Thursday 24 January 2019. Day 12: I read an interesting blog today via Instagram written by a young woman who was a single parent (not by choice – the baby’s father quit when the baby was a month old). Her child is a toddler and she talked about how she had to move back home with her parents and how well she was coping bringing up the baby with her family’s support. Her child’s father, having spent the first year apart from his little one, was now having regular involvement and they seemed to be separately parenting well. It appeared that life as a lone parent was okay. Her story however, is only just starting; there are many chapters yet to be written and this will take a lifetime.
Today has been granny day-care day. I work four days a week in my paid job and on the fifth day, I take care of my granddaughter whilst my daughter and son-in-law are at work. I cannot afford to give my daughter financial help but I was fortunate enough to be able to renegotiate my hours of work in order to give a day’s free childcare. In truth, I told my boss I was going to look for a job that would offer me four days a week, at which point he said there was no way I could leave and so my four day week began.
Back to my day – 8am and my 2-year-old granddaughter arrives. We start with breakfast and then we play, in between me washing up and cleaning the splodges of porridge off the floor that the cat hasn’t managed to lick up. At 10am, I drive my youngest daughter and her boyfriend to the airport for their first romantic long weekend away in Paris (oh to be young again). Having been awake since 5am, my granddaughter is asleep within minutes of being strapped into her car seat. Youngest daughter safely dropped off, we then head to the gym for our weekly session of ‘let’s see how wet we can get grandma’s face’ in the kid’s swimming pool. After a rare treat of lunch at the gym’s cafe, we’re off to great-gran’s house. This is not just time for my mum to spend with her great-granddaughter; it’s time for my mum and I to catch up and to see what offers of help she will accept from me. A fiercely independent lady who can barely walk, the most mum allows me to do is to lift a few logs close to her fireplace. At 3pm, my littlest girl and I drive back to my house. Again we play and I somehow manage to prepare dinner. At 5pm my daughter arrives back from work and dinner is served. 5.45pm and my daughter takes her weary girl home (along with a meals-on-wheels portion of dinner for her husband). The toys are then packed away, the make-shift tent is dismantled and the dishes are cleaned. Finally, I collapse on the sofa and attend to my work email.
There is nothing out of the ordinary about today, although it does make me laugh when my manager asks if I had a nice day off. What is ordinary about this day however, is the absence of a grandfather.
Like the woman whose blog I read earlier, I too became a single parent very early on in my eldest daughter’s life. I was 19, and after discovering I was pregnant, my boyfriend bolted, with his parent’s complete encouragement. We owned our own home (in 1987 it was cheaper to buy a house than to rent), we both worked and seemed blissfully happy ‘playing house’. So being four months pregnant, the house was sold, and I moved back to the family home I had defiantly left less than a year earlier. I was bereft and ashamed; bereft that my unborn baby and I had been flatly rejected; ashamed that I had been so stubbornly keen to prove my independence to my parents and I’d let them and myself down big time. Unlike many other pregnant teenagers, I was incredibly fortunate to have the emotional and financial support from mum and dad. They had a beautiful home and it was in many respects, the most idyllic place to bring up a baby.
After an incredibly difficult birth, reality hit. It’s hard to imagine, but to be a single mum even only 30 years ago, was uncommon. It was pretty standard in 1989 to be in hospital for five days after giving birth, and I quickly began dreading the strict visiting hours. At 3pm (sharp), the new fathers would queue up at the maternity ward door waiting for matron to allow them entry. I would watch as each man passed the end of my bed, laden with flowers and disposable knickers, and head over to their wives (they were all married – the only other 19 year old on the ward had organised a very quick wedding with her bump covered by a large bouquet). No proud husband walked over to my bed to tell me I was the most amazing human being for producing the most beautiful baby. No proud father awkwardly lifted up and cradled the tiny bundle that lay in the perspex crib next to me. Whilst the other women sat in their beds with their perfect little families, I would keep watching the door, praying that my ex would have had a change of heart and come to tell me he’d been an idiot. I wished I were invisible.
Five uncomfortable days later (those stitches were brutal), I came home and attempted to be the best mum I could be to my strawberry blonde haired little beauty. Nothing prepares you for the challenges of motherhood, especially at only 19 years old, but somehow after a very rocky first few weeks, I muddled through with much help from my family, and so my new mummy life began.
Three years later, my daughter and I were in our own home. I was working part-time and studying for an accounting qualification. Life was okay. Yes, it was hard being a working mum (a single one at that), but my girl was everything to me and she was amazing. My daughter’s father, apart from paying the £15 weekly maintenance, had nothing to do with us, albeit for a brief encounter in the supermarket where he might have actually felt some guilt and suggested we get back together. After a few sleepless nights reliving the pain and rejection, I politely turned down his offer. I did ask him however to be a father to his daughter and he somewhat agreed.
Sadly yet unsurprisingly, this didn’t really ever happen. He dipped in and out of her life whenever it suited him, and so over time, my daughter figured out for herself what kind of man her father was.
Fast forward 20 odd years. My daughter has grown into the beautiful strong woman I could only ever dream to be. The childhood illnesses, the school parents’ evenings, the exam tears, the first boy to break her heart; all without the love and support of her father. The first steps and words, the first gold star for good reading, the 18th and 21st birthdays, the graduation, walking her down the aisle on her wedding day; all with me proudly beaming by her side. It’s not just the tough stuff he hasn’t been there for, it’s all that amazing joyful stuff that makes you want to burst that he’s missed out on.
Lone parenting is all too common today and I’m sure we have all experienced it either personally or through family and friends. What I never appreciated was that lone parenting would continue into lone grand-parenting. On our frequent visits to the playground on a granny daycare day, my heart is lifted and saddened in equal measures as I see many other grandparents carrying out their childminding duties, but they are doing it together.
So 30 years on, I am in some respects, right back where I started. My granddaughter brings me such happiness, but unlike the other babies on the swings, no grandpa pushes her squealing with delight into the air; no grandpa sits this little curly haired cherub on his knee and reads her stories; no grandpa shares my unconditional love and pride that I feel each and every day that I am blessed to spend with her.
I have raised two beautiful, clever, strong daughters, mostly on my own, and I am so fortunate to be a big part of my granddaughter’s life. I get all the stress and heartache that children (daughters?!) bring but I also get more love and joy than I thought was possible. I wouldn’t have missed a minute of it. More fool him.
Well, that was far more detail that I expected to write! If you made it this far, I thank you for reading. Until next time, this tired grandma is signing off for today. Night night.SJP xx
50 year old mum and grandma juggling children, grandchildren, love, work, and the menopause!