I’m a single mother; and it’s my biggest claim to fame. I have surpassed all the expectations that everyone had about me as a mother. I’m young too, my son was born when I was 21 shortly before my 22nd birthday (I’m still waiting on most of my friends to catch up – and they are finally starting to). I have always done my level best, to be the best mother I could be for him. Everyday, everyday, I’m riddled with guilt thinking that I could be doing a better job, wanting to do a better job. No one puts that in my head but me.
At nearly 8 years old my son is finally displaying bad behaviour, up until now I have been counting my blessings knowing that he has been unnaturally well behaved. I have had a week of ghastly behaviour from him, and I’m starting to realise that not even the negative attention is enough for him. Don’t mistake me, he gets plenty of positive attention for good behaviour too; but it’s not enough. He needs attention, period. I need to spend more time with him. I already smother him with affection and love. I don’t read to him anymore, because he reads faster without me; like me he devours books. I never have been one to get down on the floor and build lego with him, my brain just isn’t wired that way.
I gave him a bunch of my old books from when I was a child. And he has always enjoyed it when I read him poetry. He particularly likes the rhythm of Tennyson. I found him reading an old book of mine, one I didn’t know he had. A Children’s Book of Verse it was and he was discovering some of my favourite childhood poems: ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’ by Lewis Carroll, ‘Mr Nobody’ by Anonymous and so many more. Poetry was not my forte, I prefered to study prose; but he was fascinated by what I could tell him about the authors of some of those poems. Things like how this year marks 198 years since the birth of Emily Bronte who wrote ‘Past, Present, Future’ (which was one of his favourites) and he was bored with the wandering poems of William Wordsworth; my personal favourite was how fascinated he was with a poem by the Scottish Bard (‘My Heart’s in the Highlands’) Robert Burns, but more so by the fact that there is a statue of him in the middle of our town.
I bond with my son over our shared love of words. My beautiful son, has a way with words already; spoken rather than written (though he doesn’t exactly struggle with writing), he’s a master manipulator. But I don’t find it easy to relate to him on other levels. I don’t have the patience for teaching him to cook, or sew; these other things that are enormous passions in my creative world. But I have already started teaching him how to bind his own journals, he was interested in mine so we made one together. Just for him, one that he uses for his drawings and his plans for his zoo, he wants to have an ark, and he wants to bring back the dinosaurs and other extinct animals. I can’t relate to him that it can’t be done, he doesn’t need me to. He needs me to believe that he can build this zoo/ark. But we will always love books together, we will always have that.
I need to work harder to spend time with my kid just trying to find these things that we can relate to each other over. But I also need to not dismiss the things that interest him, that I just don’t understand. Instead I need to find people he can talk to about them. I need to find web pages that are suitable for him so that he can learn what interests him safely.
The fact that I am a writer needs to come second to the fact that I’m a mother. My kid should always come first, and I can honestly say that I am guilty of getting so invested in a piece that I don’t pay him enough attention. But I am a writer, and I can’t just put that part of myself away. I need to find Balance, and it won’t be easy; in fact I expect that it will be really hard. But I can’t keep walking in to find that Abaddon the destroyer has visited again, it will do my head in.
Parenting is a constant learning curve. It never ends, there is always some new thing going on. I like to think that I’m an autodidact, and to some extent it is true but more often than not I resist learning – even (though less so) when I was at the university. Parenting though, it throws the lessons at you whether you want them or not, whether you’re ready for them or not. I have tried to learn from my parents’ mistakes, and therefore I try to maintain an open and honest relationship with my son. But I’m struggling, and I know it. And that’s okay.
Being a single mother is the single hardest thing that I have ever done, and one of the most rewarding. I am far from perfect, so damn far. So I exceed expectations, where possible, and I live with the guilt – whether it is earned or not. I know my limitations, I am a good mother – something that my friends have to remind me of occasionally, as I remind those of them who also have children.
So if anyone out there is reading my blog, and is a single parent (it doesn’t matter if you are a single mother or a single father) just know you are not alone. I know how hard you work to make it work. Not everyone can make it work on their own; so go you. One of the best things my mother did for me was tell me that she was proud of me for tackling motherhood alone, because she knew that she couldn’t have done it on her own. But my biggest piece of advice is don’t let yourself fade away, you simply cannot be the best parent you can be if you’ve lost who you are. My second biggest piece of advice is know your limitations and figure out how to work around them – it can be done.