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Child free day.

June 24, 2009

On the forms I fill in, I tick the box for single parent. But thats misleading. I am not, and have never been a single parent. Rachel has two parents, both deeply flawed, both trying hard, both different, but both essential to her. We just live in seperate houses.

Her father and I seperated for every cliche in the book, go to the forums of any parenting website, and see the discussions about how children have affected a relationship. Women who were raised to believe that their roles had changed, all of a sudden finding they were struggling with the same things their mothers had struggled with. Finding themselves doing it all, rather than having it all, balancing work, house, motherhood, with husbands whose roles havent changed at all. Me working a full time job in part time hours, and him trying desperately to get his employers to bend to allow him to take the role he wished to, in his daughters life, and feeling increasingly excluded by the bond that can only develop when you are the parent who is there all the time.

In the months after my daughter was born, the fact that I was at home, and breastfeeding, meant that responsibility for the domestic fell to me. And when I went back to work, responsibility stayed with me. The fact that I had developed routines for Rachel, and been sucked into the idea that I was the only person who could do what she needed, meant that I simultaneously complained that I was exhausted and overwhelmed by it all- while failing to realise the reason I had the skills and knowledge about what Rachel needed, was that he had never had the opportunity to learn those skills. (Seriously- did you know that babies dont come with a manual- you really have to figure it all out on your own. They do publish baby books, but babies dont read them).

All this, while every pre-existing crack from our pre-child relationship, was brought into sharp relief, by the sleep deprivation and exhaustion of a new baby coming to our home, and the two young adults in the house moving towards independance.

We seperated a year ago today, and I expected that seperation to have a negative effect. The myriad of headlines blaming the breakdown of family on every social ill, are as ingrained on my psyche as anyone elses.

What I actually found was the man who I could no longer live with, when left to his own devices, was as vital to her care, as I was. That he was as capable, and as important, as I was. I found there were many things he did, which I didnt like-(there is a much higher consumption of fish fingers, instant noodles, and crisps in his house. There is a much higher likelihood of her going to nursery dressed as a lady bug, with doc marten boots in his care, and he has never figured out how to fix a hair clip in place). He cares less about the keeping a clean house, or a bedtime routine- than I do. He is much more willing to allow Rachel to explore her infinitely fearless side, and doesnt wince when she flings herself off things with the gusto of Evil Kineval. He is infinitely more patient with the endless toddler tantrums. These things are as necessary to her care, as my rigid adherence to 7 o clock bathtime, and an insistence on no more than two hours tv a day.

After the first months, of forcing ourselves to bite our lips when discussing the practicalities of the split- forcing each other to retain daily contact, to discuss her day. Ensuring that we ate together at least once a week- and only discussing contentious issues when she was in bed-we both realised we still had a relationship. Not a romantic one- but certainly a relationship as two parents. And over the months that followed- a friendship.

This friendship contains all the best aspects of our relationship as husband and wife, without any of the minor irritations of having to live with another adult, who is different, and without the day to day mundane tasks, taking over. We have something with each other that no one else can offer- when Rachel does one of those very endearing things, which would result in a glazed over ‘she is talking about her child again’ from my friends, I can ring her dad, and know that he will be as proud as I am. When I am at the end of my tether, after a twenty minute tantrum resulting from a change in breakfast cereal- I know that he will empathise. And when I am worried about any aspect of her life, I know that he will be as worried as I am.

He despairs in the way that I used to, over mounds of washing that are never ending, or the fact that she is refusing to brush her teeth. But the fact that he is on his own with her, means that he also gets the benefits of a child, which cannot be gained on a weekend visit. The joy of children is not in the trips to the zoo, or McDonalds- its the moments after you have been pushed to your limits, and a second later its forgotten because she does something funny. These are not the moments that define motherhood- these are also the moments that define fatherhood- if they are allowed.

So I sit here this morning, exactly a year from our seperation- considering selling my wedding dress on ebay- reassured that regardless of what happens Rachel has two parents who love her, and that even if I falter- her father is there to make sure that she is ok, and vice versa.

I know that my experience is not necessarily shared. It isnt even shared in the lives of the single parents I know. Single parent households are overwhelmingly headed by women, and those households have a substantially higher chance of almost every negative outcome that you can think of, and there is no arguing that  we live in a society where fatherhood is devalued, both by feckless ‘men’ who wont take responsibility for children, and a family court system that forces men to fight to be allowed to.

But a romantic relationship is a fragile thing- that kind of love can be fleeting. The bond between parent and child is not. Choosing to have a child can be an expression of committment between a couple, but the committment is ultimately to the child- and the end of that romantic relationship has not, in this house, compromised any of the committment felt by James and I, to our beautiful daughter.

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4 comments

  1. Enjoyed your blog very much.


  2. Thank you very much!:-D


  3. I found this entry very interesting indeed, and it rang huge bells with me. My s-t-b-ex and I separated early this year, and I worked very hard to keep the whole thing as amicable as possible, purely for the sake of our five year old daughter, despite the fact that neither the marriage itself nor my s-t-b-ex were by any stretch of the imagination amicable. She now spends a week with me, followed by a week with her father, with flexibility built-in for work demands and holidays. We both work full-time, so that has to be taken into account. The upshot is that we are (currently at least) better friends than we ever were while we were married, and our daughter is happier than she’s ever been, spending “real” time with both Mummmy and Daddy.

    The key to this is definitely putting one’s child’s needs before any of the couple’s issues, with absolutely no compromises, and accepting that shared parenting is, except in obvious exceptions, the only way to bring up children.


  4. […] Just so we are clear Ms.Platell- I LOVE being a single mother. Compared to being in a marriage where two people are destroying each other, in full view of their child- its a bloody godsend. I wrote about it earlier in this blog. […]



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