The Terror of Single Parenthood

Single parenthood can be terrifying

Single parenthood can be terrifying

by Kara-Leah Grant, Musings from the Mat

Three years ago this New Year’s Eve I took my year old baby boy and left my mentally unstable and addicted partner.

I had zero dollars in my bank account, and an ambivalent attitude towards motherhood – something I had chosen under duress because of the pathetic belief it would make my partner happy.

Stupidity to the nth degree.

It did not make him happy.

Instead, a child was brought into an already unstable and messed up relationship. And while I was willing to submit myself to that toxicity of that relationship, I was not prepared to put my child through the same bullshit.

So I left.

And I’ve spent the last three years struggling with single parenthood. Some might say succeeding, although on days like today, it doesn’t feel like it.

Fortunately, here in New Zealand single parents are eligible for Sole Parent Support when their children are under a certain age, so I was guaranteed enough money to frugally survive on while I parented, and built up a home business.

This was a god sent, and my business is almost making enough money that I can finally say goodbye to Sole Parent Support and hello to Working for Families (another government subsidy for working families on low wages). Working for Families is a step up I will relish.

What I will never be able to say goodbye to, no matter how much I desire it, is my sole responsibility as a parent.

I am 100% responsible for the financial, health, educational and spiritual welfare of my son.

There is no one else in my day to day or even week to week life that shares this responsibility. Whatever is needed, whatever is going on, whatever happens, it’s me, all me.

The first time I ever took my son to A & E, his father and I were still on speaking terms, and, against my better judgement because I wanted my son to have some kind of relationship with his father no matter how messed up he was, my son was still going to spend time with his father.

When I called from A & E to let him know his son had fallen off a chair and sliced his skull open – not enough for stitches, just enough for glue – his father didn’t come down. He didn’t come down to share responsibility, to make sure his son was ok, to hold his son even. This despite the fact his father was only a short drive away. Despite the fact he was at home and free. Despite the fact we were still on talking terms. Despite all of that.

Instead, I was left alone in A & E for three hours holding a bloody child trying to keep him quiet and entertained while the nurses sympathetically rushed me into the doctor as soon as they could.

Fortunately, I am made of stern stuff and know how to endure. I pulled myself up by my boot straps and soldiered on, minute by minute, breath by breath.

Now, three years later, I’m still soldiering on, day after day, night after night, feeling like I’m handcuffed to a small child who has a propensity for talking to me like a small dictator. He’s a challenging child and I don’t like to ask people to look after him so I can have a break because who in their right mind would volunteer to care for a child?

Of course, I do have support. Childcare for one. At times. Other times, there is none. Family sometimes, and friends who volunteer to take my son. But family and friends and childcare are not always around.

These are the dangerous times, when my patience and soldiering wears thin and my child bores easily and we both become scratchy and antagonised and I’m world-wearily aware that of the two of us, I am the only one that holds any responsibility for what we’re experiencing.

It’s all up to me, this moment that we’re creating. I must make sure we’re fed, watered, supported and having sufficient playful fun to make it a happy day.

And I don’t want it to be all up to me.

I want to crawl back into my bed and disappear between the comforting ink and paper of a page-turner and not surface until lunchtime. Sometimes, I even dare attempt it. I put my child on a movie and slink off to my bedroom and bury my nose for as long as I can.

Inevitably, there’s a call for supplies or assistance. Food, water or the internet’s stalled. Sighing and sulky, I drag myself out of bed and stomp down the hallway to perform my motherly duties before disappearing back into my book.

If I looked deeply into it, there might be some anger toward the father. Now completely out of the scene, refusing to see his son because he doesn’t like the conditions of contact – conditions his behaviour brought on. It’s the pattern of our toxic relationship played out again and now it’s his son that pays the price. And me, stuck in 24/7 single parenthood.

I could rant and rave about taking responsibility for a child he begged I have – some kind of responsibility, any kind, but it would be futile.

He can’t even get organised enough to send birthday or Christmas presents let alone financial support. He’s simply not capable.

No, the only one who can really take responsibility for this entire mess is me.

I am the only one old enough and sane enough. I choose to have a child in the midst of a toxic relationship with a mentally unstable and addicted man. It was the most stupid decision of my life. Yet I made that decision and in the middle of all of this is One Precious Child.

And he is precious. He’s a delight. An angel, even in the midst of his difficult and challenging behaviour (some of it likely triggered by my difficult and challenging behaviour!). I’m world-warily aware that I’m simultaneously failing him terribly because I’m a lousy mother, and that I’m nurturing him lovingly because I’m an incredible mother. Both of these things are true at the exact same time – although the balance feels fragile at times.

