'Us and them' thinking isn't helpful when it comes to parenting

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

I wrote something in last week’s column that has been niggling at me ever since. It was along the lines of how when you’ve been way, re-entry into real life when you are a single parent is that bit more challenging because there isn’t another adult to pick up the slack. Which is in some parts true, but in some parts not. Re-entry is always challenging.

It’s been niggling at me because I don’t like to get into such black or white territory. To suggest that things can be so definitive in terms of parenting. That the quality of your experience is in some unshakeable way preordained by your circumstances.  

I think, rather, that it is all shades of grey. Fifty shades and the rest.

Parenting is hard

I might be a single parent, but I have one child, a co-parent, and four adults living five minutes away in my family home who are always on call. On tap. You might have a husband, but three kids and no family support. Some days my grey is darker, others yours is.

This isn’t to deny that there are things about being a single parent that are just harder than when you are in a couple. Financials and fear of the future being two that come to mind. And depending on your circumstances, there’s all the day-to-day stuff; the not having another parent there when you need to go silently scream in the bathroom for five minutes. Or to give you the lie in. Or take a middle of the night shift.

But I think parenting, however you are doing it, is hard. The relentlessness of it. The sheer life admin of it.

The life admin

I’ve gone off for a week on my own. It’s a working holiday, to get a big project over the line (apologies for the hints of hashtag secret project there – is there anything more annoying?).

All I need to do is focus on work. There will be long days, working from six in the morning until late. I can’t believe how relaxing it feels already. To literally just have to look after myself, and get the work done. To not have to think about lunchboxes, gymnastic kits, dinner/bath/bedtime, emptying a dishwasher, cleaning a kitchen after a bedtime that took over an hour.

To move about at my own pace, never once saying come on, hurry up, stop, watch where you’re going. None of the chivvying.

The people back home send me a picture of Herself taken in my house, and I look beyond my daughter to the garden behind her, immediately fretting about a job I need to do and keep putting off. Our home is lovely but it is also a constant reminder of all the stuff that needs to be done. It’s lovely to be away from all the to-do lists.

You need a break

I don’t find it serves me to nurture a sense of 'us and them'. Single parents, non-single parents. It is absolutely necessary to know other single parents, who entirely get it. But whether you’re a single parent or not, if you’re a woman, chances are you’re slightly drowning in emotional labour. Life admin. Every woman I am friends with who has kids (and many who don’t) feels swamped, and tail chasing, in some way.

"You need the break," a friend says to me when I tell her about my trip. She is married, with three kids. "Don’t you?I think.

"How’re you getting on?" My cousin texts. I am just back from a walk in which I managed to get up such a pace I return home out of breath. I’m facing into an evening of cooking one of my favourite meals, a dish Herself would never countenance, leeks being involved, and going to bed at eight o’clock with a Maeve Binchy book that I’ve found in the house where I’m staying.

"Holidays on your own should be mandatory for all parents," I reply.

Lia Hynes' podcast series, How to Fall Apart is available to stream on multiple platforms now.

Photo: EVGENIY KONEV on Unsplash

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