It’s not easy to know what to expect what you become a single mother by choice. For anyone , becoming a parent is a journey into the unknown. But for those of us going it alone, there are very few role models around us to show us how our life might be.
While more and more women are choosing single motherhood it’s still unlikely that anyone in your close circle of friends and family has gone ahead of you on this path. So, after someone in a Facebook group asked what those of us who’d already done it wish we’d known beforehand I thought I’d write a post to share with you the benefit of my hindsight!
Frankly, I don’t think I’d have listened to some of these tough lessons if I’d been told them before. Some things can only be learned by experience. I don’t think any of us can really know what we’re taking on by becoming parents, until we’re in it.
But don’t say I didn’t warn you!
1 | I wish I’d known that it’s OK to ask for help.
When you decide to become a single mother by choice that doesn’t mean you have to do it ALL alone. I’ve heard other solo mums saying ‘I made this decision, so I can’t expect other people to help me, I have to be able to cope alone’.
No, no you don’t. I thought I could cope alone. But I couldn’t. I really struggled when my daughter was tiny and we were in Sydney, on the other side of the world from my family. But I very rarely asked for help. Until I was on my knees.
Being a solo parent is a real test of your resilience. As someone who’d been able to cope with pretty much everything life had thrown at me so far, I thought I should be able to cope with this too.
But I wasn’t nearly as tough as I thought, or maybe I’d never really been tested before. Trying to prove I was capable and independent became self-destructive.
In the end I not only moved back to the UK to be near my family, but then a couple of years later I moved in with my mum.
Now I readily admit I need help. I would never have admitted my vulnerabilities before.
2 | I wish I’d known how relentless parenting is.
There’s no way you can understand that fact until you’re in it. Living it. Until you’re up for the umpteenth time in the night and know you’ll have to do it all again tomorrow, that the responsibility will never not be yours.
You can’t hand in your notice, take annual leave or switch off at the end of the day. You are a parent 24 hours a day, seven days a week. ALL THE flippin’ time. Even as I write those words I know they are not enough to communicate the reality of being alone with a baby or toddler day after day.
There’s no-one to hand over to at the end of the day, or even to unload your worries to. No-one to help you decide whether your little one’s temperature really does warrant a trip to A&E. No-one to take the bins out when you’re ready to drop with exhaustion. There’s only you.
Notwithstanding point 1 above, you need to accept that it’s going to be the hardest thing you’ll ever do. There’ll be moments when you’ll wish you hadn’t done it. But it will get easier. It really will.
3 | I wish I’d known how much vomit I’d have to deal with.
Actually, I’m glad I didn’t know that because I’m not sure I’d have signed up! I used to have a vomit phobia!
Being solo with a vomit-covered child, bed and floor is quite a challenge. Every winter I hope this will be the year we’ll be spared a bout of gastro, but it hasn’t happened yet.
This year after bout number two I told my daughter that I think she was sent to cure me of my vomit phobia. Because while I used to panic and get anxious about her vomiting, now I take it in my stride! And she’s now great at getting it in the bucket nearly every time…
(Top tips: Towels on the bed if poorly little one sleeps with you. Cover sofa and any exposed surfaces they sit on with towels too. At night add a second layer of bed sheets underneath a waterproof sheet, so that in the middle of the night, you just have to whip top layer off!)
4 | I wish I’d known how precious my unlimited leisure time was!
Before your baby arrives luxuriate in and truly appreciate alll the time you have to suit yourself with no time limit. Because once you’re a solo mum you won’t have it again for a very long time!
So lie on your sofa reading a book knowing you can do it all day uninterrupted! Swan about in the shops taking your time to choose a new pair of shoes. Enjoy being able to grab your bag and leave the house without having to take half of it with you! Ah, the freedom!
When E was tiny, knowing that every tiny bit of alone time I got had an – often extremely short – time limit on it really got to me. So if, like me, you revel in your alone time, make the most of it!
5 | I wish I’d known how much I’d regret all the money I frittered away on pointless rubbish!
Create a budget so that you stop wasting money and start saving as much money as you can NOW! It’s only as a mother that I’ve become any good at saving money. I WISH I’d saved money as soon as I started earning it. Oh the next egg I could have built up!
So if you can find a way to save, do it. Even just £10 a month is better than nothing. They’ll be times when you really need a buffer of money to fall back on.
6 | I wish I’d known not to sweat the small stuff quite so much.
It can feel huge at the time, but it makes very little difference to how your child turns out whether or not you breastfeed. Your child won’t be damaged for life if you don’t feed them organic chicken or spend hours puréeing carrots, parsnips and sweet potato. And who cares if they’re dressed like a crazy colour blind clown to go to the supermarket?
As a single mother by choice, you need to pick your battles and give yourself a break. Perfection is not necessary. Buy the perfectly good baby food in packets, or make them eat what you eat.
Oh and ARE NOT the devil incarnate if you let your child sleep in your bed. There’s so much judgement out there thrown at mothers, the last thing you need is to start throwing it at yourself. Almost none of it matters in the long run. Trust me.
7 | But mostly I wish I’d known how much she’d inspire me.
I wasn’t very ambitious before I had E. But she has made me want to create great things. Not only that but she makes me want to stand up for what I believe in. Gender equality, flexible work, compulsory before and after school care. Things that will give her, and her children a better world to live in.
I want to prove to her what’s possible as a woman in our world. Because if I don’t show her, who will?