I started writing this a few months ago, when my son was 10 months old and I was still grappling with the concept that I’m sort of a part time single parent and trying to figure out how to make that work. Shout out to all the actual single parents, because SERIOUSLY.
Living on a small island with a professional musician for a partner isn’t actually the best set up, it turns out. Yeah, we could have thought that through, but life happens, and there are loads of benefits to us being where we are – the amazing support we get from family and friends, the safety… the… Umm… weather…? Nah, Shetland is an amazing place to live.
But it is 200 odd miles from the nearest city, so we often say bye for weeks at a time, relying on FaceTime, phone calls, messenger – every type of modern communication for which I am eternally grateful exists.
The resulting set up is a weird place to be: inhabiting a strange half-and-half sort of life; feeling empathy and awe for actual single parents followed by relief and guilt; knowing that while I will get a break when daddy comes home, some folk don’t.
I’m not about to bemoan my situation: I feel extremely lucky to have the support of a pretty amazing husband to be, a hugely helpful mother and extended family and the loveliest group of friends you could probably imagine.
Despite that, as it turns out, parenting is HARD. (Who knew, eh!?) Whatever shape and size it comes in and however it looks. I don’t think it’s a case for situational trumps – every single person’s experience matters, regardless of how easy or difficult it may seem to another, based on their own hugely subjective experience.
When K is home, we settle into something that looks like modern family life. The bonus of his job is that, when he’s home, he’s home. I look forward to lazy fun mornings; maybe going for lunch (aka watching our son throw most of his food on the cafe floor, instead of ours); help with tea and the bath time routine. I start counting down the days, imagining how brilliant it’ll be, how carefree we’ll be, all the things we’ll do…!
Then a funny thing happens: he comes home, and it’s still hard. Hold on… WHAT?!
Don’t get me wrong, it is wonderful. I love him, (obvs!) and our little boy S adores him, so him being there is brilliant. But it’s not necessarily easy. The routine I’ve stumbled into, a collection of habits that means both myself and the baby are fed, get just enough sleep (him, not me) and the house isn’t a total disaster zone, becomes awkward for two.
There are tiny almost imperceptible changes in S’s life; changes I’ve perhaps taken for granted, but leave K feeling not quite as connected to us as when he left.
Oh, and lazy fun mornings? Forget that. The downside to having another adult in the house is thinking it’s a great idea to go wild and stay up past 10pm watching Netflix and scarfing wine. “Morning’ll be fine! He might sleep til 7am!? Have another glass…! Hic…”
Then there’s the unwelcome but no less present Mama Guilt. I find myself feeling bad for staying in bed a few hours extra and not getting up at the crack of dawn, even though I’ve been doing that for the past three weeks. Taking a bit of a break feels wrong, somehow, after pushing myself to get things to a place where I feel they work. It’s illogical, I know, but there it is.
Weirder still, despite having an extra pair of hands around, the house is no more tidy. In fact it’s usually messier. Go figure.
Gradually, though, as time passes things settle into a pattern. The kinks are smoothed out and the Weetabix scraped off. We find ourselves in a new routine, one where I can go for a run on my own if I want to! Or relax about doing the laundry because I know K will do it if I don’t. Eventually… Jokes. [Jeez, I sound like a RIGHT hoot.]
This routine is great. And then… and then he goes away again.
I find myself thrown back into not knowing how to be by myself with an infant any more. I struggle to remember how the hell you’re supposed to make the tea and keep the baby from emptying the cupboards; I begin dreading the early mornings when I’ll be the only one there to get up at 5:30am; feeling panicky at the thought of settling S during one of his 3.30am parties when nothing bar daddy will get him back down, and question my ability to even get him to sleep in the first place.
It’s difficult all over again. There are freakouts. There are tears. From me, as much as the baby. But in these moments – when I bite my lips to stop myself shouting and will myself, desperately, to feel calm – I also find strength.
Not in the moment, God no. But afterwards. In and around the exhaustion and frustration, there are moments of soundness, even feelings of quiet satisfaction that I’ve got through it, and I feel pretty kick ass. There’s the calmness that descends after a rough night, when I wake up to a sweet, smiling little face. And the love, of course, the ridiculously epic swells of love.
These moments – the ones that drive us to our limits, that leave you weeping in the toilet at teatime and dawn, struggling to feel like a good human, feeling like you can’t go on, they are also what make us: facing the limit of your nerves then taking a step back; breathing, holding your babe close and smelling their gorgeous, irritating little head… these are the times we’ll one day long for. Honest.
These moments aren’t much spoken about, but they are normal. And accepting them is essential.