parents

The one thing you never need to tell a single parent.

BY MAVIS KING

Stop and smell the roses’, it sounds so easy however the fact we have the saying at all, and that it must be recited like a mantra, recalled as a reminder, shows how difficult it is for us to actually do.

We’re busy. Our electronic devices, originally time saving, are occupying more and more of our time. We invariably have a mental To Do list. As items are ticked off more are added, it quite literally never stops. Lists are irritatingly reviewed at 3 in the morning, 10 at night, in work meetings, when catching up with friends, at the movies, anywhere. Stop and smell the roses? Who has the time! We might claim. However one situation might jolt you – propel you to forever smell those roses – get right up close to the floral scents of a good moment – it’s single parenthood.

A single parent does not need a special occasion to live in the moment, in fact it is the special occasions: Christmas, Birthdays, Mother’s or Father’s Day that are often dreaded as they can be painful, lonely and riddled with conflict. A single parent’s life is marked differently with many more opportunities to smell the roses.

It might be a Tuesday night, a Saturday morning, every second Sunday or the inverse of these. Either way it’s the time they get with their children that are filled with joy, a bubbling appreciation and a calm from the mental checklist and ‘busyness’ of life. Suddenly nothing else matters and nothing can distract them from the pure joy of parenthood. 

For many single parents, they want the time with their children to last forever, they want more of it – not less. They dread the 9am pick-up or the long day that stretches out ahead once the little people trot out of their day and into someone else’s. So quite simply they live in the moment, they savour every last minute of it. The other parent, caught in traffic and late? What a blessing! For the parent that loses even 10 minutes with their children – heartbreaking.

The first time I had to drop my baby off to spend time with her father, I drove around the corner, parked and cried. I sat in silence. Two hours passed then I returned to pick her up. With relief and a suddenly lifted pain, I drove away with my precious little one.

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Single parents are most often exhausted, particularly those that have sole custody or have the bulk of parenting responsibilities. They have pressures not shared by their coupled friends but even so many do not wish for a reprieve.

When the door closes and my little person is off for coveted time with her father, on occasion I’ve found myself flicking through photos of her. The papers I so desperately wanted to read, all the stuff that needs doing that I struggle to get to, it just doesn’t appeal. Photos reviewed – right back to her birth – then perhaps I’ll start planning what we’ll do on her return. It might get easier yes, but from what I hear the scent of the roses only gets stronger.

‘Me time’ common to husbands and wives where she gets her hair done or goes for a swim then he plays golf or meets friends at the pub. These escapes are often exerted as a right within many marriages.

It can be torturous for single parents to be reminded of what they’re missing.

For a single parent however they are propelled out into cafes by themselves, they wander aimlessly around shopping centres, they drive home slowly from the servo (the place of choice for exchanges) for they are simply filling in the time that they are childless and any desire to be social, to catch-up with friends, shop or keep a conversation going with a hairdresser can be completely sapped and just unfathomable. Safest to withdraw or risk being tormented by all the tittle faces that catch the eye. Glimpses of fathers with kids on shoulders, couples sharing family moments can be so painful when one’s own little person has been plucked from one life and into another.

But then 4pm arrives, or 9am and voila- roses! A bunch of them, a room full, a line of delivery vans backed up the street, it’s all they can smell. That little beaming face, that soft skin, the funny grin, the recognition that you’re part of someone’s life – the single parent is wholeheartedly, without consciousness smelling the roses – if only we didn’t have to have the time in-between to finally master the art.

Are you a single parent? How do you spend the time away from your kids?

Mavis is a Sydney-based writer that unexpectedly found herself a single parent. She commenced her career as a lawyer, has two degrees and is living the proverb: it takes a village to raise a child.

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