Note from Naomi: Today's post is a guest post from the lovely Ella from Ellamental Mama. This lovely mummy blogger has written about her experience of being a solo parent. You can visit and read her blog here.
Single parents are as diverse as any other - so why do the mainstream media have such extreme stereotypes of us?
We are just as likely as the next mum to breastfeed, or bottle feed; to punish or to praise; and to co-sleep or sleep train. Like most parents, find a mixture of all of these approaches which works best for us. Yet somehow, our children are supposedly more likely to be undernourished, to misbehave and even end up in prison. I get that many single parents face challenges which impact on their children's development, but I'm just as sure that our parenting style is not one that can be universally discredited. After all, children of single parents also go on to achieve great things - take Adele, Barack Obama and half the British record breaking 2016 Olympics team, for starters.
There is one thing the media did get right though - that we are the extreme of parenting.
Single parenting - or solo parenting as it can be better described - involves a huge amount of freedom. Freedom to parent how you want, day in day out. It also means you're pushed to your limit, regularly and incessantly. This 'freedom-plus-pressure' solo parenting bubble I find myself in, forces me to be who I am. Who I really am. No pretences. No compromises. Just pure, unadulterated me-ness. With that it pushes me to be the best I can be, because if I can't do that for my son, then who can I do it for?
I am no weak-willed person, but I generally prioritise others' preferences over my own - be it the choice of restaurant with a partner, or the selection of film with a group of friends. Accommodating others' preferences and needs is something I like to do. The downside is that I am useless at decisions - I won't select what to do. I'd rather let my friend's choose so I wouldn't have to worry that they wouldn't enjoy it. I have pretty broad tastes, so it's unlikely I won't enjoy it anyway. That's my choice, and it's who I am, but as a solo parent I have this huge responsibility where I get to make all the decisions, where I have to make all the decisions. Besides, I love it.
Sure, being pushed to your limit can be challenging and negative at times. For example, when you are so exhausted you cry - numerous times a day; or when you have no patience left, you scream at your child for being - well - for being a child.
However, it's in the reflection of those moments where you are struggling that you learn how to do better. I'm not talking about becoming some perfect parent. Far from it. Despite being pushed to my limits, it has enabled me to learn what's the most important thing to me - it's not even about how I react in the moment; that's bloody hard to adjust for anyone - but it is about how I deal with my reactions afterwards. How I apologise to my son, if I know I've snapped unfairly. How I explain to him what frustrates me so much, if he has pushed me to the limit. How I constantly think about what influence I'm having on him; because if I don't role model the kind of behaviour I want to see, no-one else will.
Parenting involves you being the person you are at your very core.
Hopefully that is someone who resonates with us - someone whom we respect and admire, even if we also feel sorry for her half the time as well! It doesn't mean we are better or worse than any other parent; just that we are forced to be the parent who suits us best.
By being pushed to be the extreme me, I've exaggerated all my tendencies which would no doubt have been there even if I'd been part of a traditional parenting couple. My relaxed nature is enhanced, my carefree attitude is magnified, my flexible approach to toddler-routines is stretched. All in all it means my son gets to experience more things than he would otherwise. He's learning to be flexible and is given a lot of independence too - from being responsible for sorting his dirty clothes, to playing alone.
I'm not trying to sugar coat single/solo parenting. I'm not saying it's not hard. It's bloody hard. All parenting is! If you have to do it without a break, without regular support and without a sounding board, it only becomes harder still. Yet those challenges which single parents have in common encourage us to be true to ourselves.
Solo parenting is extreme parenting as its best, and worst. I for one wouldn't change it for anything.