Doing it my way

Cath today

How do I introduce Catherine Jenkin to you? I suppose it is fair to say that we met through our children’s imaginary friends. We have shared tales of what each of our kids tell us their hidden-from-adult-eyes accomplices are doing and we feel safe sharing these stories together. Thanks kids! She told me recently that “Life is more beautiful than we know it. We just need to remember that.” I agree wholeheartedly.

Sometimes I have wished I was single again. Sometimes I’m really grateful that I don’t have to do this on my own. But I’m not, so that is not my story to tell. But – I have had times when I’ve had to look after my kids  I really cannot fathom how one person can sustain managing their own offspring for an indefinite period. (I blogged about that in another post called Home Alone.)

Catherine Jenkin is a freelance media consultant (Parent24 and other parenting titles), copywriter and parenting columnist who lives in sunny Durban with her non-nuclear family. Their family includes an immortal fish called Winston (apparently he could survive a nuclear fallout), a hamster called Num-Nums, and a wide range of quirks that make life fun. She wears a lot of hats every day, but her most important ones says “Mama” and “Girlfriend”. She was a single parent for five years, and considers herself a “recovering” single parent, now that she lives in a little yellow house with her boyfriend P and her daughter.

Cath was the first person in her family to opt for single parenting, and divorce was such a foreign concept to her family. Over the years though, both her siblings have gone through divorce (1 with kids, 1 has no kids) and she has witnessed some horrors.

Cath Jenkin’s story

Cath and her daughter as a baby

Becoming a single parent was not a choice taken easily. My daughter’s dad and I have been lifelong best friends, as we grew up together. The culmination of our friendship and relationship lives on in our daughter. In choosing to become co-parents who live in seperate homes, we chose to give each other a chance at happiness, and our daughter a happy life.

Choosing to be single

We were never married, as we both – at that time – didn’t feel that marriage was for us. We were unhappy in our life together, but we were not unhappy as parents. I think that perspective has saved us a lot of hell. When we did split up, I didn’t think I would be single for long, but after a few mistakes and steep learning curves, I settled into single parenting and began to move from surviving, to thriving.

I asked Cath if she remembers how she felt at the beginning of her journey to being a single again?

I know this seems weird but, it was a weird mix of sadness and liberation. I felt free with my life, and I know my child’s dad did too. Freeing each other from an unhappy relationship led both of us towards happiness in life. Yes, I got lonely.

Half the time, I was frightened out of my mind. The other half of the time, you’d find me on the couch, eating Marie biscuits with my kid and watching endless episodes of Noddy.

If you are friends or family to a divorcee, the best thing you can do about it is…stay out of it. Be a listening ear, understand, be there for them but, do not involve yourself in their situation. Gossip does nothing but make a tempestuous situation even worse. Before you talk about someone else’s divorce or separation  ask yourself “would their kids want to know this?” Because, you know, if you talk about it, one day, their kids might just hear it. Divorces and separations are an emotionally charged messy business, and the only thing you can do is support. Your emotions are not required here. (Harsh, I know, but trust me – your emotional responses will do nothing but deepen and worsen an already ugly situation).

You can offer help. Whether it is financial help to a single mom, physical assistance, babysitting so that single dad can go to the rugby, whatever…do it. Your help is needed more than your emotions.

The ONLY innocent people in a divorce or separation are the children in the middle. Yes, I know someone cheated and he did this and she did that…the details don’t matter. My daughter confessed to me the other day, that she is the only child she knows whose “parents chose to not to live together” who do not “hate each other on sight”. If anything, I am SO grateful to her dad, his family and our range of friends for working with me to make this her reality. We are incredibly lucky to have our child feel like the exception in this situation. Don’t make it worse for the children by badmouthing one parent. It doesn’t matter which side of the line you live on, it matters that you  respect a child’s feelings on the matter, and put them first.

Sometimes it is difficult for family and friends to accept that the parents will move on.

Divorced or separated parents will – at some point – date again, meet new people, perhaps even marry again. Be protective of their hearts, as a friend or a family member, but be open to the new people they invite into their lives (unless, of course, they make some awful mistakes and hook up with complete idiots…but that’s a story for another time)

The only situation where you are allowed to interfere, is one where there has been abuse, or the children are in danger. If they are, then act upon it. Do not let your emotions interfere with clear thinking here – deal in the reality of the situation, not your feelings on it.

