal once a month and put them in a dish to remind me off all the good things I had done. Allow yourself some you time and pay attention to your strengths and power. Sneak off to the bath and read a book when they have gone to bed and leave that washing up until the morning. You can do it with the breakfast stuff tomorrow.
What are your top tips? I have only scratched the surface on this topic. Huge respect to all parents, it’s a true gift but as I always say to my two. Giving birth taught me true love, enormous love for the little bundle and overwhelming fear at the same time.
4. No means no – keep the boundaries and don’t make that rod for your back, you won’t need it. You can still shower them with love and give them quality time but no means no and threats are followed through on.
Tovu Jenkins 02.07.20