6 times being a single parent sucks, and 2 times it's awesome

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Being a single parent is a tough gig. I grew up in a single-parent household, and now I'm head of one myself, with three children aged 14, eight and six.

The main difference between my mum and me is that I share custody with my children's dad, so I get time off. My mum had to put up with my brother and I every day for 18 years or so.

My part-time single parenting role gives me a whole new respect for that woman.

I was reminded one Mothers Day weekend just how tough single parenting can be when, instead of the highly anticipated breakfast in bed, I received the gift of gastro from one of my kids. Not only did I spend the day emptying her vomit bucket, but by lunchtime I could feel myself coming down with it too. And parents of multiple children will know that then it's all about playing the waiting game for the others to go down as well.

Caring for sick kids when you're sick yourself is horrid. And doing it without support is just the pits.

It got me thinking about the highs and lows of single parenting. There are some things that are incredibly tough about doing it on your own, but then there are some shining lights too.

6 times being a single parent sucks:

1. When a fuse blows, a lock breaks, the smoke alarm won't stop making that weird chirping sound, or the car is due a service – or whatever it is that you're not good at.

Single parenting means you are now all things in your household. Inevitably stuff will come up that will test you and force you to get outside of your comfort zone, and that's okay. But sometimes it would be nice to have someone to ask to just take care of it, you know?

2. Mothers Day.

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This is especially the case when the kids are little, and not really able to take on the role of celebrating you yet. Some exes are decent – mine ensured the children had some money to buy me a gift at the school stall.

But a single mum friend picked up her young kids from their dad's place on Mothers Day morning, and he hadn't clued them into what day it was or helped them to buy something at school. While other mums are being celebrated everywhere, it's tough to feel like you work hard for no recognition at all.

3. Days out.

Going out and about with the children can be a lot of fun…and it can suck. I see families on Instagram going along to festivals and community events and I think, I really should do more of that. Then I do, and realise being the only adult can be lonely.

My children are delightful, but really, when we go out they are purely focused on what's in it for them (their job, as children). So we get them something to eat, find them somewhere to sit, find ways to alleviate their boredom, engage in conversation about freaking Infinity Wars, and then piggy back at least one of them back to the car, which is parked two kilometres away because we wanted to go to some super-popular community event.

I arrive home exhausted, $200 poorer, and with kids who ask if we can just stay home next time. (The answer is yes.) These things are so much more fun when you've got another adult to talk to.

4. Cooking. Every. Freaking. Night.

The only night off I get is one I pay for. I'm a bit of a health food nut and I don't like getting takeaway a lot, which means that I cook, and I cook, and I cook.

Then I do the dishes. And then, on the weekend, I spend an hour or so planning what I'm going to cook so I can do the shopping (with three children in tow, of course). It's Groundhog Day, but with greasy pots and pans.

5. When my kids do something awesome.

Or even moderately good. I just want to tell someone, and bask in the glory that is my incredible offspring. But the only other person who is as in love with these kids as me isn't my friend any more. That can feel pretty sad and lonely sometimes.

6. I'm in charge. 

Even though I feel about 12 and have no confidence in the decisions I'm making. I like to pretend I know what I'm doing but where is the stop-gap to ensure I don't mess these kids up?

I said to my teenager yesterday, "Does it freak you out that I'm the adult in charge here?" She assured me she thinks I'm all over it, and outwardly I agreed with her. But between you and me, I have no idea what I'm doing.

2 times being a single parent is awesome:

I'm in charge.

Yes, I know what I just said above, but I do love that I can parent exactly how I want to without having to answer to anyone or justify anything. Not that I'm doing anything weird or terrible, it's just that when you're parenting with someone else you always need to remain open to their beliefs, opinions and feedback.

But these days I decide what goes on in my house, and my confidence in my ability to parent has soared.

I get time to myself.

I know this isn't the case for everyone (and it certainly wasn't for my mum), but I love that I can have chaotic days of footy practice, cooking classes, theatre performances, late dinners, family movies and someone creeping into my bed in the middle of the night – and then the next day I can go for a long leisurely run along the river, see a movie with friends, work late, or enjoy a night of peace and quiet on the couch by myself. It provides my life with a sense of balance I've never felt before, and I love both.

Although I've only given you two awesome times and six sucky ones, but the two awesome points are so great, they more than make up for the six sucky points.

I never planned to be a single parent, and it's a path I wouldn't have chosen for myself, but now? I wouldn't change a thing.