I feel sad today. And very alone. Let’s get this straight: you don’t understand. Or at least today it feels like unless you are a single parent yourself you couldn’t possibly understand. I want to paint you a picture about why, because sometimes this blog is the only outlet I have.
I’m lucky. My 19-month-old is a great sleeper. I’ve been firm and consistent since she was four months old. She often sleeps through. Generally just needs a quick cuddle and then back to sleep if she does wake up. And it’s great, because I need my evenings. She is utterly exhausting and non-stop during the day. I don’t get a second to myself. I’m not the most selfless person in the world and I need my me time. I need my sleep to recharge my enthusiasm and patience. But right now I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since before Christmas. All our sleep routines have gone out the window. She’s been coughing. Snotty. Waking every hour. Won’t go to sleep unless she’s cuddled up on me. I don’t remember when I last slept in my own bed instead of on the sofabed in her room. For the last five nights, my day has ended when hers has. From 7pm I have been confined to a dark bedroom, half-heartedly watching Netflix on my phone and wondering how long it’s going to be before she next wakes up. Because there’s just no point even trying to have an evening when it’s like this. Because having to stop what I’m doing every 15 minutes is more painful than doing nothing at all. Because I’m so tired I can’t do anything useful anyway.
On Mondays I usually work late and my mum puts her to bed, but tonight I worked hard all day, rushed home in time for story time, threw on my pjs and ended my day at 7pm. I’m currently writing this on my phone as the toddler finally sleeps on me after two hours of resisting sleep. These are the bleakest times, when you sit in the dark on your own and it feels like there is not a soul in the world who is thinking about you or really gives a damn about how you just feel like crying at how hard it all is.
Here’s what I imagine it might be like if there were two of you in this instead of just one. Here’s what it should be like, anyway. You could alternate your sleepless nights, for a start. Anyone can survive disturbed sleep every other night. And you’re probably not running on an accumulated 19 month sleep deficit to start with. Maybe your husband would have dealt with feeding the cat and loading the dishwasher and putting the toys away if you were going to be confined to the toddler’s bedroom all evening, so it wouldn’t all be glaring at you when you came down in the morning. Maybe he would bring you a cup of tea or a glass of wine as you struggle to get her to sleep. He might be making your tea, so you didn’t have to have cereal at your desk as a main meal (again) because you wouldn’t get a chance to eat later. Maybe, when you’d spent an hour trying everything and decided to resort to letting the toddler cry it out, he might have given you a hug and told you that you weren’t a total failure. He might have rolled his eyes with you when she took her sleeping bag off and threw all her teddies out of the cot in protest. He might have given you the moral support you needed when she was still screaming an hour later. Later, once you had given in and finally got her to fall asleep on you, he might encourage you to sneak downstairs for a cuddle on the sofa and persuade you that your evening is not lost and this phase won’t last forever anyway.
But you see, I don’t have any of that. Just this dread that creeps in around midday when I remember the physical pain of being dragged from your sleep for the eighth time in four hours. When suddenly you have nothing to look forward to at the end of the day apart from another 12 hours of parenting. When you look around at work and realise you are surrounded by people that just don’t have a clue how you are feeling. I must have tried to reach out to people today a dozen times. Whether I was looking for sympathy or understanding, I don’t know, but I got neither. Just the disinterest of people who – through no fault of their own – can’t grasp how desperate everything can feel when you’ve been doing the mum thing for so long on your own.
I don’t know whether us single mums make it look easy or give the impression we’ve got it all sorted, but we haven’t. Sometimes we really need a hug, or a lasagne, or even just ten minutes of your time where you really try to understand. …I’m too sleep deprived to think up a deep or poignant end to this post – something about making a single mum you know a lasagne? Everyone likes lasagne. So off you go – go and find someone you know who’s doing a bloody good job at this parenting thing and give them a lasagne. I’ve got wine to drink angrily. The end. (Lasagne)