Balance. It’s the hot topic, whether it be work-life balance or parent-self balance; and for single mums it gets a whole lot more complicated.
Show me a parent, particularly a single parent and I’ll show you a whole load of mixed feelings about whether they have – or will ever – achieve a good balance.
Let’s look at parent-self balance. Yes, you are a single parent and your children are the most important thing in the world to you. But how can you be a healthy, happy parent if you don’t attend to your own needs as well as theirs? As a healthy adult, you will need “me” time to keep you going. In an article for the Telegraph, TV presenter Cherry Healey explains her belief that the “me” time she carves out prevents her from going into overwhelm and means she is less likely to snap when the pressures of everyday parenting start to mount. She explains that in the weeks where she can’t find that time, she really feels the difference. Healey argues that this time, instead of being “entirely for me” is actually “entirely for everyone” because of the positive benefits that impact the whole family when she takes that vital time for herself.Read Cherry’s article here
When I was writing my book, one of the women I interviewed scoffed at this concept of “me” time, or free time. As far as she was concerned, it was non-existent! And yet if you are really creative in the way you look at time it can be done. The next trick, once you have that precious chunk of time, is to be fully present and not waste it worrying about other things. I found some great ideas on ways to spend and not fritter away your me time, whether it consists of five minutes or an hour in this post on the Web MD site.
Then there is the question of how to strike the balance between your adult relationship with a partner and that as a parent with your child or children.Of course in families where the biological parents are still in a relationship together as well as jointly raising their offspring – either in the context of a marriage or committed relationship – this balance is just part of family life. I’m not suggesting it’s easy, but it may be easier than other scenarios. Because once you start bringing other people into the mix the balance isn’t a given, it’s something you have to consciously create.
I am currently dating again and over the last couple of months I have been exploring that theme of balance all over again. I have two well-balanced and easy-going young adults living at home. Whilst they are clearly not keen to have another male adult take up position in their home just yet, they are delighted that their mum is out having fun and have given my new relationship their blessing. I am having a great time and rediscovering all sorts of things that I love to do (like visiting art galleries) with someone like-minded, whose company I really enjoy. I am also lucky to have a partner who is respectful of my responsibilities.
Despite all this, I have worried at times about whether I have found that balance between giving enough time to a new partner and allowing enough time at home to keep the household running smoothly and make sure that my boys are not missing out too much on my help and support. I’ve been concerned that we are still communicating well and spending enough time together. Do I get it right all the time? No. I can tell when I am getting it wrong and spending too much time away from home because the house starts getting messy, the laundry piles up and the children and I miss school, college or work deadlines. I feel anxious and my confidence and sense of self begins to get submerged. Other signs that your life is out of balance may be that you are not sleeping well, find yourself drinking or eating too much or finding it hard to concentrate. Pay attention to these symptoms, stop and ask yourself what’s really going on and whether there is an underlying thought or emotion that needs your attention.
As far as relationships go, one of the important things to remember- particularly for an old romantic like me – is that partners, especially in a new relationship, need “me” time too (however tempting it might be to become really wrapped up in each other and all the delights of a new-found intimacy). Time apart can be a blessing and ensure that both individuals maintain important friendships, commitments and interests outside of that new relationship. It’s more than likely that a new partner will have their own children and responsibilities, which will need the same careful consideration as yours do. Besides, excessive neediness in a relationship can translate as clingy and off-putting.
So how can you achieve the right balance in a relationship when you are also a parent? It has to come down to communication and it will be up to both of you to negotiate a pattern that works for you. It may be harder to be spontaneous, particularly if one of you has small children but you can always plan ahead to snatch that time together. A single mum I spoke to recently explained how great it was just to get a few hours to spend with her new partner one evening a week – even if they just spent it watching TV and having adult conversation! If this all sounds very practical and unromantic: maybe it is, but as a single parent you do need to be practical and any potential partner worthy of you will recognise and respect this because it’s got to be part and parcel of the package that comes with you.
And what about the children? Don’t rush into integrating your partner into their lives immediately. Your children might still be dealing with issues from your breakup, or be feeling insecure about any new changes. In my case, my children are old enough and confident enough to articulate their feelings about this and so I can explore this and any other future changes without ruffling any feathers. The decision is always yours as the adult and nobody would suggest that your children should dictate your choices in this regard but I do believe that children of any age must have a safe space to express honestly how they feel about proposed changes that may affect them. If this relationship is right there’s no need to rush because you’ve got plenty of time and if it isn’t then you’ll be glad that the children haven’t been too saddened or traumatised, even if the adults in question are.
Perhaps you feel that it’s all just too much like hard work to have a relationship at all? I know that at various stages of my single mum journey I have been advised just to stay single for now. I could concentrate on my work and studies and make the most of time on my own and of course in many ways that would be simpler (albeit, from my point of view anyway, lonelier). The single mums I’ve worked with in my coaching sessions have often felt very keenly the conflict between wanting to be fulfilled as an adult woman, yet mindful of their role as mother. However, as author Dr Ellen Kreidman explains in her book Single No More, you should feel the guilt and do it anyway because otherwise you’re going to resent the fact that you’re not dating and this resentment can negatively impact the children in any case! As she explains: ” The best gift you can give your children is the example of a well-balanced, happy adult life. Everything you do and say and feel is a lesson for your children. When you take care of yourself emotionally by enjoying your life and the people who populate it, you’re teaching your children how to become healthy, happy adults as well.”
Am I learning and getting better at finding the balance? Yes, I believe I am. Balance: it may not be a straight line – more likely a zig-zag path, but we need to make sure that in the end the average is somewhere near the middle. I think the thing to remember is that it changes all the time and we must just learn to adjust as we go along. For me, the best guideline I have is to go on my gut feelings and to keep tuning in to the signals I am getting from the significant people in my life and from my own inner sense of equilibrium.