My new year’s resolution this year is clear, simple and to the point. I’m going to be selfish.
By the end of last year I was at breaking point (again). Most nights ended up in tears (mine, and occasionally little man’s), I got angry in a way I never wanted to and at times it was scary and upsetting for both of us. I was getting ill easily. Things were not good. There was one thing at the crux of all the problems – exhaustion, and, as my son loves to tell me he never gets tired. All that exhaustion belonged to me. Once you reach this kind of exhaustion, parenting becomes a never ending negative cycle. I was finding my son increasingly difficult. Cue more exhaustion. Cue more challenging behaviour. I would (generally) put a good face on it in public but behind closed doors things would collapse, spectacularly.
A certain level of exhaustion is pretty much expected for (single/ solo) mums. However, it turns out there is a limit to how much I can take. By the end of last year I was questioning whether I was the right mother for my son. It’s a pretty grim place to be in. Without a belief that you’re doing it right you can’t do it right (not that any specific approach is right – just right for you and yours). I felt the judgement of my parenting rain down on me from friends, family and strangers alike. The single mum with the naughty boy – how much more stereotypical could you get? Whether that rain was imaginary or real I’ll never know and, quite frankly, it’s irrelevant too.
In the heat of the moment I was convinced the problem was his behaviour, later I would be convinced the problem was my parenting. I’d hear those negative voices and believe every single word. Now, having had some space to reflect, I’m realising I need to take my own advice and remember its not him, it’s me. Sure, he’s a testing and energetic four year old but towards the end of last year he was also a little boy craving more attention from his mother. Unfortunately for both of us, exhausted single mums trying to balance work, life and parenting can’t always find the time to provide that. When I’m not exhausted, I can actually be a kind, caring and patient mother – the kind I always wanted to be. And on such days you know what – he’s a delight. This year I need more time with my son so I can be that parent and I can rebuild the belief in me that I am that kind of parent; a few less trips to see friends and a bit more time spent doing nothing* to rebuild the strength in this mama’s weary bones and remind this boy that he is loved.
You might wonder why I’m not just doing this anyway. The thing is, I’ve been so busy trying to make sure that becoming a single mum hasn’t changed me that I’ve exhausted myself in the process. I’ve not wanted friends to think I’ve changed and feel that I prioritise my son over them. The idea of prioritising myself has never even come into the equation. Of course I’ve failed. No doubt spectacularly from friends’ perspectives – it’s an impossible aim to achieve, but try I have.
I’ve tried to get a sitter any time possible, but many times I can’t.
I’ve made trips to see friends when I’m so exhausted all I want to do is spend a weekend locked indoors, but how can it be the same when little one is in tow?
I’ve missed friends’ calls when I’m force feeding him dinner, only to try them later when I’m literally on the verge of collapsing from exhaustion for fear they will feel I’m ignoring them otherwise.
Looking back I’m not sure any of these sacrifices, and they are sacrifices – believe me, are noticed. Why would they be when they only manage to put a slight dent into the reality that is the huge change becoming a single mother has had on my life? What’s more, I’m not the only one whose life has changed. Everyone changes in different ways. It’s a losing battle I’ve been fighting and the real casualties in all of this are me and my son’s mental health. And the winners? There aren’t any. It hasn’t helped any of my friendships. In fact I can’t really see what difference it’s made apart from perhaps to make me feel even crapper when the efforts aren’t reciprocated. I’m starting to realise perhaps I’m being unreasonable though. Most people consider it normal to prioritise a partner and/ or children. This is what friends have been doing. I’m realising now that I should have been doing the same.
This year I’m hoping that I will expand my little family of two. But what’s the point if I’m just going to continue to drag the two of them round and act like there aren’t two smalls getting bored and restless as mama tries, and fails, to have a grown up conversation. This year I’m going to stop feeling like I can’t focus on my family because families involve more than two people. This year I’m going to stop trying to jump at every chance to socialise with grown ups and see friends, because I also need to, and WANT to, spend time socialising with my family. Even if my family is ‘just’ me and a four year old. We both deserve to consider ourselves a family who need family time together – just like couples do, and just like families with ten kids do. I can no longer act like I’m an adult with a child shaped tail constantly swaying behind me. WE ARE A FAMILY TWO.
2018 already has a number of plans in store for us – starting school (him), house renovations, an imminent redundancy (me) and (all things being well) a baby. No doubt there will be some left field things throw at us too, that’s just how things go in my life. We need to be strong to weather it all without collapsing under the pressure. Questioning my ability to ‘just’ parent my son through the mundane normality of life is not how things can be this year. At the end of 2017 my son often asked to stay home for the day, “it’s boring going out everyday” he would tell me. It’s not the typical complaint of a four year old but I know what he meant. He didn’t want to be dragged across the British public transport system – again, or ignored while mummy tried (and failed) to chat with friends. Of course, I’m not going to stop doing either of things or I’d go loopy, but I am going to try and put my son’s and my needs first before I jump at any and every chance to see a friend. I might be a slow learner in this regard, but I’m finally realising that sometimes being selfish is necessary to be kind to yourself.
So, friends, I love you all and hope to see you lots this year, but sometimes I might need to say no. Sometimes I might need to hibernate with my son so we can regroup and face the world smiling. And you know what, after spending a lovely day with him yesterday and cuddling up in bed at night time he told me I am the best mummy in the whole world. Those few words instantly silenced the doubters inside and around me. Maybe I am the right mummy for him after all and perhaps, against all the odds, I am doing an alright job in one of the hardest professions of all.