Dear Single Mamas,
I'll just stand here for a bit while you throw stuff at me for ever judging you. Go ahead – take out your exhaustion and your fighting spirit on me. Throw your Centrelink-bludging, Houso-living, knocked-up-at-16, cigarette-smoking, 5-kids-to-5-different fathers with-at-least-one-named-Destiny-Rae stereotypes at me and make me eat a massive humble pie. And I mean, massive.
Because 19 months ago, when the relationship with the father of my two children broke down beyond repair I found myself standing in the shoes of the 959,000 (according to the 2016 Census) single-parent families in Australia.
Yes, I'm a single mother. It's taken me a long time to be OK with that. I didn't even tell anybody for a few months because it was not what I wanted to be. And that's the point. Nobody wants to do this by themselves, but sometimes grown-ups screw up (or they choose to do it solo) and well, here we are.
My own judgements towards you crumbled like a mashed up baby rusk once it happened to me. I found out pretty fast that you deserve – if not a holiday in Bora Bora and a million dollars, then at the very least, society's Respect. It's no picnic being the only one getting up four times a night with a teething baby, then going to work in the morning on repeat, let me tell you.
Doing it all
I'd like a rebrand of the single mum image.
Solo mums are still seen as the dirge of society and personally responsible for all the ills in the world like fatbergs and oil spills. There seems no such harshness afforded towards single fathers. You can almost hear the sound of fireworks and a Mariachi band playing when cute solo dad turns up to the park with his toddler – oh isn't he such dedicated dad, bless him pushing his daughter on the swings. All on his own!
But let me tell you how badass single mums actually are. There's no arguing about who does what around the house because guess what, we do everything. Finances, cooking, grocery shopping, clothes buying, bedtime stories, housework, the nightshift and the morning shift.
There's really nothing less luxurious than having to rely on Centrelink money for your income and wondering if you can stretch a sweet potato across two meals (trust me, I lived that dream). It's enough to keep you awake at 3am staring at the ceiling because what about that huge electricity bill and this is not the life your kids deserve. Getting through that first annus horribilis until I could go back to work and start earning to get us to a better place took the courage of 20 lions.
Photo: Supplied / Tara Ali
Single mum 2.0
Full disclosure here, I co-parent with my ex-partner and he is very involved with our kids, and we function much better as a family now. We're even in a place good enough that we can take the kids to the park together and sit down for dinner as a family of four sometimes. But my God it was hard work to get here.
Please don't tell single mothers they are lucky their children's father is still involved. Nobody considers it 'lucky' that a mother wants to be in her child's life, this is bare minimum stuff. And even if I am lucky, I'm still doing the lion's share of everything child-related (as are most mothers, single or not). My point is, there are many ways to be a solo mum, it's not always that you have a deadbeat dad for an ex. That's stereotype also needs an update.
I'm sorry to all of my friends and family who are single parents – not because you are single because it happens and you make the best of it, but for not calling you enough to check you are OK or telling you how proud I am of you.
I understand now. I understand the sacrifices and the crying in the shower and the vulnerability. I understand the courage needed and the responsibility overwhelm.
I also understand the secret bliss and peacefulness that solo parenting can bring.
The feeling, on those random days when the bills are paid and your kids are happily playing beside your feet and the sun is shining and your coffee is still hot and you realise that, even though life took a U-turn and didn't turn out like you imagined (does anybody's?) you have, and you are, everything that you need.