In my life as a single parent there’s nothing I really begrudge, but admittedly the loneliness does get tough.
You’d have to be a robot not to get affected by it; as humans we are pack animals, used to travelling together, working in a partnership to hunt and gather (or, in 2016, deciding on and ordering a Deliveroo).
So I guess it’s only natural that spending night after night on my own can get a little tedious sometimes.
It’s not all bad: I’m a glass-half-full person and totally appreciate how lucky I am to be able to watch nine episodes of Grey’s Anatomy in a row (it happens) without anyone moaning about it. I also feel hashtag-blessed to be able to light a lovely scented candle in the evening, soak my feet pre-pedicure or spend an hour slathering my face with oils and potions in front of the telly… all things a blokey bloke would probably take issue with. There’s also no sharing of the delivered poppadoms – as long as the kids are in bed – and I can sit up with Netflix as late as I bloody want. Liberating, huh?
But then it does get exhausting, spending night after night alone. Having nobody to discuss my day with or cook dinner for; the absence of human contact and affection really does wear me down. I’m one of those needy people who enjoys external validation, so there’s nothing I love more than pleasing people with food; Instagram goes some way to allay my insecurities but it’s not the same as a farting, belching bloke.
I run a tight ship: routine is everything at Casa del J-T. And so, whether holiday or term time, those children need to be in bed by 7.15. Counting back, if we’re eating dinner at home that means we’ll need to be in the front door by 5pm at the latest, upstairs for bath and pyjamas by 6, and downstairs for wind-down at 6.45.
Which means that, come 5pm each and every day, unless we’re having a special treat dinner out we’ll be at home. And that is where we stay until 8am the next morning. Consequently we must always have a full compliment of supplies in: milk, tea, bread, breakfast, because there’s no room to run to the shops in this dictator’s evening routine. No emergency chocolate runs, no last-minute dashes for ice cream. Farewell, sweet evening sugar.
On the two nights a fortnight the children aren’t home I always make sure I leave the house. Even if it’s just for a jaunt out to Waitrose for a packet of biscuits or five, there’s something that feels so liberating about escaping my four walled prison post-5pm. Do you remember how incredibly free you felt when you passed your driving test as a teenger? It’s like that!
And if I want to turn the freedom vibes up a notch, I GO OUT AFTER DARK. Which basically feels as wild as that one time I lost my belt crowdsurfing at Reading Fest 2002.
What I should do is invite friends over for gossip more often, but I’m so aware of encroaching on their family time. They want to spend their evenings eating romantic dinners with their husbands, holding hands watching a film, rubbing each others feet while canoodling on the sofa. Because in my idealistic mind, that’s what marriage most definitely looks like ;)
Then there are the weekends, those grand expanses of time that require filling lest I start mooching around the house, missing the children. I used to arrange all my dates with military precision at these times, but since I started trying to meet people in the real world rather than on matchmaking websites I’ve basically become a nun. Seriously, if it wasn’t for Grey’s Anatomy I think I would have forgotten about that hot and sweaty physical activity that two people do together in bed (it’s not tennis, but there are certainly balls involved).
I used to spend this time down in London, and in honesty now the weather’s looking up I will be enjoying a craft beer or two in the big city. But my friends are the best drinkers I’ve ever met (#proud) and I have to watch my booze intake carefully, because I can’t parent on a three day hangover like I used to.
The occasional weekend loneliness is different to the weeknight loneliness, though. A true empty house is difficult, it echoes, it’s dark, it’s brooding. A house with the children upstairs is still a family home, and I relax with ears half-open to hear shouts of ‘mummy!’. If I feel lonely on a weeknight I can head right up the stairs, squeeze the babies and remember that it’s worth it. That kind of loneliness ain’t so bad.
So, is the worst part of single parenting the loneliness? I guess it could be if you let it get to you. Those long nights merging into one could take their toll, those expenses of time with no adult contact (apart from Twitter, holla!). It can get tough, there are no two ways about it: it’s difficult to not feel imprisoned in a jail of solitary motherhood.
If I ever start feeling that way I remember to treat myself to things I wouldn’t do if I lived with someone else: I put my favourite music on, grab a stack of magazines, pour a glass of wine and eat crisps for dinner. And as I read on a greetings card once, you’re never drinking alone if your kids are at home.
Amen to that.