Part of preparing to becoming an expat trailing spouse (and oh, how I detest that term) can be a prolonged period between your partner leaving to your new country and the rest of the family, ahem, trailing in behind them.
I’m a parent to three relatively young children: two girls, aged 7 and 5, and a toddler monkey, I mean boy, aged 2.5.
For me, it’s been relatively short but super intense time since Simon left last Halloween. A crash course in the trials and tribulations of lone parenthood. (Although noting that my partner was only ever a phone call away in an emergency or for a discussion!)
I believe that the only way to truly appreciate someone else’s perspective or life is to try and walk in their shoes, so this is my reflection on the challenges of lone parenthood and my admiration for all who walk this road by choice or necessity.
All parents know that children and working life requires compromise, flexibility and the diary management skills of a ninja event planner, but that’s before you have to do it alone.
When one partner is away or overseas, the usual backup partner who can stay at home while others are dropped to activities is no longer there. More kids need to eat faster, be packed into car seats and dragged around to various parties/activities, etc. Negotiation skills, coordination, fast driving and sprinting are all key attributes of a proficient life juggler!
Personal life also takes a back seat unless you really can try to make it happen. Again, I’ve been blessed with great family support for sleepovers, babysitting, etc. I’ve also had some regular babysitting to “force” me out running, or at least I did until Christmas pushed me back on my sedentary behind!
Often the biggest treat becomes a moment over a quiet coffee or silence for 10 minutes in you car between work, creche pickups or a journey home.
Working outside the home
I managed to somehow get through 3 months of full-time professional work while lone parenting. I say somehow knowing it was a large combination of a great childcare set up (Creche) that we were lucky enough to afford with two salaries and wonderful family support. I also had an incredibly understanding company who supported me through those final stressful months.
Many (most?) lone parents have only one salary coming in and so restricted childcare options. Many don’t have family support nearby. Most also don’t work just 15 minutes from home.
I know some inspirational parents who manage to do this long-term; for me, these people are jaw-droppingly brilliant and I am in awe of their commitment to this and the daily struggle they must face to make it happen.
Equally, if I ever hear someone criticising a parent for not working, I will personally be first in the queue to point out that our society structure, childcare provision and expectations of working parents are such that it is virtually impossible to consider combining work and lone parenthood, especially for more than one child. As I said, try walking in these shoes for a while.
Bad cop, bad cop
Fairly self-explanatory, but when there is only one cop in town they inevitably fall into the Bad category!
It is emotionally draining and tiring constantly being the corrector, guide and mediator, especially without a balance in the household who can provide the wriggle room that children sometimes thrive on.
In saying all of that, there’s no danger of mixed messages and it certainly frustrates a young lady’s ability to manipulate parents by playing them off against each other!
The loneliness of being a lone parent preparing to follow overseas is an odd one. It’s not the usual desire for adult conversation, experienced during those long days of maternity leave. It’s more the missing of a presence in your life – a hole where the other part of you should be. Modern technology helps with this – Skype, WhatsApp and the multitude of other messaging apps allow you to see each other face to face every day – but they can’t reduce the distance and tiredness.
On the other hand, it’s worse for your partner who is living a bizarre hotel-based existence overseas. I joke that Simon has the easier deal, without pneumonia, tummy bugs, temper tantrums and general mayhem to deal with, but actually I’m lying. True loneliness is being separated from your children, and that’s one that I thankfully haven’t had to live with.
Parenthood, especially lone parenthood, is tough, but it’s full of love and moments of magic and is never thankless.
So, next time you meet someone who is parenting alone, tell them what a great job they’re doing, ask them whether they could use a night off or even an hour to go out for a coffee. And remember, they’re trying their best!