I’ve been a single parent for most of my son’s life. His father and I separated when he was 18 months old, and divorced a year later. We agonized over the decision: went to counselling, patching things up for a while only to have them fall apart again. We could both see that everyone would be happier if we split up. But it was an incredibly hard time.
I struggled through as a single mom with my game face on. I didn’t have any close friends nearby with children nor any good role models at work, so I did what I thought women do-I just got through it. But I look back now on those first five years of being a mother and know they were hands down the hardest of my life. No one really prepares you do they? They hand you the baby in the hospital and wish you luck. Nothing prepares you for that first baby, the crying, endless sleepless nights, sickness and all that comes with it. Especially if you are doing it on your own.
If you work outside the home as a mother, you better strap yourself in for the ride of your life. I was always there doing the things you are meant to do. I tried to work flexibly so I could pick him up from school some days, walk him home and have afternoon time together whilst juggling the phone, emails and work commitments. I did the reading groups, was a class mum, did tuck shop, helped with the school events. I tried as much as I could to be present.
But behind closed doors I was a mess: stressed out, exhausted and worried that I was constantly doing everything wrong. Mother guilt is real. And it’s debilitating.
It did get easier, especially once he hit high school. I often laugh with him that I was born to raise teenagers, not little kids. I hit my stride in those years and it’s easier now for many reasons. I run my own business, have control of my schedule, we’re an incredible team and he is a really amazing person.
But perhaps more than anything else, it’s easier because my intelligence as a parent has increased. I think in the first ten years of his life I was in survival mode: how can I get us both through this ride without anyone getting hurt (or needing a lifetime of therapy). You wouldn’t have known it to look at me, or him. He was a happy child and always had his emotional and physical needs met. And yet. I could have been more present. I could have been more conscious.
Looking at him now, a six-foot two gorgeous young man with incredible qualities like humility, generosity, humour, grit, and a spirit that only comes from an old soul-for all I got wrong, I know I did some things right. I always wanted to be attuned to him, to create space for him to develop into his own person. I made a decision when he was young that I was going to let him lead, not the other way around. I wanted to let him grow and develop into his own person. I didn’t want to control who he could or couldn’t be.
If he wanted long hair, he could have long hair. He chose his friends, sporting or creative activities, how hard he worked, which high school he went to. I never placed emphasis on his grades or report cards, only that he was working to his level of ability so he could be proud of himself. It was about the effort, not the outcome. I always told him to remember who he was, to focus on his character above all else.
I‘ve now discovered it’s what psychologist, best selling author and parenting expert Dr Shefali Tsabary calls Conscious Parenting. I didn’t know it had its own term, but I guess that’s what I have always tried to do.
Parenting is hard. Being a mother is hard. It can be excruciating. Yet we hardly talk about it. We all show up with those game faces on and our perfect children on our Instagram feed and then silently scream behind closed doors because we’re frustrated and exhausted and think we are ruining our kids for life. Secretly, we’re questioning if we will ever get our lives back, knowing we can often be a shell of who we thought we were before. And we expect our kids to fulfil us, to please us, to grow up in our shadows and likeness, and put all the pressure in the world on them to fit in, meet our standards, to represent us well.
We need to give ourselves a break and be a little bit kinder and gentler with ourselves. It’s ok to admit that it’s hard, this raising little humans. It can be terribly so. But it’s also the honor of a lifetime to be chosen to be their parents. We need to loosen the reins and let them become who they are destined to be. To become who they are in their soul.
Their journey is predestined. They came here with a purpose. Our role as parents is to let them fully grow and blossom into who they truly are, with as little interference as possible. To be attuned to them, to support them, and to simply love them in both their being and their becoming.