‘It was the biggest pull-up in responsibility I had ever experienced. As soon as my daughter could sit up and take things in, she was copying me or taking on what I reacted to and getting upset. I had never had it so ‘up close and personal’ how much of an impact I could have on another person, just how much I affect another in every word, gesture, thought and movement - she picked up everything.
I realised it was not about being perfect and really got that I can’t get away with anything. After her birth I felt very sensitive to everything going on around me; I became so aware of how sensitive she was to the point that I couldn’t even turn the radio on in the car. I learned that any abrupt or loud noise jarred her body. I discovered that she also became upset when I acted in any way out of guilt, was needy, or wanted to control situations – she picked all of this up.
I started to realise the importance of self-care when looking after my child. For the first three years, I didn’t sleep much, yet I gradually developed a greater sense of trusting my judgement, I learned such a lot from my daughter. When she went through her toddler years I was studying and working. The tantrums were challenging because I had to learn to hold myself with more authority to help her feel safe and held.
It was quite ironic that I’d spent so much time hiding from people and now there was a person attached to, and totally reliant upon me. It was a steep learning curve.
My daughter’s dad lives abroad and when he came over, he’d have time with her and I would party so hard I’d be exhausted by the time she came back to me. I eventually realised that didn’t actually help, I’d be so wiped out it affected everything. Being a single parent from the start wasn’t easy, with the additional factor that I didn’t feel women wanted me to be around their husbands, as if they didn’t trust me. It was like my availability made them uncomfortable, there was a tension there that didn’t allow for openness and friendship between us.
As I have parented over the years, I have found that I can’t get away with making it all about me. I’ve always encouraged my daughter to be my equal and she has full permission to call me out on my behaviour. Parenting is a two-way street; we can’t expect to be able to say that our children should behave in a certain way if our own behaviour isn’t up to the same standards. This is how she raises the bar on our relationship, as do I.
For me, letting go of being ‘right’ was a big one. If I am ‘right’ then by definition that makes her ‘wrong,’ which seemed like a lot of judgement to lay on a child, or anyone for that matter. I know that I have to let her have her own opinions. Children are so easy to manipulate, we can easily influence how they think and talk, especially when we want to avoid revealing something about our own behaviour and just don’t want to go there. My daughter has her own opinions and view of the world; if she needs to make a mistake, I don’t have to prevent this from happening, if she needs to learn something then she needs the freedom to learn it. That’s not about saying ‘I told you so’ or ‘I know better’, but to give her room to learn for herself.
I would say to parents now, ‘don’t try to be good, do this or do that, but just be yourself.’ I’d also say, don’t think you have to do it alone. We can go into pity parties, the ‘poor me’ syndrome, but this is not helpful. We all need support. It feels like my daughter has many people in her life and each one supports her to see things from a different perspective, her life is very rich in this respect.
When things get tough and there’s a fuss going on, I always bring it back to seeing what my responsibility in this is, what part did I play in it? It’s not about fixing things but staying open and tender and then she shifts her behaviour. This is very powerful, not to manipulate her at all, quite the opposite, but to stay with who I am supports her to see the same qualities within herself. It’s looking, all the time, at my relationship with what is happening; asking, what did I contribute to this? It’s not about blaming or finger pointing but looking at myself, not to beat myself up at all, but to be honest and loving.
There is a mammoth importance here we cannot forget and that is of appreciation. It’s crucial to have appreciation, for ourselves as a parent, especially if you’re a single parent. In the intense moments when no one else is there to back you, we have to learn to back ourselves and appreciate ourselves to the hilt. I have learned that we also need to appreciate our child, through play and confirming our child’s understandings, insights and actions. When I do that I’m coming from a place of ‘you’re already amazing, but how awesome and incredible that you were able to be even more of you by what you chose.’ That is gold.
We think that being a single parent is a tough gig, and it can be at times, but the bonus, if we commit to parenting in full, is that we get to see our child learn, grow, unfold and blossom in awareness and understanding and that is a gift way, way beyond price.