Single-parenthood necessity – what does it invent?

Sunday 28 July 2019

Now I am obviously biased, but I do think my three teens are growing up to be pretty incredible young people. This week, as I am out with a friend, enjoying fine beers and cocktails, and talking life, they suggest that this is not despite their single parent upbringing… but because of it! Can there really be advantages to this challenging life we lead? It’s certainly not the usual media message but as I mull it over it does start to make a sense, and I decide to do some research.

I have yet to unearth a recent, comprehensive study in this area, however there is an abundance of current writing that is now prepared to acknowledge advantages, alongside disadvantages of lone-parenting for children. Before I look at these, I can only stress that I am not going to pretend it isn’t an unbelievable tough path. Jenni Lee’s heartbreaking poem Secret’s of a single mum, contains verses I’ve certainly experienced and would love to share with my Ex and his family, if only I thought they would listen or care. However the poem also encapsulates the key to using your circumstances to your childrens’ advantage. Here’s the moment,

“When I feel like a failure, that I am just letting you down, that I wish I could do more for you, you snuggle up to me on the sofa, you make a cup of tea, you look at me and smile, you come up to me and tell me you love me. Those little things mean the world to me.…”

In short, children will help, if you communicate and ask for their support, and this in turn helps them to grow and develop as people. And it’s possibly in the single parent unit that we need to ask for their help a little more often than elsewhere.

So where are the potential benefits? Top of most lists comes that it teaches independence and responsibility. “Because single parents are already so busy, children should be encouraged to be like the member of a team …” argues one report. That is a definite strength our our family unit. As we all grow up, we play to each other’s strengths and work most successfully when we work as a team. This celebrates and develops strengths, confidence and self-esteem. And it has developed me as a team player too . Most importantly, I have learned and continue to learn, to listen ‘with my ears’!

Another suggested advantage, cited in several reports, is the good ‘role -modelling’ of issues like: problem solving, money management, and resilience. I know that I have been forced to learn so many new skills since taking on sole responsibility for the management of the household, and my children have seen me do it, often sharing the challenge. In consequence possibly they are more resourceful, less likely to think ‘I can’t do…’ and more likely to think instead ‘How will I learn to do …’ than others? One terrifying Ballet Class ordeal aside (and that’s another story!), they certainly don’t seem to be quitters and we have battled through some very tricky times together.

Different reports debate different gains and losses, but I don’t feel the need to read anymore because I think my research has already taught me an important lesson. Your family circumstances will undeniably shape you. The key, to making the most of this, is to see your particular situation as an opportunity, not as I have often done , a mountain to climb in trying to catch up with ‘more fortunate’ others. If necessity is indeed the mother of invention, then perhaps in the single parent household, embracing the tough challenges it presents can invent some very remarkable children. It feels like a very new outlook on life and it feels very exciting…

Spa Day!

Thursday 25 July 2019

I do follow other single-mum bloggers; and they are often passionate about the need for we lone-parents to treat and take care of ourselves. I have always been sceptical, genuinely so challenged by keeping kids, wider family, work and my bank manager happy that I cannot face the thought of making time to think about my own well-being as well. But after a glorious day at the spa…I think they may have a point!

It’s the hottest day of the year, when records are set to break in distant corners of the South of England, as Spa Day dawns. Two of my teens are on a Youth Orchestra tour of Belgium and the third has gone to spend a day with his nana, so I am already childfree. There is however an added bonus. I have a lift and so, in what feels like the ultimate luxury, I am car-free too. As a result, my mood is already joyful as, unable to believe our weather-luck, four of us rendez-vous in the foyer, change into our swimwear and make a beeline for the outdoor pool(s) area.

It is utter bliss. We are a trusty quartet who have survived several years of work together, have run together, drunk together and failed hilariously in the work quiz together. So I know that the company will be great and it is. We share laughter, lunch and lots of lovely chilled white wine. But another stand out feature of today is the luxury. As I lower myself into the warm embrace of a bubbling jacuzzi, I feel the pain lift from my poor aching limbs, which carry the scars of overworking and overdriving in recent months. I feel pampered. I feel cared for. I feel at peace. Those bubbles seem to tell me that I do matter and I am worth it! And I realise that this is often the missing ingredient in my busy life. And it feels fantastic!

