This topic is one close to my heart. I never thought it would be, never wanted it to be.
For those who choose to be a single mum from the outset, I take my hat off to you. Whether you’ve been let down and embark on motherhood alone before your baby is even born or those choosing to use donated sperm to become a mum, you’re all amazing, inspirational women. Your babies will thrive on that, for sure.
I have to admit, I didn’t really understand separation and divorce before it happened to me. Growing up, there were a few children at school whose parents were separated and they seemed like complete novelties to me. I was really intrigued by their lives, wondering how they could live between two parents.
That’s just human nature, especially as a child; you’re exposed to certain situations and not others and it affects how you deal with them.
In my family, no one is divorced. My mum is one of five siblings and none of them are divorced. It’s the same on my Dad’s side of the family. Growing up, none of my closest friends had parents who were divorced, so my experience of it and the stigma it carried because of my lack of understanding played a major part in my decision to stay married as long as I did.
Obviously, I’m not a single mum any more but my time as a single mum is still close to the surface. And at times I still have to stop myself thinking like a single mum.
People who’ve never been in this situation just don’t know how it feels. For me, in my group of best friends I was the first to get married and have a baby and by the time I was separated, they were all loved up, playing happy families themselves. It was like getting off a roundabout at the wrong time.
They tried to help me out but realistically, they all had small children, full time jobs and their own lives to live. They were fantastic, sending texts to check I was okay and made all the right ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe he said that’ noises but anyone going through this themselves will understand that you just feel alone, both physically and mentally.
There are many stages to separation and divorce, the first being complete desperation at what your future holds. Even if you’re glad to be out of a bad situation, you can’t help but feel that all your dreams have been shattered. You feel guilty for wasting money on a pointless wedding, for people having given you presents at that wedding. It’s silly but that really played on my mind.
I remember thinking about what the future held for me. I’m a real planner, completely organised and I don’t like not knowing what’s coming next. One thing that helped me through the initial stages was to try to embrace that feeling of not knowing. Eventually, I saw it as a good thing.
Once you’ve got over the initial wallowing about your marriage ending, your attention turns to enjoying your new-found freedom. I was keen to go out and enjoy myself but then realised I didn’t have anyone to go out with; all my closest friends were tucked up with their husbands watching X Factor on a Saturday night.
That’s when it dawns on you that you need a wider friendship group. I found it really helpful to accept invitations of a night out, be it a drink at the pub or trip to the cinema. Don’t be afraid to do the asking too. I found many of my friends were only too glad of a night out, or just a couple of hours to themselves. Getting yourself back out there is really important. You’ll be surprised as you become reunited with the old you, the one who used to matter.
There’s nothing more upsetting than sorting out access to your children. The first few times you’re on your own are unpleasant; I’d be fibbing if I said otherwise. I found myself completely lost, wandering around the house with nothing to do. But this does improve and you get better at finding things to keep yourself occupied while the children are away from you.
Like I said, accepting offers of company is really important and I tried my best to keep busy during these times. I took up running and went frequently with a group of friends. I can’t tell you how monumental this was in building myself up again, not just physically but mentally too. It ticked all the boxes, keeping my mind occupied and helping me to take pride in myself again.
I know fitness isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s the principle that matters. Just trying new things is so important when you’re rediscovering yourself. Take an art class, join a club and even better if you can arrange your access on those nights so you’re kept busy.
But there are nights when you’ll be alone. And you have to tackle that head on; there’s no escaping it. When all my friends were busy, I’d make a real point of preparing for a night in by myself. I’d buy some treats, organise a film to watch and enjoy a long, uninterrupted soak in the bath. It made me realise how much I’d neglected myself and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d watched a film all the way through. (Other than 101 Dalmations)
I also tried to use my time alone to do chores like food shopping and housework so I could dedicate all my time to Ruby when she was at home. I’d put my music on and after several weekends of her not being there, I found myself actually enjoying just pooching around.
