Mental Health of a Solo Parent - Part 1

I want to open this by saying that although I have been in a relationship for almost 4 years, we don’t live together and therefore I am classed as a “single parent”. I actually hate the term “single parent” and prefer the term “solo parent”.

I became a solo parent in August 2015. I had no savings, no job (I was a housewife/stay at home mum) and no plan on what I was going to do.

On November 2nd 2015 I walked into Wickes Lowestoft to start my first day. I was late to my first day and my second day (even late to my interview) due to mum duties and was convinced this wasn’t going to work out for me.

The thought of not getting past the 3 month ‘probation’ period was always heavy on my mind. 

We were selling our marital home and I needed a secure and steady income to be accepted to rent a house, which already felt possibly like a challenge due to being on a low, one person income.

I needed a secure and steady income to be able to afford to feed my children, to put petrol in my car to get them to school, to take them on days out, to clothe them etc.

I got the permanent contract and felt a weight lifted off my shoulders. That challenge of being a solo parent was ticked off.

But then there are logistics. I was working 24 hours a week,  I needed to get two young boys ready and get myself ready. I need to make sure my children are at school on time and I get to work on time, which is always a challenge when battling traffic across Lowestoft.

I need to make sure the boys are booked into after school club or have someone else to collect them after school. I only have my mum in town and she worked in the afternoon so that was always a challenge.

I worked every Saturday and had the boys every other weekend so had to come up with a way of getting them looked after the Saturday I had them. In the back of my mind, always, that I only got 2 full days a month with them as I only had Sundays.

I have to manage finding someone to look after them if they are poorly and off school or choose to “let the team down” and stay at home to look after them. 

I remember someone once saying that “children are an easy sicknote” and it stuck with me all the time and despite never using my children as an “easy sicknote” I always felt guilty if I was off due to them.

I remember clearly one day December 1st, 2016 to be exact, we were walking into school and my youngest son, Harry, went to put his hand on some railings, they were icy and as a result his hand slipped as did his whole body and he fell into the road. A car slammed on their breaks and was ridiculously close to hitting him. He had a large bump on his head, which the school cleaned up for us, and we agreed it was best to keep him home to keep an eye on him due to the bump and possible trauma. I was a mess. I couldn’t stop crying, the school did a great job at supporting and comforting me but I remember so clearly thinking “Work will be angry. I’ll be letting people down” and over and over “Children are an easy sicknote” “children are an easy sicknote”. So I decided to drive to the store with Harry, take him into the store and to go over to my manager and to tell them face to face that I needed to stay home. He was really supportive but I felt gutted that I had this feeling of having to prove why I needed to be home. To parade my childs bumped head as evidence. I didn't have to do this, but I felt like I had to. (The sicknote comment wasn’t made by the manager, but a colleague no longer with the business). 

I found myself at some points putting work before my children, because I felt I had to. 

In 2019 I had an opportunity to join the Support Centre which would mean me moving from part time to full time, partly working from home and partly working at the office in Watford.

It was a really tough time for me because I didn’t have anyone around me to help me with the decision or to support me.

My mum thought it would be too much and that a single mum couldn’t work full time and travel to Watford every week etc. 

Other than the decision to leave my marriage this felt like another brave decision I had to make alone and after weighing up the pros and cons:

Pros - More money, more opportunities, a career I never thought was possible for me, working Monday-Friday meaning I had all weekend to spend with my children, the days I can work from home I can collect them from school and continue work when I get back.

Cons - Not as flexible with changing the days I had the boys. The boys' dad and I have the boys 50/50 and we would always be quite flexible if the other one needed to change any days we had them so this was less of an option due to travelling to Watford. Working full time meant less time doing household chores or booking doctors appointments, haircuts etc for the boys.

The pros outweigh the cons and I’ve never looked back.

I’ve been extremely lucky that any managers I have had in the roles I’ve had since joining the support centre have been really supportive of anything concerning the boys.

I remember during lockdown when we found out about homeschooling and I felt so overwhelmed. My manager at the time didn’t have children so I worried he wouldn’t understand and I sent a Google chat in the morning saying I needed to navigate working from home and looking after the boys and he couldn’t have been any more supportive. He was incredible. I worried for nothing!

Lockdown created a new routine for me and their dad. We used to do 3 days with me, 4 days with him, 4 days with me, 2 days with him. It was on a fortnightly rotation and although it meant we felt we got to see them more often it did cause confusion for the boys and almost every morning “Who are we with tonight?”

With the “stay at home” rule we decided to have the boys one week on and one week off to reduce how often we were leaving the house. And it worked really well for them to be able to settle in whichever house they were in for the week, helped us with a more structured routine and we’ve kept that going ever since.

I have questions around “Do you miss them?” “Is it not really hard?”

And the answer to both of those is YES! Of course.

But I have to look at positives:

I am SO grateful and pleased that their dad wanted us to share them 50/50 and that they have that time with their dad.

The week I don’t have them gives me a chance to breathe and be Lauren rather than Mother. 

When we have time away from each other it’s nice when we then get together again because we spend more time together and really treasure our time together.

The week they're at their dads I get to spend a full week with my boyfriend. I usually joke that the boys and my boyfriend share 50/50 custody of me.

I had to learn to almost switch off thinking of them or talking about them when they are with their dad because it can be hard. I can get lost in thoughts of “Are they ok? Are they warm? Have they eaten enough? Are they happy? Are they sad? Have they been cuddled today?”. I have to trust that they are ok and hand that control over.

The week they are with me can be tough and can be full on because it’s just me and them. I have to work, make sure they are happy, cook dinner, keep the house in order etc etc. I don’t have anyone able to help with that although we are now starting something where they each cook dinner one night a week which has been great.

If I’m poorly or having a bad mental health day/time I don’t have someone who can support or help out. Similarly if they are poorly I don’t have anyone who can help out.

I am lucky though that they are amazing boys and will step up if I’m not very well and will look after me and will look after themselves as much as they can to help me out.

Even though we share the boys 50/50 I am in charge of sorting uniforms and school supplies, making sure haircuts are booked in, doctors appointments are down to me, I deal with any school issues, so there does feel like an added pressure here sometimes and can affect me a lot. Especially when I have to deal with these things during the week when they are with their dad.

This is a lot longer than I expected and actually hasn’t covered what I even wanted to initially. This is why freewriting and opening a laptop and letting your fingers and mind connect can be so good. 

As there are a few things I’d like to cover I’ll do a few parts of Mental Health of a Solo Parent so all my words and feelings can get out there.


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