Now, wondrous as my day is, I cannot see myself finding the time or money to make a spa day a regular feature on the calendar. However, I do think making a bit of time for myself and my wellbeing probably is essential. So I re-read a great post on this topics from The Perfect Juggler, 7 types of Self Care that don’t cost a penny…. Actually, I find that I already do several of the suggestions, but here is my challenge. When life gets frantic, make sure that the first thing to fall by the wayside is not me and my time and my happiness. Now that sounds like a plan!

Tao of Glass and end of term

Sunday 21 July 2019

On Thursday, I try to cast aside my end of term exhaustion and head out for the evening to see ‘Tao of Glass’ , a world premiere piece of theatre, produced by the Manchester International Festival. This one will divide opinion, but I find it a mesmerising performance; visually stunning, very emotive and gently humorous.

However the final 10-15 minutes feature our protagonist lying on a revolving stage, next to a Steinway recorder playing an original piece of Philip Glass music, recorded by Philip Glass himself. It is beautiful and very relaxing …a little too relaxing as it transpires. I nod off and have to be nudged back into wakefulness by my companion. Next morning, it is still only in this semi-awake state, I stumble through a half-Friday to reach the end of term.

And so the sun sets on another school year and a hectic few weeks at home. As I collapse into bed, I am feeling shattered, dizzy and very unwell. I don’t emerge again until today and I have little idea where the previous 40 hours have gone.

Teens welcome me back to the world, and fill me in on the missing day and a half. They’ve certainly made the most of it! The girls have lots of shopping bags, all three have been to the cinema and Prom-dress daughter informs me that she’s cancelled her violin lesson! Oh well, reassuring to know that I’ve reared three independent souls, who can survive the odd day without a fully-functioning parent in the house. Thank the lord for my mum, who will doubtless have ensured that no-one starved, and bring on the Summer holidays…

Cracking the code…

Tuesday 16 July 2019

After a long day at work, there’s no rest for me. My eldest has a driving theory test and I have agreed to be her chauffeur. Upon reaching our location, we are greeted by a sign announcing that ‘Candidates may NOT park at the Centre’. And so it it that I drop her off and then park myself on a dodgy side street, where I try to get on with some work.

Up ahead, a group of youths are knocking on car windows and asking for money. The driver, two cars in front of me hands over some cash and they disappear. The street is quiet after that, nonetheless I decide to keep my window shut and it starts to get very stuffy. Feeling drowsy and struggling to concentrate on my task, I turn to the internet for diversion, and am woken up by Dr Emily Grossman’s article in the Guardian,

Putting Alan Turing on the £50 note is a triumph for British science – and for equality

Hip hip hooray! Back in the Autumn, when the Bank of England launched the public vote on this issue, Turing was my man! There’s the incredible contribution his mathematical brain made to the development of computing, which is mind blowing. And, of course, his legendary code-breaking at Bletchley Park,

You needed exceptional talent, you needed genius at Bletchley and Turing’s was that genius.” ( Asa Briggs )

But with Turing, the human story is equally powerful. Under the Official Secrets Act, much of his work was to remain hidden for a long time, denying him deserved recognition. At the age of 39, he was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ due to a relationship with another man, a judgement that led to the removal of his security clearance. Despite his outstanding contribution to war time intelligence, he was barred from continuing with his cryptographic consultancy for the GCHQ. Far more shockingly, Turing also underwent ‘chemical castration’ treatment, to avoid imprisonment, and died 2 years later, an inquest ruled by suicide.

About 10 years ago, petitions began for his pardon. In 2014, the Queen granted a full pardon and by 2016 the “Alan Turing law” paved the way to retroactively pardon other men too.

We ask the HM Government to grant a pardon to Alan Turing for the conviction of “gross indecency” … Alan Turing was driven to a terrible despair and early death by the nation he’d done so much to save….A pardon can go some way to healing this damage. It may act as an apology to many of the other gay men, not as well-known as Alan Turing, who were subjected to these laws.

