There have been two times in my life when I’ve been a single mother; once when I was 31 with one child and then again, many years later, having had three more children.
Both times I’ve been devastated and poleaxed at the ending of my relationships – breaking up is horrible and even more so when children are involved. I have cried, wailed and hit low places I didn’t know existed.
But in the middle of these desperate times, there have been upsides. The main one being that both times I realised the value of my close female friends, who rallied round in a way that made me feel humbled. They have cooked for me, babysat for me, drunk wine with me. They built me up both times, exactly when I felt I couldn’t go on. They have, in short, been my lifeline.
My first longterm relationship broke down many years ago when my eldest son was three years old – he is now nearly 20. I was living in New York with a small son and a very demanding man who seemed to resent the fact that I was spending time with our child. Things became very tense between us. I was lonely and found living in New York very difficult. I felt very under-supported. I couldn’t seem to talk to my partner and I had no friends at all. I spent hundreds if not thousands of pounds phoning home and talking endlessly to my friends. It helped a bit but also made me realise just how lonely I really felt. In the end – after we had a huge row about going back to the UK to spend Christmas with my family – I got on an aeroplane with my son Raymond and never went back.
I appeared on my mother’s doorstep and that was that. Only it wasn’t, I felt very depressed. Despite our difficulties, I had loved Raymond’s father and had hoped we’d work it out. Also, Raymond’s behaviour changed. He went from being a happy, sunny-natured boy to someone who was either withdrawn and quiet or very needy and clingy. He wanted me with him 24/7. My mother found all the noise and the crying and my depression very hard to cope with. She felt I should go back to New York and work it out with his father. Other friends felt I had bolted too quickly and that I should show some committment. But I knew in my heart Raymond’s father and I couldn’t work it out. I wanted chestnuts roasting by an open fire. He wanted New York glamour. I thought there was little pint in putting Raymond through anymore disruption so I decided to rent a cottage, stay in the UK and steady Raymond.
However that proved hard and exhausting. I couldn’t even get in the bath without him desperately trying to clamber in too. I was trying to earn money to pay the bills so I was working but living alone as a single mother. It wasn’t easy.
But that’s when my oldest friend Rosalind scooped me up. She often had my son, over for tea. She seemed to have an innate ability to soothe him when he was sad. She had a son of her own of the same age and he and Raymond became best buddies. I’d sigh in relief as I’d watch them play while Rosalind cooked up a home made lasagne. She was just more tolerant than I was and while this sometimes made me feel guilty – how come she never lost her temper of fell down in the floor with exhaustion – it was such a massive relief to get some support from such a dear friend. She’d often look after him when I went to work. Her kindness and generosity – and that of her husband’s – was a god send. In turn, Raymond seemed very settled with her and while it was galling sometimes as I was feeling guilty about leaving his father and was convinced I had psychologically ruined Raymond for life, what Rosalind taught me was to take a deep breath, calm down and carry on.
Sometimes he’d even stay the night at hers in order to give me a break.
The, after three years of being a single mum and thinking I would never sleep again, et alone have an independent thought that wasn’t about children’s food and holidaying in child-friendly resorts, I met Mikey and when on to have three more children with him now aged nine, 12 and 13. That also ended four years ago in sad and painful circumstances.
Two years after the split, I decided to rent the family home out and start again. I thought a move would help. I wanted me and my now four children to start again, to regroup and take a deep breath and pull together as a family.
But the minute we walked through the door of our newly-rente dhome I knew I’d made the wrong decision. I love dour family home! It was a terrible wrench to leave it. As I sat there, yet again mired in misry, I decided to call another old friend from school, my lovely and wise Tanis. The next things I knew, Tania turned up on the next train from Scotland and set about making my home actually feel like a home.
I hated my new house and was desperate to go home, but Tania unpacked my boxes and made the house warm and welcoming. We ended up drinking mulled wine in front of the fire (which she made, of course) and I remember looking rather mistily over to her and thinking she was the best friend any person could ever have. I told her this and she patted me on the knee and told me to go to bed.
Post-move, life did get better but it was still so tiring being a single parent. It’s one thing thinking you are not a great parent when you have the support of someone else, but I was doing it alone. There were many nights when I couldn’t sleep. I’d toss and turn worrying about money, lack of sleep and how lonely I felt. I had no idea who to turn to. No one was sleeping well an dmy daughter, then aged five, was up and down every night wanting attention. I felt I was letting everyone down because I was so tired and scratchy and incapable – in my eyes – of being calm and supportive.
One night, weeping with exhaustion, I called my friend Bridget who must have sensed how desperate I was as she drove for an hour to my house. She brought dinner, put my daughter to bed and sat with me while I wept on her shoulder. We talked about my constant self-criticism and how difficult it was trying to tackle everything alone. Bridget persuaded me that my friends really were there for me and that I should reach out for support
It made me realise that I’m not someone who finds it easy to ask for help. I have spent years proudly standing on my own two feet. But somehow, when I’ve been desperately unhappy, my friends have known what I need and in times of trouble they are the glue that holds me together.
My oldest friends Rosalind and Tania are people I’ve known nearly all my life. I met them at school and here we are still, so they actually know me better than any boyfriend as they knew me before I became the many different versions of myself. They know my background, my family, my history and so they understand me in a way that only a sibling can. They knew me before I had a job, a steady relationship, before I was a mother. Bridget has known me since she lived next door to me when I moved nack from New York. They don’t judge me as maybe other friends have. I have certainly dropped off some people’s social invitation list due to not being part of a four. Many people feel threatened by single women even when they have four children in tow. The dynamic no longer works and many have abandoned me which has made me feel sad and lonely. But it also makes me appreciate how solid my other friendships are an dhow much this counts for.
It is this longevity that makes me feel so attached to them. They have dropped everything for me, instinctively understanding when I need them, and I would do the same for them. When the chips are down it’s my friends who have picked me up and got me going again. It is friends who love and support you. They don’t judge, question or criticise you. They just look after you.