When I was younger and I envisioned having a family, it was probably a pretty typical fantasy.
I would be married, happily in love, we would choose to conceive our children and they would come at just that right moment where financial stability, career success and youth somehow combine. Whilst I’m sure this vision is rarely a reality for most, when I lost that vision, I can’t say I even cared too much.
I was 21 when I fell pregnant with my daughter. In the middle of my final year of University at London College of Fashion, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t going out of my way to live my best life. I counteracted working hard on my dissertation (hello analysis of female characterisation in Kill Bill Vol 1 & 2), with playing hard. I remember sitting on the loo, pregnancy test in hand, and the main thought going through my head was the scene from Kill Bill Volume 2 when Beatrix finds out she is pregnant. Obviously, I was no bad-ass assassin. Nor was I Uma Thurman. But what we had in common was the fact we were both about to become solo mothers, staring at our pregnancy tests in awe of the fact that our lives were about to change.
Initially, confusion was my overriding emotion. I was working hard on my degree, my career was picking up. Where did I go from here? Becoming a mother was not my plan just yet, but it felt counterintuitive to not let this baby into my life.
I had always dreamed of having a baby, I desperately wanted one. So, I made the space in my life for her. I finished my degree seven months pregnant and accepted that I wouldn’t do much for the first year of her life.
All I will say about her father is that he is not involved, at all. So I knew that parental responsibility would always fall solely to me. Fast forward two years, and I have a fierce, independent and absolutely beautiful one year-old girl. She is the light of my life. But solo parenting is not easy, I won’t lie. And it grates on me quite hard when I see someone comparing their partner on holiday or at work with a solo parent.
The sleepless nights are infinitely lonely, you have no one to turn to, no one to beg to go and settle them just this one time. The nights have always been the hardest for me.
What else falls to you as a sole parent? Every single decision. Every one. And it is exhausting. While I can imagine with a partner decision-making equals arguments, it also gives you a sounding board. Someone to talk things through with. For me, I grapple with everything. Should I push her bed time back? When should I stop breastfeeding her? Is it time to night wean? Is sleep training too harsh or is it my only way to stay sane?
What has kept me sane is family. Mum has helped more than I could have ever dreamed of, my Dad has also been a huge support. My older sister and a close friend have also taken Maia for night times so I could catch up on sleep. Every single bit of help I have had has empowered me as a mother. It’s enabled me to pull myself together and keep trekking on.
My most crucial advice to sole parents is to listen to your gut and to protect yourself.
As parents, we have a habit of giving every bit of ourselves to our children, but when you have no one to pass the baton to, you burnt out and can’t function for your child any more. We can’t be perfect all the time, utilise help from others, give them a bit of TV time if you need to sit down to rest or get something done. Find some protected time for yourself where you can be someone other than ‘parent’ and ‘chief decision-maker’.
Although it’s tough, and I can’t say I would do this again, when I see Maia the pride I feel is immense.
When she points to something, or crawls after me, or gives me a cuddle, that love just bubbles over and every moment of anguish and loneliness is worth it.
My tips for other young, sole parents
• Get some protected time. If you can have a friend or family member look after your little for a few hours a few, so that you can just have a bath, go out, or do something other than mum-duties. You’ll feel recharged.
• Remember you’re not alone. It’s so tough in the nights or when they are unsettled, and you can feel like you’re the only one with a baby that won’t sleep. This will pass and there are so many other sleep-deprived mamas out there who are in solidarity with you!
• Utilise what you have. If you need to pop them in front of the TV to get a few things done, or even have a sit down, do it! I used to feel so guilty about screen time. But now I just use it to my benefit.
You can read more from other young sole parents here.