The things that nobody warns you about when you raise a child by yourself.

Life as a single mum has been a pleasant surprise and I've found myself adjusting naturally but there are always things that get thrown at me that I hadn't prepared for. Things that I just wouldn't have thought about until they confronted me out of nowhere and caught me off guard. I'm sure it's the same for many single mums out there; to you, life as a single mum is what you've known, you're used to it, it's normal to you and you don't see yourself any differently when it comes to day to day things. 

Sometimes, things can jump out and remind you that, in fact, you are somewhat different to the majority of families. Here are just a few of these things that have stood out so far..

1) Strangers will almost always assume you're married and will speak before they think, asking questions like "what does your husband do?" They might make comments like "have a night off and let your partner take care of the baby tonight!" It's awkward and sometimes it's hard to know how to respond; do I go along with it and lie? Do I tell a total stranger my personal business? 
I have been asked so many times if Etienne resembles his father; if he's more like mum or dad. "Does he get his tall, stong build from his father?"
Then there's the awkward situation when health professionals ask if there's any family history of certain allergies and I simply have to be honest and embrace the humiliation of saying that I simply don't know the answer when it comes to his dad's side of the family. 
This has happened to me from the very start of my pregnancy right up until this present day; the midwife wanted to know all about 'Dads' health and his background when she drew up my early pregnancy notes. When I took Etienne on our first holiday, the passport office wanted his fathers passport number which I couldn't supply. Strangers asked if my 'partner' was taking care of me after Etienne's birth. Everybody tells you to rest but really a single parent never rests: once that baby is born it's all 'go go go.'
 In each of these situations (and many more- believe me!) I found myself having to explain that, actually, I didn't know the answer, I couldn't find out and the only way of escaping the awkward silence was to simply tell the truth: "His father is absent"which meant sharing personal information with people who knew nothing about me or the background to my situation; I felt judged and I felt like a typical young, single mum, frowned upon by society.

2) People get REALLY awkward when you explain that you're actually a lone parent. Responses like "Oh I'm so sorry to hear that" make it even more uncomfortable when you're speaking to a total stranger you just met five minutes ago in Tesco. Nonetheless, you felt you had to tell them about your personal situation in order to put a stop to them bleating on about this non existent husband of yours. No matter how long you've known them, be it 5 years or 5 minutes, they will always be sneakily keen to know why you're by yourself and why this adorable little bundle of joy is without one of their parents. That, is something I cannot and will not ever be able to answer, especially not to a stranger who is cooing over my son in the trolley on the cheese aisle. 

3) You'll never have time to feel unwell ever again. Pick yourself up and carry on because those dishes are waiting, the washing basket is spilling over and the baby can't possibly wait a second longer for a feed. I have to say, I was a total whimp before I had my son, the first sign of a cold and I was wrapped up under a blanket dosed up on paracetamol. Now, that's all changed and I feel like I can pretty much power through anything. My guess is that childbirth plays a huge part in this; the fact that no pain or discomfort will ever come close to the excruciating pain of childbirth is actually hugely reassuring. I am so pleased that the pain of childbirth is over (until next time- if I ever do decide to repeat that experience- that is.)When you've tackled endless hours of pain taking over your entire body and you've sobbed because you just want a little longer than 60 seconds to catch your breath between each contraction,then the flu is really nothing more than a bit of an inconvenience. Instead of hibernating for the day and feeling sorry for yourself, you get up and find yourself worrying all day that you might pass your germs onto your baby. Amazing how priorities change, suddenly I find myself not caring about myself and worrying far too much about this tiny little human who depends on me.

4) You'll feel like a strong independent woman one day and the next you'll feel useless, cry and want to contact your child's father and tell him exactly what he's missing in his child's life. This has happened to me a few too many times and on reflection it was a waste of time, energy and tears. You cannot convince or even force a person to do something that they simply do not want to do. You can't make someone love you and you definitely can't force someone to be a father if they've decided not to be. I will always know that I did everything I could to have him play a part in my sons life. When my son grows up he will hopefully know that I gave his father every opportunity to be in his life and that, sadly, it was his choice to walk away. The main thing getting me through is realising that a person who can walk away from a child does not deserve to be a parent and the child is better off without such a person.

5) Baby memory books don't cater for single parent families. Forgive me if I'm wrong but every memory book I've found has always had an "about me" section for the baby, an "about my mummy" part and of course an "about my daddy" section. I chose not to fill one in because leaving the father section blank broke my heart. (In comes my love of home made creations..) this was when I thought "why not make my own scrap book of memories and personalise it exactly the way i want it?" A home made memory book means you can create sections for grandparents or those who are important in your child's life and only include the memories you want to include.This way there's no blank sections or salt in the wound when your child reaches adulthood and decides to read back through their baby book.

6) It's inevitable that one of your child's first words is likely to be "da da" or "dad." This can be hard to hear when you already feel so sad for your child and when they're so young that they don't yet understand who "da da" is and why he's not here. All I can say is, try not to let it bother you, instead, feel proud that your child is learning to make new sounds and understand that this sound is crucial to their future language development. My son probably says "dada" almost a hundred times a day! Sure, the first time he said it I stopped and felt my heart sink. Whether he's talking to his toys or calling for more food, "dada" is his favourite word to use to communicate with me. That's all it means to him at this point in his life; a way to communicate and get my attention, therefore I encourage it. 

These are just a few of the many little things that nobody can prepare you for when you decide to raise a child alone. Every day there are moments when I think "this would be so much easier if there was someone else here to help" or I find myself struggling to make a decision alone, what with all the controversial advice out there from the likes of health visitors and other health professionals. With all of the conflicting ideas surrounding how to raise your child; from sleep training to baby lead weaning, it can be tough for any parent to know what's right, but when you're on your own it can be even more confusing. A second opinion is missed sometimes, as is the physical help I find myself wishing for most days as I lug the pushchair up and down the stairs and battle with an ever wriggling baby who hates having his nappy changed, but I've come this far and I'll continue to go about things in my own way and make my own choices. 

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