'The fear comes and goes': How to create a safe space as a single parent

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, as well as the realities of life as a single parent in Ireland. 


I really dithered over what to write about this week. Not for want of an idea, but because I feel so conscious at the moment of what I put out there. There are so many voices speaking publicly right now, I feel very cautious about adding to it. 

What I settled on though, was the one word that kept coming back to me. Fear. 

I think fear is probably the hardest emotion to cope with. It might be what is under all other difficult emotions, the root cause of them. Fear both paralyses you and sends you (or your mind, at least), in millions of directions at the same time. Running down endless avenues of what-ifs. 

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Experience in that area...

If it’s of help, I have spent a lot of time over the past three years coping with fear, and the best thing I have found is to try not to fight it, but rather accept its presence in your life at times, almost as an inevitable. 

Yes, of course, there you are again, fear. Of COURSE, at a time like now. Fighting it seems to energise it, like throwing petrol on a fire. Accepting it allows it to peak, wash (very uncomfortably albeit) over you, and then to subside again. It’s like the waves of grief. 

I don’t want to tell you not to be afraid, or list off ways in which to deal with your fear. I wanted to just acknowledge it. And to say that it cannot keep on indefinitely at that level of intensity, so know that it will, sooner or later, pass. If you are a single parent, it is hard, because there is no one else to share your fear with. And because you want to hide how you feel from the other person, or people, in your house, your children. 

Like everyone, in our home, we’ve pared everything right back in these last few days. In our case, it’s meant whittling it down to just us two. 

The fear comes and goes. It’s made me very careful about what I let in. What I read, or listen to. Because I have only myself to manage my fear. There isn’t another adult here to take the baton if I start escalating in my mind. 

So paring things right down feels like the way to go. Because I am focusing on the one thing I can try to control in this. I can try my absolute best to make sure that my five-year-old daughter feels safe. I’ve made our days very simple. My priorities are looking after my child, getting my work done, and doing whatever it is I need to not to succumb to the fear. 

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Try not to think too far ahead

I’m not worrying about whether we get into a routine, or about how little homeschooling gets done or how much TV gets watched while I work. 

We discuss what movie we’ll watch next, she’s mad for doing art, at the moment we still go for a daily walk. 

Right now, we’re sitting on the couch watching Dancing with the Stars and eating popcorn. She loves the outfits, and the music, and she has loved Emily the dancer since the first series. It feels like the Sunday nights of my own childhood – post-bath TV. We’ve just done a Facetime dinner party with the Work Wife and her family. It makes me feel better, to have achieved this evening of cosiness. 

Fear gets you stuck in your head; you need things to pull you out of it. Which is particularly difficult right now given our limited movements and interactions. Focusing on making this all okay for my daughter is a distraction, a project. 

I’m trying not to think too far ahead, beyond the next deadline, the next meal, the next video call we’ll make. That kind of thinking could swamp me. I’m keeping our ship afloat. I’m making my daughter feel safe. Which when everything else seems so out of control, is helping me feel better too. 

Photo by Taryn Elliott from Pexels

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Read more: Dr Doireann O'Leary explains how to reduce Coronavirus anxiety

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Read more: Why being a single parent means you don't need to worry about finding balance

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