Out of all the times I was alone, Christmas was definitely the hardest. Children are what makes Christmas so special. Whatever arrangement you come to regarding Christmas, I’d say think about what you can bear. I knew I wasn’t prepared to miss Christmas Eve with Ruby and Christmas morning too. Of course I would have liked her the whole time but that’s not realistic; she wanted to see her Dad’s family too. I still hate it when she leaves on Christmas afternoon even now, seven years on, but I can’t run away from it and I’ve had to accept it. Whether you run yourself a nice hot bath with your new bubbles or drink ALL the wine you’ve been given and eat ALL the mince pies, turn the negative into a positive and take some time for you.
Holidaying as a single mum is hard. For the first year or so, Ruby and I holidayed with my parents in their caravan in Devon and Cornwall and these are times I’ll treasure forever. It got me away from the humdrum of daily life back at home and I had the support of my parents so I could have some time to relax too.
After a while, and after gaining back some confidence, I began wondering whether I could take Ruby away on my own. Of course I knew I could, but mentally, saying you’re going on holiday, just the two of you, is a big thing. And unless it’s happening to you, you won’t know that feeling.
So I decided I’d take Ruby away in the UK for a weekend. It was nearing Christmas and I found a great deal at Bluestone in Pembrokeshire, just a two hour drive from home. You can find it here. They had a special Christmas package and the real Santa was there too. Money was rather tight at that time and so I decided to include the break as one of Ruby’s Christmas presents. She got a letter from Santa explaining that this was a special, early gift as she’d been so good.
I will say that on arriving initially, I did feel like the only single mum to have ever graced the soft-play at Bluestone. Christmas time is traditionally family time and this was like family time on steroids; hordes of three-generational families piling into their cosy cabins for the weekend. But I made my mind up to get through those feelings and reminded myself that I was doing this for Ruby. That weekend was one which sealed our relationship tight. There’s no substitute for quality time with your children.
Now is probably a good time to say that it doesn’t matter what your financial situation is on separating and divorcing, your children only want your love and time. These are both entirely free but are the most valuable ‘things’ you can give them. Cooking together, making paper chains and eating popcorn were far more important to Ruby on that weekend than anything else.
Financially supporting a child on your own is hard. Day-to-day I could cover, but holidays and days out can really add up when you’re a single mum. People don’t mean to be ignorant, but inevitably, they are if they haven’t been in the same situation themselves. Quite often, someone would ask if we were going away and every time, I’d think, do you know what being a single mum is like? Some months, especially when school uniform was needed and new shoes, I’d wonder how I’d cope.
But I didn’t let that stop us having fun. I began thinking how I could take Ruby away on a budget and eventually decided I’d join a house-sitting agency. I won’t go into it in too much detail, because I’m hoping to do a post about it soon, but this was such a great idea for us and we enjoyed three wonderful holidays that year, for free.
About three years after separating, I took Ruby to Cyprus on my own. My mum wasn’t happy at all about me taking her abroad by myself but it was something I really wanted to do. If you’re keen to go abroad with your children, my advice would be to pick a resort you know well. I’ve been to Cyprus a few times and love Protaras, just outside of Ayia Napa. I knew that was somewhere I’d feel safe by myself with Ruby.
I’d be lying if I said it all went smoothly without a few ‘what on earth am I doing here on my own’ moments, like when we arrived at the airport and I kept checking our transfer details, hoping I’d definitely booked it or when we were the last ones on the transfer bus at 3am.
From holidaying alone, to budgeting and DIY, I really feel like my time as a single mum has made me so much stronger; it’s made me the person I am today. I feel I’ve shown Ruby that we can achieve anything we put our minds to.
If you’re going through this yourself, I can only say that things will get better. Nobody can make it better for you; but time will help, you’ll see. Sometimes parenting on your own is not what you want, but you WILL get through it.
Thanks so much for reading. Hopefully this will help someone in a similar situation and others may see single mums from a new perspective.