Then There Were Three

January 5, 2016
single parent family

My family dynamic should have never been three.

Four, it was always going to be four. Somehow I always knew that, whether it was growing up in a foursome myself or just One Of Those Things: my family was going to be four. Done.

I thought maybe it was going to be five for a time, after I had one of those dreams so vivid that you wake up and can’t step out of the life your subconscious invented while you were asleep. In that dream there was a new baby, another one after Hux, who at three is still the baby of the family. And I don’t know, maybe there will be another one day. Maybe there would have been another baby if I was still married. Only the universe can tell.

So yes, becoming three was the biggest shock.

It wasn’t that bad at the beginning. Just different. I tried to fill the hole daddy’s absence left immediately with another man, which never works, and so that lasted approximately five minutes. And then as time passed by the children grew older and the hole got bigger. There was no Daddy, just mummy, Elfie and Hux. We weren’t a family of four but a family of three and it was never supposed to be that way: we were an imbalanced scale, bottom-heavy.

Some single parents make big statements about the present parent having to take on the role of the absent parent. This isn’t us. They have a dad – he’s not around like he used to be but he has a presence. I am the mum and only the mum, but I had to learn how to parent differently. I had to learn how to fill that hole with extra mummy, extra love, to balance that scale.

With the absence of daddy there’s nobody to play good cop/bad cop with. I have to make solo decisions on many things: discipline, education, wellbeing. I can’t nudge somebody else in the middle of the night to deal with a whinging pre-schooler. If comfort is needed it comes from me, if a situation requires a hard line that originates with me, too. And that all used to be very tough. Exhausting. Relentless.

But now three is our normal.

I no longer go out to restaurants with the children and think other families are wondering where my children’s dad is. I don’t feel that my wedding ring is conspicuous in its absence. A mention of “daddy’s house” or “mummy’s house” in the company of strangers doesn’t leave me cringing at outside judgement. Frankly, I don’t care what other people might think of our dynamic of three. And that is because we are now whole.

At the beginning of this journey I would dread the adventures we’d have as a threesome. Be it swimming, lunch, days out, days in. A simple trip to the supermarket… we’d always end up fraught and emotional. There’d be tears – mine, theirs, both – and I’d end the day wondering why we persisted when it was so clearly always going to be an uphill battle.

Now I know why: somewhere along the line it stopped being a struggle. The struggle switched to normality which somehow turned into a family dynamic that is something wonderful, the imbalanced scale righting itself, finding its new centre. Trips to the supermarket? A pleasure. Days out? Joyful. Weekends away? Why not! Light became our new dark, three became the new four.

I still have the ‘what if…?’ moments. What if we’d remained a four? What if we meet someone and become a four again? What if we become a five? What if we get a puppy and became a different kind of four? What if we’re a three forever? Nobody knows what might be next, but the important thing is we’re not scared anymore.

It turns out that four isn’t my family’s number, not yet. And I’m very happy we are three.

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  • Reply Bryony January 5, 2016 at 10:58 am

    This has just made me cry, you really are the best trio I know. As an outsider I see your family and really aspire to be as settled as you are. The three of you always seems so content, it’s lovely xxx

    • Reply alice January 5, 2016 at 5:05 pm

      This was a belting comment to read, thank you so much B xxxx

  • Reply Joanna Frangos January 5, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    hiya Alice, a lovely piece about life and change and how time heals. yes i have had similar experiences. my ex is very much part of my children’s lives as he shares 50/50 but nowadays i relish my time with the children, and enjoy our “threesomeness”. I did have an afternoon of feeling sad that I haven’t met anyone (i have been separated since 2010) as i’d love someone to give me a hug and a cuddle. Of course I am there for my children in that way but sometimes i really want someone to put their arms around me and adore me. that’s simple. meantime I am so loving the space i have with my children.

    • Reply alice January 5, 2016 at 5:23 pm

      I get these afternoons too Joanna. I really miss having someone to watch Netflix with… so much that I was thinking about getting a dog for company! I miss the love and being loved, too. But then I sometimes think I’m so independent and happy on my own I think I’d find it hard to give all that up!!

      Hope you’re having a lovely week x

  • Reply Rosie Scribble January 5, 2016 at 11:58 pm

    Two is our normal and has been for 12 years. And it’s a fantastic, happy normal I wouldn’t want to change. x

  • Reply Meg February 7, 2016 at 9:04 pm

    What a beautiful post. Thank you x

    • Reply alice February 7, 2016 at 10:03 pm

      Thank you Meg x

  • Reply Kay February 8, 2016 at 9:11 am

    Nearly made me cry too, as I cling to the edge, facing the prospect of being in a similar situation myself. Really frightened but maybe there is hope after all. Thank you for sharing your experiences candidly.

    • Reply alice February 8, 2016 at 2:46 pm

      All the love to you Kay. There really is life after a split – I was similarly terrified, but it’s proved to be a much happier one.

  • Reply Elle February 8, 2016 at 10:04 am

    I love this. We are a family of three too, they were toddlers when we became that family and they are now both almost teenagers, and it’s a lovely family. I love being three. It still has lows and stresses, as do all family units, but we have a special closeness many of my married friends don’t have with their children. I am thankful for the chance I’ve had to raise two happy, delightful girls, pretty much alone. Thank you for sharing your story – I wish you so much joy along the way!

  • Reply Jo February 8, 2016 at 10:11 am

    Brilliant piece, summed up what i had been feeling for a long time, albeit with just one child! Thankyou for sharing what a lot of us are silently experiencing but are too afraid to share publicly!!

  • Reply Andrea February 8, 2016 at 11:42 am

    I have been a family of 2 since my marriage ended when my daughter was only 7 months old. She is now 4 and a strong, independent fun-loving little character who I wouldn’t change for the world and we have an absolute ball. I loved your article :-) x

  • Reply Siobhan Murphy February 8, 2016 at 5:41 pm

    You explain this beautifully here. Me and my daughter were a two from the start due to circumstance and it’s easy to be swayed by the “norm” and the opinions of others but I tried to embrace the fact that there weren’t two cops – there was my way or the highway as they say. I enjoyed our little girlie meals out together and holidays just the two of us and I became so used to this that I was actually glad that I didn’t have to include her Dad’s wishes in things or that I didn’t have to have time without her on “Dad weekends” because he was never in the picture. Although there were times I think I felt selfish feeling that but to me it just all felt so much easier ! I met my (now) husband when she was nearly 5 and worried how she’d feel about the 2-some expanding when we had a good thing going but it all fell into place – there were some tough bits ….. I think trusting a potential partner post kids is a whole other dating trauma !! but in the end I think kids are very flexible and it all works itself out when the time is right (big believer in that). You are spot on with the description of normality – normality is what works for each family personally there is no ideal blueprint .. or at least we shouldn’t be made to feel that there is. If people want to judge then good luck to them.

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