Flying solo – The challenges of Single Parenting and 3 things that help me day to day

Tonight I felt like I was failing at this parenting thing. My son was late home, hadn’t answered his phone all evening, dinner was cold, my four year old daughter was in the bath, and I was getting increasingly worried and stressed.

Who else should I call… ah he will arrive in any minute, but what if he doesn’t….?
He should be home…
Maybe I should wrap up herself and go out in car …. But she has a cough.
Ah no he will be fine….. well if he is okay, surely he could answer the flipping phone!

The conversation in my head was going round in circles. I wasn’t present with my little one while I bathed her and pottered around, putting away laundry. Another thing to feel guilty about. Bath time is usually our time to catch up and chat after a busy day at work. I got cross when she charged around the house instead of letting me dry her hair. My boy arrived in and I snapped at him.

I was stressed, worried, annoyed and upset all at the same time. We had a few words, he apologised, told me I was being ridiculous, got his cold dinner and went off to his room. I put my little one to bed, read her a story, cuddled her while she dozed off and tears ran down my cheeks. It’s 10pm on Monday and I already feel exhausted, I feel like every move I made today was the wrong one. I said the wrong things, lost my temper and I’m trying to parent in a gentle conscious way and I’m so aware that I messed up. It feels like a bad start to the week – I feel like crap.

I say goodnight to my son, check to make sure he’s had enough to eat, chat about this evening, I explain why I was worried and we are grand again. But still I can’t get the last couple of hours back and I’m looking forward to sleep and starting afresh tomorrow.

This single parenting thing is definitely no walk in the park. I wonder how many other single parents, both men and women, have felt like I do at times. I’ve gotten my son this far and he is a good kid with a really kind heart. I know that I’m doing some things right. I’m following my intuition and parenting in the way that feels right to me.

I think about my own Mam and my own rebellious teenage stage, I knew I was loved but I craved freedom and independence. She did her best in the way she knew how, she is my rock, she is always there no matter what. I know there is no end to her unconditional love. Another silent tear drops down my cheek and I pray that my children know how much I love them always. I hope I’m doing a good enough job and that they grow up to be happy fulfilled adults and know I was always trying to do my best.

I guess all mothers feel different levels of “mammy guilt” (and I’m sure Dad’s feel “daddy guilt”?) and I can only really speak from my own experience but I do think when you’re a single mum there is a huge feeling of added stigma. If something goes wrong you immediately think you and your children will be judged – “Oh yeah – well there’s no Dad at home” or “well, they’re from a broken home”. It hurts.   Your situation couldn’t be avoided, it is your life and your family has to work with it.

You have a quiet fear that maybe this is the reason too, if your kids are struggling, it is because of your separation, because of choices you made or even things beyond your control. And we circle back to feelings of guilt – you always want better for your kids. Better than you can give them, more time, more presence, less financial struggles. It is one big juggling act, and what happens if you drop the ball… Who catches them? Who catches you?

I want to say to all the single parents, if you are reading this and feeling anything like I have felt I want to tell you, you are not alone. I know it can be hard when you don’t have someone to celebrate the highs and share the lows with you. But there are places where you can be seen and heard. When you reach out for support there will always be people in your community who will be there for you. Tell your family and friends how much it means to you when you can share what’s going on for you with them and that you appreciate it.

Online groups can also be an amazing support too, find a group that suits you or set up your own, that aligns with your parenting style and values, they can be an invaluable source of advice and non-judgemental support. I love my little online village of like-minded parents.

Flying solo isn’t easy, but you learn how strong you really are!

Here are a final three things that help me day to day:

  1. I try to go easy on myself – talk to yourself like you would your best friend, remind yourself of your little wins! Speak lovingly and be gentle with yourself.
  2. Do something that feels comforting at the end of the day! Figure out what that means to you, maybe it’s a cuppa and some chocolate, a nice hot bath, your favourite TV show, reading, a phone call with a friend or writing about the highlights of your day.
  3. Know you are doing so much better than you think you are… if you are worrying about being a good parent it’s usually a sign you are one!

Bernie x

Bernie Creaner Burke
Bernie Creaner Burke
Bernie Creaner is the Co-Founder of Liffey Doulas, a Birth and Postpartum Doula, GentleBirth teacher and Mum of two. She has a keen interest in supporting families through the transition to parenthood and is currently studying Counselling and Psychotherapy. For more information check out her website and Instagram