As a friend or family member, try not to let your recently divorced/separated friend or sibling feel like a freak. I had certain people treat me like a total social pariah because I was “not doing the normal thing”: A 2011 study by the South African Institute of Race Relations  found that only one third of children in our country live with both their parents. This means that the majority of children in our country are being raised by single parents. Remind them of that, remind them that they have support, and that you’re there to help.

Cath and her daughter

Journeying through single parenting is what brought me to a closer understanding of myself. I always think back to one particular night, and that puts it into perspective for me: My daughter was VERY ill, I was VERY ill, I had work deadlines ahoy and I was at that very peak of stress where you’re convinced you are actually going to die from “all of this”. A thunder storm occurred, and my daughter woke up, vomited all over me, and then cried. I remember saying to myself “if I make it through this night on my own, I can do anything”. When I woke up the next morning, with her curled into my arms, her fever broken and her little hand tightly clasping my hand, I knew I could do it. I did it for five years on my own, and I don’t regret a moment, the choice or the experience. I am utterly grateful for the single parent journey. I realised, through my journey, that my biggest life power and love is my mamahood. And that’s my priority, my love and my true heart-home.

I made a few “dating mistakes” in my time as a single parent. I can admit to them, now, as learning experiences. I’m happy to say that I’m now a “recovering” single parent. My partner, P, and I live together now and this is the life I always felt I wanted for myself and my daughter. We are not a conventional family, but we are entirely tied together with love. He is brilliantly supportive, all-inclusive and he puts my daughter first. I could ask for nothing more. I will admit that my learning experiences in the realm of “finding love again” led me to be VERY cynical at first, and I know I put P through hell – he really had to prove himself before I would truly let him become part of our life. He proved himself then, and he does every single day, more than I could ever imagine. My single parenting journey brought me to him, and for that – I am most grateful.

I call myself a “recovering” single parent.

My hard cynicism and huge independence issues (I wouldn’t even let P carry my groceries at first!) were directly related to the fear of this – of being thrust back into single parenting again. I did everything in my power to retain my distance, and independence. As we blended our lives into a joint home and lifestyle, I really battled with sharing my life completely with him. I would lie awake at nights, worrying about “what would I do if he left/I left/It all fell apart”…to be honest, I have given P hell about it. Single parenting made me FIERCELY independent, but I have slowly learnt how to lean on him, and have him lean on me. Every day is a learning curve for me, as I explore and learn to understand the sharing of a life. I also understand that, should it one day end, I have survived it before and thrived beyond it. I don’t ever like to think about it nowadays, and choose to focus on our life together, rather than my cynical mind-fairies who like to play ‘worst case situation’ on me. I focus on our life now, and what will be, will be.

Cath recommends the following for information and support:

A lot of how I survived single parenting was reading blogs by parents in similar situations, either as parents, single parents,  My support mechanism existed, and still exists, very much so, through the parent-friends I met through blogging and reading. I have followed their stories, and shared my own – and it is through them that I learnt hope, when I was lonely, and self-love when I was sad. Perhaps the biggest story of single parenting I’ve always been a fan of, is of my dear friend, Angel. She was a single mom for most of her son’s life, and then met Gluggie. They’re married now and face life head on together. They are my inspiration.

You can read Cath’s blog here, she has even written A Guide To Dating A Single Mom.

Thank you Catherine for sharing your story with me and allowing me to post it here.

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6 Replies to “Doing it my way”

  1. Aaaaaawww you are SO sweet, Cath-tastic!
    This was such a beautiful post and it brought back so many memories for me. I also chose to be single when I split up with my son’s father (I was still preggers). And the dating disasters!??! Don’t get me started!!
    And when I read this: “Single parenting made me FIERCELY independent, but I have slowly learnt how to lean on him, and have him lean on me. Every day is a learning curve for me, as I explore and learn to understand the sharing of a life.” I was ROCKETED back in time almost 5 years, to when I met my husband! I tried to bail on him because I was afraid, and he wouldn’t let me. And you know what, I am still learning, every day, that I don’t have to do this on my own anymore.

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