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“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.