“I Don’t Know How You Do It”

“I don’t know how you do it” said the mother at the baby group, her head sympathetically tilted as she observes me clutching a 2 year old and a new baby, wedding ring newly removed.

“I don’t know how you do it” wondered the mum on the school run as I dash across the playground in heels too high for the icy slope, late for the start of reception class and a breakfast meeting with my boss.

“I don’t know how you do it” wrote the friend on Facebook as I post pictures of my daughter’s birthday party, a clown and a gaggle of children admiring the three layer cake I stayed up too late baking.

This phrase used to please me as a divorced mum of two. Raising two children without a husband in the house, working full time yet trying to give my kids the Stay At Home Mum Experience, re-building our existence into something resembling contentment after life drastically changed its course… sometimes I didn’t know how I did it, either. With a huge dose of exhaustion and guilt usually. It wasn’t easy but I did it, and after years of feeling secretly worried that I was actually a bit lazy I was happy to have a reason to jump into life feet-first.

And that’s what you do. You just do it. You keep on keeping on, faking it til you make it, until one day that is your normal and you can’t remember life any other way.

You do it too, you just might not realise it.

I always feel like single parents are sometimes heralded as shining beacons of hard work, juggling parenting, working and running a home. Yes we do spin all these plates but really – like anyone in life – we work with the hand we are dealt. All of us in life, we find happiness in our own personal situations, light in our personal darknesses. It’s the human way.

And so I sometimes feel undeserving when I get “I don’t know how you do it”. There’s no doubt that I work hard, I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder, but I love what I do in every aspect of my life and I don’t work as hard as some. And really: think about it. If I don’t do it, who else will?

I feel like one of the lucky ones with a supportive ex-husband who’s never shirked his financial or emotional responsibilities: we have a super relationship and, though he might do my head in on occasion (as I imagine I do to him ;) we still get on like a house on fire. A non-married, amicably divorced house on fire. I miss the children dreadfully when they’re with him but if he didn’t give me this much-needed break once a fortnight I think I would go quite bonkers: the single mums who don’t have this support from their baby daddies, well, frankly I don’t know how they do it.

Think of it this way: I never have to concede to watching a TV show or film I don’t want to. I always get to cook whichever meal I choose. I don’t have to hide a new pair of shoes in case my husband wonders why I’ve been shopping again. I get to have as many pink cushions and fairy lights in my house as I want. It’s really not all bad!

Whether you’re a single parent or not there are struggles you have in life. Health issues, horrendous relationship breakdowns, financial woes, job problems… I’ve seen my friends go through these things and to me these struggles are just as real as my own. It’s just that mine walk next to me on the school run each morning, I write about it on the internet and share it on Social Media.

Just because my different life situation is more visible doesn’t mean it’s tougher than yours. Sometimes we all need to give ourselves a break, pat ourselves on the back and say, yeah – I don’t know how I did it.

5 Comments
  1. Hi Alice, thanks for sharing this. Yes, I am one of the luckier single mums with a very supportive (for the children) ex who is totally dedicated, never flakey, always upfront. Maybe that’s why I married him:) And I can also go along with the “I get to watch what I want, when I want”. Correction, in the hour or so post my children going to bed (they are now 11 and 8) I choose what I want to watch. I also get the whole of my bed for myself. Can eat what I want. I have pink, yellow and flowery cushions. Candles galore. Even incense sticks. I don’t need a man. I own my house, pay my bills, run a car (it’s ancient but we love her). However, I would really like a man in my life. So when those women are saying “I don’t know how you do it” I suspect they are wondering what it is like to have no backstop. When I have the children, and I am ill, that is it. Just me. When I in a quiet moment at home, I would love to share my thoughts with someone close, who knows my daily routines, takes an interest in my work life, my relationships.

    1. This is all so true Joanna! When people refer to how hard I work for my family I don’t feel that’s valid because it doesn’t feel like work to me. The bits I struggle with are the emotional. When I start feeling a bit sorry for myself I sit and ho hum about how nobody but blood relatives love me (my parents and my kids!) – which is totally bonkers because my wonderful friends love me and support me but not in the way a husband would.

      High five on those candles though!

  2. I feel this too.
    My own personal experience is that I was always doing it alone. Just now I get to do without someone in my life making me feel I’m doing it wrong.
    I’ve fill my home with friends and have settled into a wonderful community. Life is about finding the blessings you have and celebrating them. That’s how I do it.
    People say “I don’t know how you do it” and I quote Gandhi to them “I felt sad because I had no shoes until I met a man with no feet…” And yes to fluffy cushions and fairy lights EVERYWHERE!

  3. SO proud of you Alice. You have worked, and continue to work, so hard to get to this ‘space’ for you all. Look how far you’ve come and think about how far you can go. Enjoy the journey

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