parent opinion

'My teen daughter was struggling with her mental health. The right decision was for us to be apart.'

Over the last 14 years, I have grappled with the notion that parents are the only ones that can care for their children. I’ve learnt that as a single mother, I cannot expect to do it alone. 

But the realities of entrusting a village come with many mixed emotions. 

I graduated from university in 2005, in 2006 I fell pregnant with a guy I loved dearly and my daughter was born in 2007. 

My partner and our expectations of each other and ourselves were skewed. For that first year of parenting we did our best but for a majority of that time, the relationship fell under immense strain.

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Becoming a single parent left me feeling like I was damaged goods, but my first real single parenting struggle started when the full responsibility of school pick up and drop off was on me. I had graduated with a first class honours degree in engineering and was working in a graduate job. 

I was caught between not wanting to waste the five years of study I’d worked hard at, and wanting to live up to my preconceived notion of what a present mother does - drops their child off to school and picks them up again. 

The first time I properly acknowledged that I needed my village to take on some part of mothering was when I was about to embark on a Masters degree. 

I tapped into the ancient indigenous thinking of ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and had my daughter live with my grandmother whilst I completed my masters. 

From this I learnt the power of the matriarch and the wisdom that lives within it. I also learnt the courage in asking for help, it showed ambition and vulnerability in equal measure, something I want my children to experience and tap into as martyrdom serves few. 

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The second time I needed help was when my father died. By this time I had remarried, had a second child, then separated and relocated to Australia. 

I changed my life circumstances and built a support network that allowed me and therefore my kids to thrive. But when my father died, I didn’t have the tools to mourn as a child who had lost a parent and at the same time be a parent to my children. 

I couldn’t hold it together. Rather than reach for the bottle or the pills, I reached for my village. My son went to spend six months with his dad in the US and I had a friend stay with my daughter whilst I headed to Nigeria to bury my father with my siblings and to open up my second business in London (F45 Training in Brixton). 

There is a chronic rule that still lives in the 21st century of ‘head down, bum up’ - we keep trudging through all forms of discomfort for fear of unsettling the status quo of perfection. 

This is ridiculous and at some point something or someone breaks. 

The third time I needed help from the village was only recently. Even for some of the most resilient people, the COVID pandemic has and continues to be a mental, financial and physical blow. 

I believe our youth have taken it hardest and with little power or voice, many are taking to suicide to end the pain. 

What I had not anticipated in my mothering journey was having to care for my teenage child who is dealing with her own mental health challenges. 

We have been accessing assistance from the psychotherapy world, which was quick to prescribe tablets. 

This method appeared to work for a short time, until we hit crisis mode and the burden of responsibility sat heavily with me as mother. 

I use the word burden because when a young teenage child is suffering from a mental health crisis, we often turn to blame the parent or parents, instead of coming together as a group to solve the problem – collective and stronger.

So, I dug deep with my daughter to find a solution. 

Our immediate and extended family is in the UK, the village. That’s where we decided she should be, and so I made the difficult but necessary decision to tap into that ancient thinking of using connectedness and community to help heal my daughter. 

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She is about to embark on three months in the UK with extended family, while I stay in Australia.

What I’ve come to realise in my time as a mother is that our beliefs around what constitutes motherhood and fatherhood continue to remain the same, while we challenge the patriarchal models and systems that create unjust, unequal, non-diverse worlds. 

Until we redefine motherhood to make it what we want it to be for ourselves and our children, mothers will be left behind. 

For me, embracing the village and sharing the motherload has been the first step in making my own version of motherhood.

Judge me or not, I believe in creating our own memo.

Yemi Penn is a British born Nigerian living in Sydney. She is an Engineer by profession, an entrepreneur by passion, and mindset transformation coach by mission.

You can read more from Yemi here.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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