Single parenting

Ben was away with work last week. This happens two or three times a year and is typically for just over a week. We manage. It is not easy. It is a lot less easy with a third small creature although I am very aware that the bigger two are now really quite helpful and pretty good company. It struck me as I sat at my spinning wheel while Red discussed the merits (or lack of them) of the characters in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that there is less loneliness in Ben’s absence than there used to be. The addition of a baby to our family has brought so much. Including a little more pressure when Ben is away. That isn’t something I want to share with Red.

Several years ago, in between having a new baby and Myrtle being a baby (in my mind, the Easier Year or So) a friend asked me if when he was away I gained an idea of what it might be like to be a single parent. Having not thought about that I replied thoughtlessly, that for me there was an element of increased selfishness, some self indulgence when parenting alone. That was a really dumb response. I am ashamed by it.

I’m aware that it might be tricky to get the right tone on this. I intend to be neither patronising nor smug. What I am is full of admiration for parents who bear that burden by themselves.

It is hard work when Ben is away. Physically hard work, but also and much more, mentally and emotionally hard work. Clearing up dinner, having also made it. Doing bedtime for each child rather than just one or two of them, or there being the option of not doing bedtime at all and leaving it to Ben. Having to mediate each argument, kiss each sore knee better. And then there are the times when a child is poorly, or when I’m poorly. I’m very thankful there haven’t been too many times like that. Having to decide on calpol or calling the doctor by yourself is really scary.

I realise these are just the immediate things. There are other things, so many other things. Times when another parent might be expected, asked about, questions asked that might be difficult to answer. That hurt to answer. Times that are miserable alone but have a funny side when you can share them. So many things I haven’t thought of.

Thing for me is that although I am physically alone when Ben is away, I’m not really alone. He’s on text a lot of the time. If things really got serious I could easily call him. I know he’s thinking of me, hoping we are ok. There for me.

That is an enormous difference. All the difference.

I don’t really know what it’s like to carry all the burdens on my own. I am very grateful for that. I can see just enough of what it must be like to recognise a little of what it is those parenting alone are managing to do. Here I acknowledge that with admiration and respect.

Monotony and Contentment

Someone once said (to me) that they crave monotony and so they would hate to do what we are doing. This has played on my mind a bit, and led me on to thinking about contentment.

On the spectrum of monotony vs novelty (I spent some time wondering what the opposite of monotony was. This is my best guess so far.) I reckon I fall on the side of novelty, but not near the extreme end. Change can be good, it can be fun to try new things. But if life is in a comfortable place it can be a change for the worse. Hard to know until the change happens. I would say, I like my novelty in bite sizes portions. When we discovered we were having Birch we both thought of all the changes this would bring, including moving house. It was much more manageable in terms of brain power to decide to manage one change at a time. Turns out we were right about all the changes that would follow, but one at a time is enough.

It is probably a good thing that Ben loves novelty and change. When I told him about the monotony conversation he was pretty much aghast. Crave stability, certainty, consistency, but not monotony! Another word for boring. Music without tune or harmony. Not really music at all.

I think what change brings, and what not changing protects against, is not knowing how you’re going to get through the day. One of the biggest challenges when I had Red as a new baby was not knowing when he would sleep (not really ever), when it would be possible to both boil a kettle and drink a cup of tea. There was nothing predictable in our day so it was really hard to pace myself, navigate a route from beginning to end. Before a big change, it’s a bit the same, you don’t know the shape of your day so it’s hard to envisage getting safely through it. However, since having Red we have moved house four times so far. What you learn is that there is no escaping monotony. There’s no running away from it. Whatever place you’re in, there will be the same jobs to do, the same routine. It takes a few weeks of heavy sat nav use to find your way around and then the roads are familiar, the coffee tastes the same.

There is importance in noticing these things. If we were doing this to escape monotony we will fail to escape. If we think this path in and of itself leads to contentment we will find we are wrong. This is excellent news. Contentment is a decision which can be taken at any point. We don’t need to finish in order to get there. If we wait until then, it will elude us. If we can achieve it now, it will travel the road with us.

For contentment to travel at our side we need to accept the monotonous and provide the harmony for ourselves. This is something Ben is really great at. It is something to strive for and to enjoy as a choice.