My anger at being stuck in this situation because of my own stupidity – I was a career woman! Intent on conquering the world! Certain in my desire to stay childless! – spills out into my disciplinary action which muddies the water in a terrible way.

I find myself raging out of control in a manner completely out of proportion for the offence.

Afterward, I sigh.

More bloody work to be done. Most issues to look at. More unravelling of the psyche.

On top of that, I’ve just been mean to my child. I’ve screamed. I’ve manhandled him up and out of the room and into time-out when he refused to budge and stuck his tongue out at me. I’ve been totally reactive and a bad, bad parent. Fortunately, perfectionism isn’t one of my issues – at least, not when it comes to motherhood.

I know I’ve got a bloody hard job and that sometimes I’m going to make mistakes and sometimes I’m going to be terrible. I don’t beat myself up. Too much. Instead, I breathe, I bring awareness to what’s going on, and I ask myself what I need right now to feel more balanced, and what my son needs to be more cooperative.

That’s the terror of single parenthood – it’s solely up to you to take care of your child’s needs plus your own needs.

Often taking care of your child’s needs leaves you too exhausted to take care of yourself and a nasty downward spiral ensues, sucking both of you into it’s vortex.

I’ve learned to throw a line up, hit my yoga mat, sit for meditation, do what it takes because if I don’t, we both go under. What do single parents without a yoga practice do? I have no idea. I fear for them.

My son is now almost-four and we’ve weathered three years together.

He starts school in a year. My business is almost sustainable. I like to think the worst is behind us. He’ll make more friends and start going on play dates. I’ll meet more friends that have children he can play with. More and more of his needs will be met outside the home – at school for example. I’lll have more time to meet my needs. All of this will pass.

Breathe.

And then he’ll be a teenager.

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Comments

  1. Jenifer says

    In Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, he has this phrase: parenting is my monastery. It’s useful.

    Single parent or double, kids are masters of finding our veneers, pushing our buttons, and finding any boundary that is unguarded to wander right through.

    I lose my mind at times, too.

    One of my mentors, Mary Willow (plumparentsupport.com — she’s in NZ!), once said that anything that I did that was mean was to go “straight to compost!” and start again. I also learned to apologize — I do it a lot. And my son, because of this, apologizes to me and to others readily and easily, as soon as a person asserts that they were hurt by his actions. That patterning has been very helpful for both of us.

    And meditation jars — I love these things. Some people call them time-out jars, others calm-down, but we use them for meditation. And when I’m all stirred up, I say to Hawk “will you get me my meditation jar? I’m all stirred up!

    It’s a jar of water, glitter glue, and glitter. Mine is the color of the water around New Zealand. Anyway, by saying “I need a moment here” — it’s also become his pattern. He’ll grab his jar and swirl it around and watch it settle, and then everyone is calm and happy again.

    Anyway, I found these have helped me a lot in the last 3 months when things have been madness.

    • Kara-Leah Grant says

      Hey Jenifer,

      That’s some really solid advice – thank you. I love the idea of the Meditation Jar! Beautiful!

      Thank you!

      • Jenifer says

        Meditation jars are a fun project for both of you. H. loved making his — picking out the glitter and the glitter glue. His is a bit muddy (orange and blue), but it’s pretty. Ryan hasn’t made his yet, so we mostly use mine.

        During meditation time, he need only sit with us for one swirl (2.5 minutes — more glue makes a slower timer), but sometimes he stays for two. And it’s a great way to get yourself into it, too, if the mind is feeling nuts.

        On bad days, I carry that thing around with me like a security blanket. LOL

  2. Carol Horton says

    Many blessings to you for your determination to take care of your child and honesty about just how hard that really is. You are in the trenches now with an under-5, but it will get easier! And you will look back and know that all this struggle was well worth it because you laid the foundation for a life-long positive relationship with your son, as well as a healthy, positive sense of self for him. We don’t have to be perfect parents, only “good enough.” I am in awe of the work that dedicated single parents do; it is difficult enough with a supportive partner! Wishing you and your son all the best in 2014 and beyond.

    • Kara-Leah Grant says

      Hey Carol,

      There’s too much written about the lovely side of parenthood and not always a lot about the difficult stuff… And yes, it’s definitely been getting easier in the last year. I reckon 2.5 to 3.5 years was the hardest. Thank you for the heart-felt message of support. Much appreciated.

