Six years ago I left my marriage. I was almost 30 and pressed restart on my life. I had two very young children and no idea what I was doing. I had no idea what I was getting into as a single mum. All I knew was I wanted out of an unhappy marriage.
I don’t often write about being a single mum and my journey of co-parenting out of respect for my kids who will, one day, discover how easy it is to find anything on Google.
However, I will say this: Being a single mum was, without a doubt, the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But it was also the strongest thing I have ever done.
And, six years later, as I look back, I want all the other single mums out there to know that it does get easier.
Maybe just not right away.
Homewares and heartbreak
At first, it was liberating to leave my husband, to prove that I could be a great mum and a great human AND a great bill payer on my own.
To grocery shop only for myself and my kids. To mow my own lawn. To buy all the homewares I wanted. To let my kids co-sleep if they wanted to, without worrying if it would impact my husband’s sleep. To parent them exactly how I wanted to parent them.
But, fark, guys, it was hard. Hard financially, hard physically, but mostly, hard on my heart.
Because waving goodbye to your kids is, well, it’s heartbreaking. A moment that continues over and over again, week after week, weekend after weekend. The only thing changing is their ages. They are no longer tearful preschoolers. They are older, wiser, used to the back and forth.
I know a lot of single mums can easily say goodbye to their kids and rationally know they will see them soon. But for me, this a-ha moment took a really long time.
I just wasn’t able to see past the sadness right away.
‘One of the most stomach-churning moments of my life’
I also know a lot of parents can co-parent in peace, can be part of one another’s worlds but, in my case, we couldn’t. It was black and white from the beginning. Mum’s house. Dad’s house. Mum’s time. Dad’s time. Mum’s rules. Dad’s rules.
No ifs, ands or buts. And yes, I know haters are gonna say we did it all wrong, but, trust me, this is the best I could do.
It became glaringly evident that my ex and I did not see eye to eye. And this realisation that I had to share my kids with someone who doesn’t share my parenting values, well, it was one of the most stomach-churning moments of my life.
One of the many not-to-pleasant experiences I had on the bumpy road to co-parenting.
Like counting down the hours they were away and unsure what I was even meant to be doing during the hours they weren’t with me. Trying to find myself, my purpose, my passions that didn’t involve my kids.
More than just a mum
I feared leaving the house without them by my side, afraid I would run into someone I knew and they would ask me, “Where are the kids?” and I would break down in Woolworths and cry.
My crazy brain assumed, if I didn’t have my kids with me, I would be judged. I would be considered less of a mum.
I would open their bedrooms doors every morning to discover a bed not slept in, a room exactly the way I left it three days ago. Eventually, I just started shutting their doors and not opening them again until they came back.
The hardest days and longest nights
And then there’s the waking up on Christmas morning alone and pacing the house until they return to my place to open the presents. Because co-parenting means you may miss out on time and special days with your kids. Christmas days, school holidays, birthdays.
The quiet. The calm. The loneliness. The guilt. The questioning on whether I should have just stuck it out.
And then the happiness as they burst through the door. The cuddles. The laughter. The sense that all is right again. The ability to give them 110%.
It made the chaos of them coming back and being with me so much more fulfilling but, it never took the missing away.
It still hasn’t, six years later. I will never get fully used to them not being with me. But I will tell you that with time, the guilt, the aching, the anxiety, it does subside.
Co-parenting becomes easier
With time, I was able to appreciate the time apart from my kids and to value the time together in a way I never did when I was married.
I was able to use this alone time to reflect, relax and prepare for another crazy stint. Meal cook. Shop. Clean. Go out with friends without the need to find a sitter. Get my hair done without having to balance a child on my lap. Tackle adventures that are too dangerous to take my kids on. Leave the house kid-free and enjoy a bit of space.
I’ve realised how brave my kids are for being thrust into the world of co-parenting. They didn’t ask for this but they’ve handled it with an acceptance and strength I never knew existed in them. I haven’t screwed them up. They are strong and resilient and I am so proud of who they are becoming.
But most importantly, with time, I have been able to come to terms with the fact that, even though I don’t have my kids 100% of the time, I am still 100% their mum. And they are still 100% my world. Full-time. Forever.
In time, you will come to realise this too.