Becoming a single parent was the worst and the best thing that has ever happened to me. At the time, it was devastating: I felt I had screwed up my life and my children’s lives fundamentally, irreversibly, unforgivably.
It is only now, with over a decade of distance, that I can look back at that first year calmly and understand the stages in my journey towards acceptance and self-forgiveness. This is the story of my transition.
Stage 1: Denial
All change starts with denial. In my case, most of the denial happened prior to the break-up. By the time my first baby was six months old I knew deep down that we weren’t going to make it. But for three years I did everything I could to ignore that voice and prove it wrong.
I have never been good at quitting – once you have children that decision becomes even harder. How bad do things have to be before the alternative is better? How much can I tolerate? How low can I reduce my expectations before I give up hope on a happy childhood and do something that I know will blow their worlds apart?
Years later, my eldest son told me that his earliest memory was sitting on the stairs listening to his parents fighting. That is something I wish I could take back. But I’ll never know whether I held out too long: one night my husband packed a bag and the decision was made.
Stage 2: False Positivity
My first reaction was relief. It was over. I wasn’t being shouted at any more. The line was drawn and I was elated. I could take control, make plans and start rebuilding.
I threw myself into becoming a single parent like a manic project manager, finding ingenious solutions to practical obstacles in a desperate impersonation of a perfect mum. I knew I wasn’t really happy but at least now I had hope.
Stage 3: Grim Reality
Unsurprisingly, it turns out that being a single parent with no money looking after a one-year-old and a three-year-old isn’t so easy. When you’re a single parent, it’s always your turn. When they wake up at 5am, it’s your turn. When the stinky nappies need…