  3. Ben Ralston says

    You’re awesome, doing a great job with him I bet. Even what you consider mistakes, or over reactions or whatever – he’ll understand, because you’re open and present with him.

    I really believe that a moment of presence with our kids just undoes a lot of the cock-ups. As someone above said about apologizing – it’s all about acknowledging what is. And when we acknowledge or apologize or whatever – that’s a huge lesson that we teach our child – about humility, honesty, being real. We tend not to realize or even notice that we did it. But we did… you did.

    He looks like a beautiful, aware, very alive, sweet, senstitive boy. So yeah, I bet he challenges you big time. But if he didn’t then you’d really have cause for alarm :)

    Big love from Europe KLG!

    • Kara-Leah Grant says

      Hey Ben,

      Lovely to hear from you as always… And yes, he’s all that you say… incredible and challenging! I never knew how much our children would challenge us! I’m learning to lean into it though, and see it the way I would any other relationship – an opportunity for growth amidst the delight and the terror.

      Big love from NZ!

  4. A says

    Since you seem absolutely determined to use the whole world as a dumping ground, or as a mirror perhaps, I feel compelled to point out that every time you publish some juicy tidbit about your son, father, partner, ex-partners, mother, friend (and specially your son) you are committing an act of extreme violence. Theese people have no right of reply, and even if they did, would probably not use it. What do they feel and do they not have a right to keep their feelings private, to answer for their actions without fear of humilation? What you seem to be acting out over and over is a form of castration. You seem determined to wield power of eventual public excoriation over every male in your life. You seem blissfully unaware of the damage you wreck around you, totally oblivious to any pain but your own, always pain. Honour your pain, pain is healing, please leave your son out of it, you are hurting him. I hurt everytime. One day (soon) he will read this blog, and your story is not his story, let him write his own story. His (creative force) is not yours. Question, will you publish this? Make the decision and then ask yourself what it sayes about you as a person. Ask yourself. (no, not the snake oil salesman from europe, not the bloggers, not the readers hanging on for the next juicy morsel, not even your mum, ask yourself. And no, I dont want to know. I do not want to know you, but I do like to read about yoga. I wont be coming back here to allow myself to be used as a mirror against my will., I do not want to reflect your anger into my life) OM

    • Kara-Leah Grant says

      Hey A,

      Thank you for you comment. I read through a few times, as always, to get clear on what you were saying. A few points.

      This column, Musings from the Mat, is my personal blog about life lived through a perspective of someone who practices yoga pretty much daily. That yoga spills off the mat and into daily life – it’s about bringing awareness to the ups & downs of living. If you don’t want to know me, I would suggest skipping all articles from Musings from the Mat, it says clearly at the top of each article the column its from.

      You’re right – it is a very difficult thing to write such intimate and personal articles when other people invariably are involved on ones life. It’s a delicate balance and one I probably don’t always get right. I think hard and long about what aspects of my life I write about and what aspects I don’t.

      When I write an in-depth article about a relationship with another person – like the one I wrote earlier in the year about my relationship with Mike a decade ago – I usually email the article through to them, as I did in this case. I ask them to read it, give me feedback, suggest changes and check in to see if they want me to change their name.

      I even did this for the article I wrote about the end of my relationship with my son’s father, which I published about two months after we broke up. He read it, and gave me permission to publish. The aspects of our relationship I mention in this article are nothing new – they’ve all been mentioned before in articles he saw. As for articles about my most recent relationship, Leighton also gave me explicit permission to publish.

      The situation is more difficult with my son as he’s not old enough to read – yet – or give permission. However, this article was mostly about the ins & outs of parenting – my story. It doesn’t reveal much about my son beyond that he’s like other four year olds – difficult and challenging at times, and very precious.

      As for the “snake oil salesman from Europe”… it took me awhile to figure out what on earth you were talking about there! I’m sure Ben will have a good giggle over that moniker.

      Thank you for the reminder that I take seriously the role that other people play in the stories I tell about my life. Yes, they have feelings, and yes they have their own stories to tell. I’ll keep running articles past those I write in-depth about to make sure they’re ok with it.

      • Jenifer says

        That’s right, he’s 4! Oh, the joys of the 4 yr old testosterone surge! If he hasn’t hit it yet, it’s going to be a fun one. If he has, goodness me, I know that situation!

        It’ll settle in about 6-8 weeks after it starts, and they’ll be another one just before 5th birthday, and apparently the next big one doesn’t drop until age 8 or something. Then next is puberty.

        Yes, do make that meditation jar.

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