I’m not the cool parent. I don’t do the wrestling, the lifting up in the air, the funny voices. I’m also not the one who is usually in charge of the school admin (excursion letters, sports permission slips) and homework. I do the ‘keeping the kids alive’ stuff. The food, the laundry, the first aid. Together my husband and I make a good parenting team, but with him away on business, we are a team member down and the house has spent the large part of the week in physical and emotional disarray.
As is always the case with parenting, the ‘advice’ has come thick and fast. I’ve been told what to do, what not to do and warned that if I muck this ‘quality’ mother/kids time up…well, these are the sort of ‘priceless moments’ kids remember…and will require extensive psychological counselling if (actually, it will be a ‘when’) I get it wrong.
So, while it’s only based on the first week, here are 5 solo parenting myths that I am calling complete and utter bullshit.
1. Kids get used to the other person being away very quickly.
They may, but in my experience it takes longer than a week. In fact, you may find them attached like lichen to your legs…or not wanting to be put down. Fortunately, as a parent, you are used to doing things one handed. So just think of this as resistance training…and remember that separation anxiety is normal and that it will come in waves.
2. Remember to breathe, count to 10 and you’ll not lose your temper.
Oh, the advice I got on how to keep my cool. Some was great. But most was judgey. And I was doing quite enough of judgey all by myself. You will get cranky, you will get overwhelmed. You will become less tolerant. The breathing helps, but it won’t always. Remember that a parent time out (just walking away) or an apology when you feel really bad for yelling can help everyone. And also, that it’s ok for your kids to see you as you are – multi-dimensional – and not as you’d like to see yourself – perfect.
3. You’ll have lots of help when people know you are single parenting.
Those offers of help you get when your partner is around dry up pretty quickly when things get real. The truth is that it’s called single parenting for a reason – you are doing it alone. However, you will learn who your true friends are. My true friends came up with valid and pragmatic ways of helping…rather than the vague offer of ‘if you need anything…’ One even firmly told me ‘with love’ to just accept her help because I needed it. And she was right.
4. Don’t make any changes to the household routine.
What bullshit. If you are down a parent, of course you’ll have to make changes. And your kids will cope, they are amazingly resilient. So if the fruit and veg intake drops for a week while you give them cereal or toast for dinner? I promise you they won’t get scurvy. Miss the odd bath? Sometimes a wet washer will be ok. What I have been doing is giving my kids more responsibility. Toys have to be picked up. My daughter is watching my son in the bath while I fold laundry. She’s getting her own breakfast (Vegemite sandwich) on the weekends. My son is ‘sweeping’ the floors. And it’s working. The changes are actually helping me (ok… except for the sweeping) and the kids feel great with the praise they receive for being so helpful.
5. Act as if everything is normal.
Bullshit again. Kids KNOW things aren’t normal..the other parent isn’t physically there FFs. You are also more tired and stressed. Pretending things are other than what they seem is insulting to everyone. Allowing time to acknowledge the change, and to talk about the fact that everyone misses Daddy or Mummy, is also an important part of developing emotional resilience and trust.
So, be gentle on yourself and consequently, you’ll be a little more gentle on your kids as well. But finally, a huge shout out to those single parent households out there doing this EVERY SINGLE DAY. I know you are amazing because you have no choice…but you are still an endless source of admiration to many of us…thank you. Now yours are the tips I’d like to hear.