So one of the founding fathers of computing, an unsung hero of our war effort and a significant icon for equality. If, like me, you are a mathematician, its is a wonderful privilege to have lived this life seeing the world through the eyes of many of the greatest minds humankind has ever known. And this man is undoubtedly up there at the top, for his immense and lasting contribution to our modern society. I am overjoyed that he has won a place on our £50 note and, as I look closely, the image also features a short piece of binary code. Cocooned as I may be, within the confines of my clammy car, trying to decode this keeps me busy until my eldest emerges triumphant from her theory test…

I am done…

Saturday 13 July 2019

I arrive home from my final concert of the season, pour myself a brandy, sink onto the sofa and realise that I am… done!

In the last month, my amazing eldest has: traversed the UK to attend Uni Open Days, coped with Y12 mocks, trekked the Lake District peaks with pack on her pack, camped with fellow DOE expeditioners, surviving on cuppa-soup and pasta, volunteered at a local care home and performed in several concerts. Nonetheless, this week, as others break up for Summer, she completes a week of work experience in a local hospital … and I have chauffered her there daily.

On top of this extra driving, I have survived another week at work. I have found the evening-energy to rehearse and practise. There’s been no time to run. I am low on sleep and nutrition and, I am ashamed to admit, getting through most days with anadin and alcohol.

Tonight was the concert. Usually this would bring my mood soaring right back up, but all the logistics and demands of recent weeks have taken their toll, and I am now just finished. I think it goes quite well, although it’s a very fast and jazzy piece and in places I am just hanging on for dear life. But there is no buzz and I feel a little flat. I admit that the engine has stalled on my ‘Smashing Single Parenthood’ machine this week and I am squarely in survival gear right now!

I have, in all the chaos, missed important hospital appointments for myself and Prom-dress Daughter. I feel frustrated and frazzled by endless driving and traffic lights and traffic jams and hear myself screaming unspeakable abuse at unsuspecting drivers. I feel dragged down by routines and cooking and washing and ironing and just all the dreary decisions and jobs that come about when you are the only adult in the household. I feel trapped and low and on the verge of tears.

I need to cheer up and, as if sent from heaven, I switch on the TV to Simon Pegg lighting up my screen! (I’ll confess, he is a bit of a hero of mine, Run Fat Boy Run, Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead comedy classics that I’ve watched many times) I’ve never heard of tonight’s film, ‘Man-Up‘. It is a totally ridiculous romcom but, as ever with ‘The Pegster’, the scenes just make me laugh out loud … and laughter always works for me. My gloom lifts like a glorious magical mist and I head to bed knowing that tomorrow is another day and a new opportunity to do things a bit better. I also wonder if Simon Pegg is single …

Go Girls!

Saturday 6 July 2019

Small Boy and I have had the house to ourselves this week, but this weekend, both girls are back and we listen with great pride and awe to all that they have accomplished.

Last night, my eldest got back from her final Duke of Edinburgh Gold expedition. She has walked for miles and miles, she is low on sleep, she has more Compeed than flesh visible on her feet, her bones and muscles ache and cramp, one toe is horribly swollen and …..she is starving. She is craving comfort food and we feed her pizza and garlic bread which she devours ravenously. Then it’s iboprufen, hot water bottles and bed. She is visibly tearful with the pain, and that only makes me feel prouder because I can see what a tough ordeal it must have been. But tough or not, my girl has done it – she is bloomin’ amazing!

Prom-dress daughter bursts through the door this afternoon. She has returned from a week of work experience in an Architecture firm ‘down south’. She is buzzing, with tales of 3D software packages, architectural research, trips to ‘the site’, hard hats and full high vis …and above all the fact that, shy as she is, she has done this. Yes she has pressed that button, announced her arrival, introduced herself in the Open Plan Office, accepted offers to go out for lunch and even presented her final ‘house design’ to her supervisors. What an amazing experience and what a brilliant boost to Prom-dress daughter’s confidence. I am over the moon for her!

Small Boy has planned a basket ball tournament to celebrate their return, and I can tell that the girls are glad to be home because they actually agree. Basketball is so much more fun with four than two! My muscles ache now, but it’s mostly with laughter and only the occasional bruise – this is family play after all, not always fair, but fiercely aggressive. Small Boy’s team, inevitably, triumph but there are no losers here today. Today all my brilliant kids are clearly winners and it’s lovely to be a family of four again.