I have been single in my mothering since the kids were born. Don’t get me wrong, I was part of a couple to begin with, but as far as parenting went I pretty much did a single handed job.
I was alone most evenings when the kids were crying babies and I felt about as needy as them. We were great comfort to each other.
I organised all the presents at birthdays and Christmases and dutifully had to say they were from both of us. I stayed up alone late into the night making surprise cakes or piñata or crazy elaborate birthday party plans. I made all the decisions that needed to be made regarding schooling, where and when they should go. I traipsed up and down to Bristol children’s hospital with my youngest when she needed regular check ups, I slept in with my oldest for 3 nights when he needed his leg op. I did the relentless school runs and attended the parent teacher meetings.
This is of course all run of the mill for couples where one parent is out working hard or when days are split but I would dread weekends; knowing that families needed quality time together at weekends, I didn’t feel confident in inviting our little trio along. We ran a busy cafe bar so one of us was always working whilst one had the kids. I couldn’t stand being home alone so I filled our weekends with as many small adventures as possible, picnics and swimming in the river, camping out, bike riding, crabbing, or trails on the moors.
I’m not moaning about any of this. There were lonely and hard times, but mostly these were special times. Families have quality times, so do single parent families. I treasure my memories of these happy times with the kids when it was just us, we were such a great trio, we had such a close bond.
The kids father and I, after several attempts and mutually unhappy years finally split when my youngest was 3. When I met Kian, she was nearly 6 and we’d spent the years in between just us. The 3 musketeers, we were pretty tight. They had time with their dad but in a frustratingly non committal way with no routine or real input into parenting decisions. I remember making Maisie’s cake and jelly the evening before her 6th birthday with Kian as a chatty companion helping out, and thought how I couldn’t focus on the job in hand. It was great having him but I just wasn’t used to sharing these times, and worse, I found him distractingly attractive!
When we later got together I was not just surprised but really nervous; I had to deal with our age gap (that amazingly seemed to worry me a lot more than him) and to introduce him as a boyfriend to the kids. I was sure they would like him but didn’t want him to become a big part of their lives until I was sure we would last. I hoped he would like them but was nervous of his reaction once he realised they were a constant part of my life and indeed dominated all my free time.
We took a big leap when we decided to go to Tonga together. I already had this big trip planned (hence moving into the caravan and getting to know Kian as he helped on the carpentry jobs it needed) and just a month into our relationship he decided to come too. It just felt right.
At first I was very careful not to expect much of him when it came to parenting, always incredibly appreciative if he ‘babysat’ for me or helped out at all, and trying not to take his help for granted. He grew to know the kids well, and they him, in the year before our trip away.
Coming away together now has been a big change for all of us. Kian has gone from ‘mum’s boyfriend’ and the kids friend to another parent figure. He is so good with the kids and so much fun, but now, he is also a discipliner and guide as much as me. For the first time in my ‘parenting history’ I have someone to share responsibility with, to share the good times and the bad times.
At the risk of sounding spoilt, I have to admit I really struggled with this at first. It was a dream come true and such a pleasure having Kian’s support and input. We worked on Marlons 9th birthday surprise paper mâché cake and his challenge trail for his10th together, and painted a surprise castle for Maisie’s 7th. But…
I was / am used to control on all my decisions, not used to my choices being sometimes questioned, and was used to the kids always referring questions to me.
I was the fountain of all knowledge and, at least when I was with them, was the source of all love and cuddles. Suddenly I found myself feeling a little childish myself when I had to share. I had to get used to the kids adoring someone else around me, and to Kian making decisions without me. We had some hard times with this too. I’d find myself getting grumpy and confused at various points of parenting together – when I felt he’d taken too strong a lead and paid no attention to me or enough respect to my way of doing things. I know often I’m just struggling at letting go of control, or simply, I’m ashamed to admit it, a little jealous of his huge popularity.
Of course this is all a good thing, no a great thing, and I just need to get used to actually co parenting. It’s so much better, the kids are happy, but I’m having to change habits of 10 years. At times Kian needs to step back a little and realise this, be a little more sensitive in not overruling me or undermining me, but mostly I need to take a leap in letting go and allowing our new family of 4 to grow. The fearless four, we’ll go far. As I look out now and see them messing around on the slackline slung between the coconut trees I realise how happy they look, how happy we all our, and I feel really grateful.
Where’s Dad in all this? Kian will never be dad and replace their real father, and in so many ways that’s a good thing. In that previous relationship I experienced a step parent type role with his kids from a previous wife, and I know that sometimes not being the parent can cross taboos and help with sharing and support. Before we left on our travels the kids dad did start spending more time with them (bad timing some would say!) and now of course he’s the absent hero, never forgotten.
We both actively encourage them to call him and write to him regularly. He must miss them now they are so far away, but he didn’t seem to appreciate them much when they were just living at the bottom of the garden..
My relationship with the kids is of course forever changing, from moment to moment, depending on whether I am laughing, comforting, being stern or laying down the law, but underlying all is unconditional love.
I think Kian has grown to feel this too, I know it is not an emotion exclusive to blood ties. As we begin to parent more together we both become targets of the kids wrath at times; they can so quickly forget the good things we do when they are thwarted in their latest ventures.
It’s easy to be a hero to kids when you’re not there and rest in memories. Remembering his broken leg Marlon said to me recently that ” You didn’t care. Daddy was great coz he called the ambulance”.
Ha! I feel I’ve had to work slightly harder for my erratic heroic status, but now I’m learning, and so pleased, to share the fragile pedestal.
dressed for a Roman party – Brutus, Cleopatra, and Jesus (sharing the pedestal..) – I was Bodicea if you’re wondering…