This is the first post in a series on "PARENTS LIVING UNDER DIFFICULTIES"
Part 1 ~ "Being the Main Parent".
The parent author of this post wishes to stay anonymous.
"We have one beautiful child. We planned to have him and we were ready in our marriage to take the big leap into parenthood. We spoke excitedly about parenting ideas, names and the challenges that lay ahead, but I didn't foresee the biggest challenge of them all. As the due date got closer my partner's mental health issues began to worsen. We thought we had it under control, but by the time our beautiful boy was three months old the illness was raging seemingly out of control. And so reluctantly I became the main parent, and in time, the only parent living in the house.
Initially the hardest bit about parenting solo was that I had never thought that through. I hadn't thought about how to take care of myself when I had a child all the time without anyone to 'tag team' with. Then the bitterness set in. I was angry with my partner for being sick and not able to live up to our expectations of parenthood, that I was almost unable to engage with our son because I had difficulty controlling my own emotions.
Time ticked on. I swallowed my pride and sense of independence and started asking for help....and more importantly accepting it. This is my most important lesson - allowing others to be part of my life and to help. I found this particularly hard because our family don't live very close and on both sides our parents are still working, and so unable to offer regular time to have our son. Thus, my main help came from non-family members.
The crisis point of the illness has passed, yet I continue to be the main parent. The ongoing nature of being the solo parent is exhausting. I survive by finding people who I can talk through parenting issues with. I thrive when I talk with my trustworthy friends and vent about the overwhelming sense of responsibility and the feeling that I am never able to fully rest, that I'm always 'on the clock'. I thrive when I take time out for me, to read, garden, engage intellectually with the world around me and generally take care of the person God made me to be. I thrive when I remember that I need to have different expectations of myself as a parent in this circumstance, and be forgiving and patient with me.
There are many challenges in parenting in general, but there are a few that I think are specific to situations like mine - I'll list just a few.
* Making decisions about my son without someone who is equally invested.
* Helping my son understand what is happening with my partner.
* Staying positive to our son about my partner.
* Accepting help - so humbling and hard at times.
* Including my partner in discussions about parenting and how to take on board my partner's
suggestions about our child, whilst knowing that it's up to me to implement them and to
* The challenge of the irregular nature of my partner's involvement.
* My son does find it hard to rely on my partner, to know when he will see this parent and how
much is expected when they are around. That gives me so much sadness.
* Socially it can be hard because I'm mum and dad filler....and there are lots of events that
expect a certain gendered parent to be involved in certain activities (I find it best with this one
to jump in gung-ho as if I didn't notice.)
There is, however great gains in being the main parent also. Consistency is easier because it's just me. Planning events - I can selfishly choose the things I like most. Special time with our son - I love getting so much special time with him while he is young. I love that he snuggles with me, seeks me out and that we know each other so well.
When and if my days of being the main parent end, I will have learnt a lot of things, in particular, how to give myself time so that I can take care of my son and do the best job possible, which is what I want to do. I have also been made aware of the different strengths that others can bring to our child, and the joy that both he and they receive from sharing life together. I have realised that a child does need a whole community of people around them, regardless of their home situation, and that finding safe, kind people to fill his life with is a blessing for all of us.
THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ if you have a friend in a similar situation, you could offer to "borrow" their child for the day or take your friend and child out for a fun day away from home so both can have an exciting, exhilarating and stimulating or relaxing and refreshing break. You will probably all have such a happy time that it'll become a regular get together.