When my children were growing up, I had to tell myself on a regular basis that the years were finite.
This had a two fold purpose: one, to enjoy every moment because it would never come again, and two, to be aware that these moments would pass and never be again.
The years were a tapestry of moments sewn together. Some good, some bad. Loneliness enmeshed with sheer joy and exhilaration at the task at hand. Hard work with added short lived passionate affairs, work that was unchallenging but easy to navigate given my circumstances.
I get asked how I did it. And I find I seldom have an answer. It feels like I am almost at the end of the grueling part, and I find I don’t really know how I brought up two children on my own for 15 years. So, for the benefit of other sole parents, I decided to try to break it up.
The first three days were the hardest. It was the first time in my life that I had to depend solely on myself. No parents, no partner. There were friends, but at the time I didn’t have many, and some retreated from me as if they needed to take a stance and pick a side. I felt acute pain. It was physical and raw. It was so painful that I needed to do things to keep it at bay. That first night, as he drove away, the street flooded, and as I waded in knee deep water and sandbagged the neighbour's front door in the rain, I knew I would survive. I did break after that for a few days, but kept reminding myself of how strong I felt that night.
After three days, I got drunk. A terrible way to cope, I know, but it ended that sadness. I vomited all over the bathroom, and somehow, it helped me pull myself together somewhat.
I sat down with myself and made decisions about my work. Emergency and shift work were not going to work for my young family, so I started looking for a family friendly job.
I had to tell the children that their parents were separating. Phoebe was almost 6 and she understood. She cried and didn’t like the idea one bit, but I made a point of telling her that it wasn’t her fault, that both mummy and daddy loved her and that she would see daddy all the time. My ex didn’t have a house yet, but as soon as he did, they would go and stay. Dan was only 4 and he didn’t really understand, I didn’t think. But after a few weeks of changing sheets at night again after months of being dry, I put him back in night nappies. I guess he did understand in some ways. I joined the COPE library, and took books out for myself on how to navigate legal aspects and the emotions rushing through me. I took out children's books, and read to the kids, which was incredibly therapeutic for me.
I found myself a psychologist, and started seeing her for 2 and a half years. I had intended it to be a short stint.
Dan started having nightmares, and that was hard. He saw my psychologist for a few sessions, and she said he was well adjusted, and to encourage art. So, art materials were provided by the truckload and he was encouraged to express those emotions he has always kept to himself until very recently.
Phoebe seemed ok. She has always been an intellectualiser. Her issues didn’t become evident until her world changed. She didn’t like change, and moving into a new house was very hard for her. I had ideas of travelling and living in a different city, but I decided that I needed to be a stable base, so decided I would not move from this house if I could help it. I was angry at having to be the grown up while my ex was off living a bachelor's life. This anger lasted years. But I eventually let it go, as it was not useful and all consuming. I surrounded myself with friends. The kids' primary school was a wonderful source of support and I met wonderful long term friends who are still in my life. Thank goodness. They saved me. These people nurtured me, helped me, supported me, held me up, helped my children and shared their love with me and my kids. It was the best thing I ever did. I thank my lucky stars for these people every day. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. My sister came back from Perth some years ago, and I have added her to my network of valuable people. My mum still worked full time, but her partner and her provided me with a place for the kids when I wasn’t available, and they loved it! My ex mother in law did not withdraw her assistance, and once again, that was invaluable.
I decided that I would enjoy my children and still do all the things that families do. I took them away on cheap holidays. Last minute hotel deals, holiday packages, joined the scouts so we could go camping and hiking and have adventures. I opted for optimism despite recurrent and chronic depression that would take me to the edge of despair on a regular basis. I got myself a GP, I put things in place so people would call me out if I was sounding depressed. My sister in Perth would pick it up easily. I got myself a shrink when the drugs stopped helping. I exercised regularly, and this was another saving grace for me, as I couldn’t have done any of it without physical fitness and it kept the black dog at bay. I only ever had to take a week off one time when I was so burnt out and depressed that I walked out of the clinic and decided not to return the next day and instead increase my antidepressants.
On days when I would feel like a bad mother, I would allow myself to wallow. But only for one day. And then I would pick myself up, shake myself off and keep going. Who else have they got? Who do they rely on? Who is their rock?” My children have saved my life many times over the years, and I am so grateful for the gift of being their mum.
I learned to practice gratitude. I would find something to be grateful for, even on the darkest of days. A jacaranda in full bloom in a dark storm, an outing to the park to blow bubbles when strapped for cash, a zoo membership so we always had a free exciting place to visit, my health, my strength and fitness, a fragrant candle lit in the evening, fresh eggs from the chooks, my children. Always my children. On days when I was so tired and I just wanted to scream, I would just make my coffee a bit stronger and sometimes have a little brief cry in the kitchen. I wrote a lot. I did a lot of internet dating, with the mistaken idea that I would find a man to rescue me and make everything better again. That I would have a family again, and more children. But I needed to rescue myself, and I did. I learned how to. I kept this blog to remind me of what was good. And I listened to gems at work, people I worked with over the years and patients about how precious those years were, and not to waste them, be mindful, carpe diem.
I used movies and television and books, and took wisdom from those places. Buffy was a great teacher to me, about relationships and learning about them. I grew up a lot. I was a 31 year old divorcee with two young children, and desperate to regain a nuclear family. It wasn’t to be for me. My lesson was in all of this instead. To learn to be happy with what I have. It is so much.
I read hundreds of books on child development and parenting, I attended positive parenting courses at the council. I hugged my children, I told them I loved them daily, twice daily. I helped with homework, I helped at school, I did reading. I lived with very little money, in exchange for being with them and enjoying being their mum. You don’t need a lot of money to create fun. We used the library and toy libraries a lot. We exchanged books at the book exchange. We used nature a lot, and made food from scratch. Baked bread and made pizzas. Anything can e special if you make it so.
I had a few relationships over the years, but the biggest lesson for me was about self love, and learning about healthy relationships. It was not something that came naturally to me, and after a few years, I gave up my pursuit for a relationship and settled instead on male company, not necessarily casual, but serial monogamy, I guess.
My animals became a huge aspect of my life, and I have learnt about respect, mutual affection, security and love from them. Unconditional love. Lucy is one of my best friends, and while this may sound pathetic to some, she is a constant. She has been by my side for 14 years. She greets me at the door every day, comes when I need to hug her (when she feels like it), sleeps next to me, sits near me when I cry, has taught me about unconditional love and mutual dependency. She is here when my children are not, and has been my substitute when my kids have moved on to seeing their dad more. She's helped me to sit with grief as I cry all over her perfect coat.
She has taught me about beauty, and femininity. She is a goddess incarnate, and she will be the hardest thing to let go of as she ages.
So how did I do it? How do I still do it?
I found myself and all my gifts, that’s how. I am a good friend, a good mother, a nurturer, a goddess.
I never knew any of this about me at 30. None of this would have happened to me if my life had not hit rock bottom. And I would have missed out.
If you are a sole parent, or have depression, or are simply sad today, make yourself go for a walk and find something to be grateful for while you are at it. I am so glad I did. I still do. And I am forever grateful for this life.