It Takes a Village


'Oh, you're a single mum? How do you do it all?!

Oh, I don't.

It takes a whole darn village.'

I’ve always wanted to write about the single aspect of this parenting gig of mine, and when the blog comes up in conversation people will often ask me if I intend to post about it – whether that be for advice or juicy gossip, who knows? But every time I've tried to gather my thoughts and opinions into something coherent and readable, I find that my words fail me - Every. Single. Time.

I'd love to talk about single parenting without it needing to be a big drama about how I'm a benefits scrounger, or without glorifying it with a tacky blog post called '10 Single Mum Secrets to Successful Single Parenting' (I'm not promising I'm not going to write something like that, I love a good straight-to-the-point list of potentially useless information as much as the next person). But I also don't want to disregard the hardships or the individuality of each and every story, and I don't want to pretend that when I was a little girl I dreamed of being a single parent. Now, do you see why my words have been so incoherent? SO MANY CONFLICTING THOUGHTS.

You know the delay that most people have between thinking something and saying something? The delay that gives your thought time to go through a filtering process before it makes it to the next round and out of your mouth? Yeah, I don't have that. Can I get an amen for the delete button on laptops?! Where's the delete button for my mouth, am I right?! Anyway, when Reuben was born I used to snap very quickly at anyone who would even mention the phrase 'single mum' to me. I'd jump so far down their throat I could tell you what they had for breakfast that morning. I was so desperate for it not to become my sob story. And I guess I've avoided writing about it (publicly. Y'all should see my journal if you want some tragic Hello Magazine material) because I thought if I didn't give the subject any attention or I didn't refer to the single part of my parenting, then it would become normal and people would eventually begin to think that I'm just a mum, not a single mum. (And whilst we're on this, I'm not just a mum either - my identity is found in Jesus, not motherhood. But we'll save that rant for another time, eh?).

I mean, in most ways, my experience is pretty similar to every other mother. We all have to keep these mini-humans alive and when we're working or just taking a break then we're thinking about keeping them alive and wondering how many times they've pood today. The obvious difference is that I don't have another parent around to share the burden with. And sometimes I long for someone to share the love, joy, stress, and tears I shed over Reuben. I wouldn't be human if I didn't! But most of the time, I don't. And that's probably not the juicy details or self-help post that some hoped for.

And now I'm 500 words deep in a post talking about how I didn't want to talk about single parenting... and you're probably thinking this is one of those waffles I should have kept to myself. But I suppose my change of heart in wanting to get some thoughts down is because while I’m aware that single parenting is very common these days, there's still stigma and perceptions. And as much as avoiding the topic works for me, it doesn't help anyone else see that it's not the end of the world! And avoiding the topic certainly doesn't help the other single parents who, if they're anything like me, just want know that they're not alone and they're not crazy (even though all parents just want to know that). And without going into reb-rant mode, it still hurts my heart when people imply that it's the worst thing that could happen to you. And it really hearts my heart that women are aborting babies because they don't want to be a single parent (sorry, that got really intense really fast).

Sooooooo... here's the good part. If I was going to write that tacky blog post I mentioned earlier, the one 'survival tip' that I'd stand by is that it really does take a village to raise a child. Wherever that saying originated from, they had this whole parenting malarky down to a tee. I think all of us parents - single, not single, or somewhere in between, have all felt totally isolated and lonely at some point... or on a daily basis. Our individualistic culture has made independence and self-sufficiency the reigning goal of the western world. So while we're not meant to parent alone, we often feel like we should be able to do it alone. Everything in us (or maybe it's just me) wants to say, 'I've got this. I'm independent and I don't need you'.

But what if we put pride aside and admitted that we need community? What if we went further than the polite chats at the school gates, the short passing comments under family photos on Facebook, the 'play dates' organised 4 weeks in advance because we're really only arranging them for the kids?

What if we reach out from behind our lonely front doors and get to know our neighbours, ask our friends over when the house is messy and the kids are crazy, involve them in every part of our lives, ask each other how we're really doing, begin to do life together and parent together - admitting places where we genuinely struggle and asking for advice from one another instead of fearing judgement? What if we began to carry the parenting burdens together?

When Reuben was brand new I lived with my parents and it was very much a team effort. My fellow 'teen mum' friends and I used to spend endless days together, sleeping over and sharing the feeding and cooking. We were open about how clueless we were and we felt comfortable enough to be open with each other about difficult it is. But when I moved to Belfast for uni I thought that it was about time I started to 'get it together' and it became harder and harder to admit when I needed people. Which is pretty much all the time FYI. It's still one of my biggest struggles! I've been blessed to be surrounded by people who aren't afraid to tell me when I'm being prideful and when I'm isolating myself. Despite my pride, because of my circumstances it has seemed natural to welcome others in, to be vulnerable, to love having an unconventional family, to be eager to welcome more in, and to do every part of life together - the uni work, the grocery shopping, the dinners, the bed times, the toddler days out, the toddlerless nights out, the 'lets have quality time together' moments, and the 'I've just ran out of petrol on the Ormeau Road please save me' moments.

I wonder if I wasn't a single parent, would I realise how important it is to let others in and embrace 'the village'? I wonder if we all did this parenting thing as a community then maybe single parenting wouldn't even be a big deal? Maybe 'the single mum' wouldn't be an identity and there wouldn't be stigma? I mean, thanks to the village of people around me, these days I just use the 'single mum card' as an excuse to make my friends do the dishes and give me the last piece of cake.

P.S. Get ready for some village spam. We're always taking new members.