" I’m still quite green and certainly not a single parenting expert, but I’ve come a long way, and I want to make 2019 the best year ever."
Last night we sat in the pool in the heavy, humid twilight. Cicadas were buzzing, the air smelt like nightshade and it was just a perfect midsummer night. The kids were singing made up songs to me and we were laughing so hard my cheeks hurt.
It was one of those moments you consciously record into your memory, it will be the memory of summer for me. I had left my phone upstairs so there were no distractions and I was in the pool with them. I watched them play together and I was available to be the monster/stranded shark/killer water dinosaur.
And it was really special.
I’m in no way tech shaming busy parents. I just really enjoyed it.
And it made me wonder, on my second year of being a single parent, how I can create more of these times.
Being a single parent can be tiring, stressful and expensive. I’m still quite green and certainly not a single parenting expert, but I’ve come a long way, and I want to make 2019 the best year ever.
Here’s how I’m going to do it:
1. Kid time is kid time
I have my kids a portion of the time and I often juggle work calls, friend messages, family drama and OK, dating apps while I am with them. It doesn’t work. They get upset and I get frustrated. Then when I don’t have them, I miss them so badly and I wish it could have been better.
Apps for kids – do YOUR homework. More than 80,000 apps are labeled as educational, but little research has demonstrated their actual quality. Products pitched as "interactive" should require more than "pushing and swiping." Look to organizations like Common Sense Media for reviews about age-appropriate apps, games and programs to guide you in making the best choices for your children.
I consciously started to change this recently and my kid time is so much more rewarding. The more focused time I have with them, the more they open up to me and share with me and it’s so special.
This year I want to concentrate even more on special times with them and really use all the hours we have together well.
I will also not be too hard on myself – real life still happens with kids around and we aren’t perfect.
2. Peace with the ex
Everyone’s situation is different. My relationship with my ex is pretty dire, but after a year of putting up with some pretty nasty behaviour, I got to a place of anger and started playing tit for tat and it just escalated. I wanted revenge and found out that it’s anything but sweet. There is no end to it. And even if you win an argument, it doesn’t make things better for the kids.
Screen Time: Advice for Parents
This year I’m going to make peace and pick my battles*.
This puts the kids first and makes them feel emotionally safe and loved.
And I will suck it up and get on with it.
*Again, the first caveat applies – try and be good but again, only human etc.
Staying strong after a tough divorce is no mean feat. Image: iStock.
3. Find other single parents
I’ve been gathering a posse of single mums and a few dads and we have some fun plans in 2019 - camping trips, barbecues and plays at different people’s house.
After a year of the kids feeling like they were different for having parents who had recently separated, I think this helps the kids see that it’s perfectly normal. And life can be enjoyable, even of your parents aren’t together. It also helps me feel less isolated.
Keep in mind what grandmoms always say. Children are not yours, they are only lent to you for a time. In those fleeting years, do your best to help them grow up to be good people.
It’s not as though couples judge you for being a single parent, but it can be quite lonely.
Plan something fun with other single parents. Image: iStock.
4. Use my time wisely
On the days I don’t have my kids, I kind of mope around. With no baths to run, lunches to make, books to read and arguments to have about tidying rooms, I feel a bit lost.
I either eat my dinner standing in the kitchen in my underwear or I go out late so I don’t have to face my empty house.
This needs to stop. This situation is not going away, and it’s time to embrace my kid free time. Gym, friends, doing things I love, even watching grown up movies (Not adult movies, just grown up movies, with story lines and no talking animals) can fill my time, rather than emptiness. And just enjoy the silence, without someone calling ‘MUM!’ every three minutes.
Musings: How Much Time Do I Have Left?
Make time for what you love. Image: iStock.
5. Get out of debt
My first year as a single parent was all about silly spending and racking up debt. And guilt. I took the kids on holidays we couldn’t afford, applied for too many credit cards and generally lived beyond my means. I was used to a dual salary. It’s very hard to get out of the habit.
This year it’s time to crawl out of the hole I have dug for myself and start paying off debts. This separation situation is no longer a crisis, this is a reality and we will be OK. (But not if I am up to my eyeballs in debt and dodging creditors.)
Respect parenting differences. Support your spouse's basic approach to raising kids - unless it's way out of line. Criticizing or arguing with your partner will do more harm to your marriage and your child's sense of security than if you accept standards that are different from your own.
Get wise with your spending. Image: iStock.
6. Create a wolf pack
I want my kids to feel as though they belong. They are amazingly resilient, but the separation has been very traumatic for them. I believe it will make them stronger in the long run, but only if it’s dealt with properly.
It’s taken some counselling for all of us, but I’ve come to a place where I believe we can be a little wolf pack. It’s not about being strong, it’s about looking after each other. If someone is slow or sad, the others slow down and comfort the weakest one. In this way, together, we become stronger and happier together.