• Single parenting is tough, but it's not all bad, writes Nadine Chemali. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Sucked in partnered parents! You have no escape. I mean you may have things like true love and stability, but I have silence while I eat my packet mac’n’cheese alone for breakfast in my underwear.
By
Nadine Chemali

8 Apr 2019 - 3:22 PM  UPDATED 27 Aug 2021 - 12:35 PM

On Friday nights I bust out the fancy bubble bath, you know the one you put aside just for a special occasion, a drink next to me. It is so quiet. I don’t even play music as I want to savour the silence. I read a book or maybe even drag the laptop on a little coffee table in and catch up on some busts and swords on Outlander.

Later I will go out, maybe on a date, or I’ll catch a late movie. I get to sleep in the next day for as long as I want before going out to brunch, where I can read a newspaper and sip a coffee in peace.

Every other night of the week my baths are filled with bubbles, yelps, various odours, disputes over shampooing hair, and a small child.

That second scenario probably sounds familiar to the average mother or primary parent. My partnered friends lament that they don’t really get a break without shipping the kids off for the occasional trip to a grandparent or hiring a babysitter.

When the relationship with the father of my son ended, I was devastated at the thought that my son would not be with me. I cried after every hand over as he would wave his little “bye-bye Mama”, going on an adventure with his dad. At night when he called to say “ni-night” again, there were torrents of tears when I hung up. My baby, I missed him. My house was empty and I walked around in circles riddled with guilt and grief.

I started asking other single parent friends how they handled it, begging for some respite to this emptiness. All told me it got better, that as I rebuilt a life for myself things would improve and I would learn to enjoy my time alone. I was at times so upset I saw a therapist. They explained that having my own identity outside of being a parent was vital, that I would be happier and so would my child. They were right.

When the relationship with the father of my son ended, I was devastated at the thought that my son would not be with me.

In one text chat my friend Stephen (who had a 50/50 parenting arrangement) told me “Nadine, I love my children more than anything in the world. But my days without them are like diamonds dipped in gold and you will have to rip them from my cold dying hands”. At the time I laughed with disbelief. But I have kept this text because at the time it gave me hope, and I keep it still because Stephen was very right.

Now, I relish the fact that I can lie in bed, doing nothing. I can get my nails done without having to drag a small child into a salon, with packed snacks, a water bottle, and a charged iPad – only to get to the salon and realise he forgot his cuddly toy named BabyCat and that the irrational torrent of tears can only be fixed by pulling out a long lost Milk Arrowroot biscuit from the depths of my handbag.

I can sit in my room working without interruption or distraction, and without worrying that it is a little too quiet and something is about to get broken. I can have romantic trips away, and work trips. I can even work between two states when needed.

RECOMMENDED
Opening up about my Islamic divorce
In a faith where dating and cohabitation before marriage aren't commonly accepted, what's it like to be a Muslim woman going through a divorce?

There are some downsides, like the fact that when I am parenting, I must be on duty, 100 per cent. There is no break, no respite, no skipping making dinner or asking someone else to do the laundry. It is all me.

But talking to many of my parent friends that are in relationships, I have learned that usually this falls to one partner, not always, but most often the mother. Not just the cooking dinner and countless hours spent arranging sock drawers but also those late-night worries about nutrition, the mental circus of balancing the budget to buy the kid a new pair of shoes and counting the number of bowel movements they had (yes you sometimes do that). Is the child getting enough stimulation? Should we consider new nursery rhymes besides Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star? Because if you hear it one more time you will cry. Are the soles of their shoes too flat? The questions never end.

In online groups I see partnered parents lamenting never being alone, yearning for a meal in silence. I usually jokingly reply “Sucked in partnered parents! You have no escape. I mean you may have things like true love and stability, but I have silence while I eat my packet mac’n’cheese alone for breakfast in my underwear.”

There are some downsides, like the fact that when I am parenting, I must be on duty, 100 per cent. There is no break, no respite, no skipping making dinner or asking someone else to do the laundry. It is all me.

Regarding stability, my son has it in buckets. He has a calendar when he tracks which days he is with which parent. He has a sense of security and understanding of his place in the world, he has a really strong relationship with both his parents and our time with him is so precious and valuable because of the fact we have time away from the constant chant of “I’m hungry” or the parental chorus of “pick up your shoes please”.

The real heroes of the parenting world are those without a second parent. The ones that cannot ship their kids off for a few days to the other parent or pop out alone to the shops. The Solo Parents. The ones that cannot get a break from repeatedly cooking dinner night after night that goes untouched expect for the bits covered in cheese.

For me, split parenting is the ideal. Having done it two ways, like my friend Stephen, I wouldn’t part with it for all the money in world. I often think about having another child, but there is no way I would do it with a partner. I value my time alone far too much.

Nadine Chemali is a freelance writer. Find her on Twitter @femmocollective or on Facebook.

RECOMMENDED
What missing my mother has taught me about motherhood
My children cannot replace the motherly love I’ve lost. I will always live with that piece missing. However, they do help me grow a new, separate love in the part of my heart which belongs to them.
What happened when my daughter asked about combining career and motherhood
Here's how Megan Blandford responded when her eight-year-old daughter asked her whether women can have both kids and a job.
Tales of late-life motherhood: 'Other parents think you're your child's grandmother'
If you party in your 20s, travel in your early 30s, how about having a baby in your late 30s or 40s? SBS talks to three women who gave birth to healthy children after age 35 to find out what life is really like as a mum beyond the ‘fertility cliff’.