Love, life and the challenges of single motherhood

It’s been almost exactly two weeks since my boyfriend ended our relationship. It’s four and half days since we had our last communication. He instigated a ‘sexting’ session last Monday night which lead to him asking permission to come and see me two days later. I agreed – I thought it would at least be a way of getting to talk to him again in person and find out a bit more about the feelings of hurt and confusion that he expressed to me two days before.

Of course come Wednesday morning I received an email (we never communicated by email so that seemed very formal) telling me he wouldn’t be coming because he didn’t want me to get the idea that things between us could “slowly develop back into some kind of relationship”. He told me he respected me and wouldn’t want to “just come over on a casual arrangement”. He said casual sex would leave us both feeling pretty shit about the whole thing. He said he didn’t want to cause himself additional stress.

He told me he would like to keep in contact with me as friends but right now he needed to get his head straight and adjust to getting on with his life “as a singleton”. He said he would come and do the jobs he’d promised to help with “but not right now”.

He signed off saying “Keep safe and I’ll be in touch soon. Love you XXX”.

I broke down in tears in the bathroom then. It didn’t seem right to tell someone you love them but then completely withhold that love. However the school run was on and there was no time to curl up in a ball and cry the morning away.

I noticed the car revving hard and losing power on the way up to the school and it just seemed to be a metaphor for my internal state. Then, on the 60mph dual carriageway on my way to work something went pop and I swerved to a stop completely blocking one of the two lanes and sat shakily dialling the emergency motor rescue service breaking down in tears as I tried to give my details over the phone.

As I stood on the side of the road looking out across Surrey and all the way to London in the far distance I felt myself welling up with bitterness and dashed off a text to the (ex) boyfriend telling him that I was angry with him for instigating the conversation on Monday, that he’d hurt and rejected me enough now and telling him to delete the last photo I sent.

That was literally the last thing said between us.

My sister says that he just wanted to know that he could still have me if he wanted me. She said as soon as he knew that I still wanted him he felt better about himself because it showed that I had forgiven him.

Anyway. It’s quite weird how quickly I feel I’m recovering. I cried a little bit less each day until I dried up completely. Yes I was in denial to begin with – I couldn’t really accept the reason that he had given me for breaking up – it seemed too harsh for him to have written me off as someone who would never be able to get a handle on parenting my children the way he preferred (i.e. a firm hand, nipping all bad behaviour in the bud immediately, imposing non-negotiable consequences on the spot, etc.).

As someone who has children of his own I thought he would be able to see the bigger picture – that all parenting is a work in progress and he already knew that I was practically crying for help with the challenge. I guess he just wasn’t the man I thought he was – someone who could support and encourage me and point me in the right direction.

As a single – non-residential – father for 14 years of his youngest daughter’s childhood, I think he just forgot, or never really knew, what the struggle was. If he had a bad weekend with the kids it didn’t matter – he could just hand them back on Sunday night and go back to his single life and leave their mum to lay the real foundations of their future.

So there we have it. It’s behind me and I’m starting to see that maybe he did me a favour after all by recognising his own ‘deal-breaker’ and cutting all the strings straight away, after four months, not four years of my life.

I still think he will come to regret his decision because I actually think I’m quite a good catch (ha ha!) for someone like him. But by the time he realises that it will be too late because I will have moved on.

Ironically the whole thing has spurred me on to take action with my parenting. I bought a self help parenting book and even after a short read of a few chapters I can see a plan of action emerging which I’m already putting into practice.

One of the author’s foundations for managing your children’s behaviour is called giving “Descriptive Praise”. As she says, it can be for anything at all your child get’s right or does well. I have praised my four year old for remembering to say thank you. I have praised my seven year old for taking my lead and not blaming his brother when a brand new pair of headphones was broken this morning.

As the author says, children really seek our approval and crave positive attention and even these little changes make me feel like I’m a better parent already and also that they are so receptive and that such small changes in my behaviour make such a difference in theirs.

So anyway, it’s early days and I’m well aware that there is no ‘easy’ answer and that behaviour will fluctuate depending on any number of things – particularly tiredness and hunger.

It’s now Sunday evening and I’m taking stock. In the last two weeks I have signed up for a night hike in the Lakes in June in memory of a good man who died too soon; I’ve had long, real conversations with friends I haven’t properly spoken to in a long time; I’ve read a whole book (page-turning thriller – nothing too heavy!); I’m eating as healthily as I possibly can, cutting out refined sugar and white carbs for the most part; I did a couple of exercise DVD sessions and some sit ups; I joined up with a new meet-up for people who want to play tennis together (badly :-)) and met up with five new people to do just that yesterday afternoon when ‘husband’ had the boys; I’ve completed and returned everything to my solicitor and divorce proceedings have now been lodged with the court (finally) and financial documents finally about to be exchanged.

I had the kids at home on my own all morning – we built train tracks; we danced and played musical statues; I got both boys to sit down with me individually and complete their maths homework; we made a trip to the convenience store to pick out bits and pieces for their picnic lunch in front of Cbeebies; I put a clothes wash on; I hoovered.

At 1.30pm I dropped them off to their dad for the rest of the day and night, came home, cooked myself a poached egg on wholemeal toast and then settled down to finally watch The Revenant – what an amazing film! Now I’m blogging and cooking spicy sweet potato wedges, roast Mediterranean veggies and baked cod in garlic butter while I blog.

I do actually realise how lucky I am. I’m so thankful that I’m an introvert by nature and quite happy in my own company. In fact I often consider reaching out for company when I know I’ll be on my own for a few hours before laughing at myself because I know that an afternoon like the one I’m having (movie, wine, good food, a bit of blogging) is when I’m at my most relaxed and happy. Completely. By. Myself.

Being a single parent is such a mixed bag. And oh yes, it’s not the same for everyone – some women have no partner to take their children off for the day/night/weekend. Some women do not have the family support or the financial support or the life experience behind them to be able to put things in perspective.

Maybe it’s just my personality but I’m not one to wallow for long. I want to forge a path to happiness and I sometimes need to remind myself that I am a speck on an insignificant planet that is part of 170 billion galaxies that make up the known universe.

Maybe it helps that I’m an atheist – I believe that life is short and there’s no conscious afterlife. Make the most of it, eh?

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