22nd Jul 2019
When Liadan Hynes’ marriage fell apart she had to work on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart she explores the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves
When one whole part of your life falls apart, at times you convince yourself that you need to be A+, top of the class, in every other aspect. To never stop, drop the ball, take a break, cut corners. As if life was ever going to be perfect in the first place, and now that things have gone so wildly off the rails, you need to keep the rest of it strictly in-check. As if that kind of control is possible.
A point to prove
“I don’t know why you bothered”, said my child’s teacher as I described that morning’s baking efforts. Which had been a catastrophic failure, as it happened. The discovery that there were no bananas for the banana muffins had required a last-minute substitution of raspberries; resulting in a soupy mess Herself could, understandably, not be convinced to accept in her lunch box.
At the time of her teacher’s remark, I was dropping in pastries for her lunchbox from the next door Insomnia.
Related: Just because I’m a single parent, doesn’t mean I’m alone
I bothered, I thought, because when you feel like one ball has been dropped – the nuclear family at home, in this case – then you can at times (not always, thank god, because that would be an exhausting way to live), feel as if you need to be top of your game for your child in all other aspects.
So there is homemade baking in the lunchbox, although you are not a person who bakes in the slightest usually. As if there is a point to prove. You may be not be living the ‘2.4 dream’, but my god your child will have organic homemade snacks for her lunch.
I used to think I didn’t do parental guilt. Didn’t believe in it. Believed rather that we are all doing our best, and that the standards of parenting we are held to now are nonsensical.
I can see it when my mother looks at me quizzically when, on occasion, I shoot a query her way. “Do you think I’m a bad mother because I’m working all the time and Herself never sees me?” I ask her after one particularly busy week, ignoring the fact that I’m in the midst of the pre-holiday work madness.
“None of that sentence is even factually accurate,” she says, trying to conceal an eye roll, refusing to dignify my query with any further answer.
I don’t think parenting was even used as a verb when she was in the trenches with small children. You either were or were not a parent. How you were parenting wasn’t an activity that was up for public consumption or for judgment. From what I can see, she and her friends certainly never agonized over whether they were doing a good job. They were just doing. Or if they thought about it at all, doing their best.
Related: It takes a village to be a single parent
Now, I think it is probably impossible to parent; single, co-, coupled, whichever, without experiencing some modicum of guilt. But guilt is irrational; it is our brains essentially giving us a hard time.
The need to give myself breaks crept up on me. The need to outsource. I decided upon a weekly slumber party at the grandparents for Herself. At first, I managed to feel guilty about this. “I’ll miss you Mommy,” herself says on occasion, and there it is, the guilt.
And then I remind myself that this is a child who has watched from the window as our bin is collected and told me mournfully, “I miss our bin.” And that this is a child who is having a mid-week slumber party. With her favourite people. That this is a treat. And that I need a break.
What was meant to be
I thought, when my husband and I first split, that I would hate the times when she wasn’t there. And of course I miss her, but I realise now that it’s more the change in the narrative that I hate.
The narrative was meant to be two parents under one roof, no need for breaks which necessitated residents sleeping outside the house. And the guilt that the narrative is not this way is just guilt, not reality.
Reality is that we are all, generally, very happy. And that I love the break, she has a ball, and I am lucky to have them five minutes away, my family, to give the break.
Read more: Things Fall Apart: It takes a village to be a single parent
Read more: Things Fall Apart: A message to all the tired parents out there
Read more: Life as a foster carer: ‘When she first came to us she was like a frightened rabbit’
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