I’ve been a co-parent (and captain of my own ship) for almost six years. Boy, what a ride – a challenging journey of balancing the needs of my son whilst maintaining my own sanity and happiness. And sometimes these two intentions are in direct conflict with one another.
Theo is my favourite person on the planet. This “human cyclone” has a beautiful blend of mischief and affection, loudness and sensitivity. He’s my favourite person in the world! The adventures we share and the day-to-day fun are, without a doubt, the highlights of my week. But whilst he’s the focal point of my life, he is not the only thing in my life.
I strongly believe I need to retain a strong sense of self to guide this gorgeous little boy through childhood to become a balanced, considerate and strong young man.
It’s not always easy. Sometimes I feel selfish and racked with guilt when I do things for myself or have fun without him. And then I think, “Hey, this is my life too”. I don’t believe filling his head with the notion he’s constantly centre-stage will set him up for success in future life. It’s about balance and making him realise he’s valued and valuable, without imparting a delusion that the Earth revolves around him.
After a few years of learning from my (many) mistakes, here are some ideas to stay sane and retain your own identity as a single mum.
- Kick up your heels.
Make a regular date (mine is monthly) to head out for a night on the town. I love these evenings of drinks and dancing with my friends. It’s a chance to reconnect with the “pre-Mumma me”, have some fun and enjoy some nightlife. It feeds the party girl in me and makes me appreciate the more homely elements of my life.
So head out on the tiles, go on a date, enjoy your singledom… you’re a single mum, not a nun! Having a bit of grown up fun and being a mother don’t need to be mutually exclusive.
- Primp yourself, darling!
Before Theo was born I was known for my skyscraper heels, and impractical (yet very ladylike) dresses. Throughout my pregnancy I was adamant this wouldn’t change. I was going to put Victoria Beckham to shame and be a super-glamorous mummy. But within a few weeks of Theo’s arrival, my illusions were shattered and I felt the inevitable pull of flat shoes and more practical attire. And there’s certainly a place for that. I still love to get dressed up to the nines when I’m not in “Mumma mode”. It makes me realise I’m still an individual in my own right, and it helps me embrace the different elements of my life which make me “me”.
- Lose yourself in something that makes you happy.
I love to switch off by indulging in an activity which demands my attention – something unrelated to my mothering commitments or my work. By escaping into an activity, you create space for yourself. You’ll probably be surprised at how refreshed you feel afterwards. Activities might include reading, meditation, drawing, watching something you love on TV, exercise or even drifting off into a labyrinth of social media for a while. Try spending at least 30-60 minutes doing something you enjoy 2-3 times per week.
- Prioritise your self-care.
Eat well, sleep well, exercise, talk to friends and take time out. A bit of good old-fashioned nurturing will equip you with the energy and clarity to look after you and your kids.
- Enjoy your non-kid time.
If your kid/s go to their dad’s on a regular basis, or you have a support network that gives you a well-deserved break, make the most of it. Don’t get me wrong, I still get pangs of sadness and guilt when I drop Theo off every second weekend, but I also look forward to some “me time” – catching up with friends, doing whatever I choose with my time, and sleep-ins. Everyone is entitled to some time out, so try to make the most of it without feeling weighed down with guilt.
- Don’t be afraid to push back.
If you have a child from toddler age and up, you’ll probably relate to the fact that their ongoing demands can be rather like Chinese water torture after a while… ongoing and relentless. I often find myself in the middle of a task which can’t be paused and Theo will come to me and demand I down tools and follow him to the garden on a quest to trap a gecko, or re-watch one of his favourite YouTube videos. I used to obey his every command.
But now I don’t. It’s not that I ignore or neglect him… I listen to him, pause and decide whether his request (or order) is more important or urgent than my current task or activity. Then I act accordingly. Sometimes the gecko or YouTube is at the top of the list, sometimes it isn’t. It’s a very small thing, but it’s had a profound effect on me (I no longer feel like I’m a slave to a 130cm Sergeant Major) and it’s taught him a bit of patience and a sense of perspective. It’s reinforced that the universe doesn’t revolve around him – something we all need to realise.
If you’re a fledgling single mother, I wish you all the best with this new stage in your life. Please remember:
- You are still you, regardless of your parental status.
- You don’t need to feel guilty for taking time for yourself, pushing back or saying no.
- By being strong and living as an individual, you are setting a terrific example to your kids to be strong and independent as they grow up.
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