This month our Parents in Dialogue reflect on their experiences of the past year: the ups and downs and the bits in between...
Kim describes where she is one year on…
In the midst of a relationship or family breakdown you can see no future – you are wrapped up in the pain and intensity of the moment – your own overwhelming hurt and the desperate confusion of your children. You can barely breathe.
The pressure to perform each minor task feels unbearable and you struggle to hold it together. People who care for you try to help by saying “Time is a great healer – you’ll be alright” but you won’t hear it and don’t believe it. It is as much as you can do to get through the day and you feel the very real fear that you won’t survive – your life has been devastated, you are broken and there is no hope. All around you is grey.
But each day brings a small miracle. At first, it might be that you wake in the morning without tears in your eyes. It might just be that the traffic lights go green when you are in hurry. Then you find that you actually have the money to pay the electricity bill on time. Another day you smile as you watch your child perform in the school concert. Then one day you sigh with relief rather than sheer exhaustion as you relax with a well earned glass of wine once the kids are in bed. Each day brings a small victory over adversity – even though further, new and perhaps bigger challenges appear from nowhere.
You succeed with a new recipe. You buy new bed sheets. You decide to tackle the chipped paint on the door that has irritated you for years. You go into a DIY store and ask for help at the counter – and get it. You file all those papers that were stuffed into a cupboard. You throw out all the old clutter that made your wardrobe bulge.
No one else notices these tiny achievements but you feel an immense sense of satisfaction. And pride. And as you grow a little in confidence you branch out a bit more, perhaps even plucking up the courage to attend your first social gathering – on your own – who cares that it’s only with the other parents at the school. You are out.
There are, of course, set backs; days when it all feels grey again; days when the problems seem insurmountable; days when it feels as if no matter how hard you try, the cards are stacked against you and you wail with anger, anguish and self pity. You might even resort to screaming into a pillow so the kids don’t hear.
But then another few tentative steps forward draw you on – to tackle the next challenge on your own – nursing a sick child through the night, setting up a new TV, negotiating successfully with the garage on the annual car service and helping your daughter with her maths homework or your son with his science test.
Before you know it a couple of months have gone by and you are starting to rebuild your life and reinvent yourself – as a new, single parent. It’s hard, for sure, but you are doing it and your kids have settled and are progressing well. You face your first Christmas alone – and survive, albeit with as many sad silent “do you remember when?” moments as forced smiles. Then it is nearly Spring and you find yourself – and the kids – out in the park, laughing and giggling with pure happiness as the wind whisks away a hat or a dog chases a pigeon into the water. You are adjusting and you are healing. Slowly.
You hold it together to attend the school parent-teacher consultation evening and don’t feel tearful when you see all the other parents in happy couples. You go along to the library to look up nearby keep fit classes. You apply for a new job and win an interview. You no longer fret when the post man arrives and calls from your ex no longer send you into a blind panic or burning rage.
A few more months pass and people compliment you on how well you are looking. You tackle a difficult car journey without a hitch. You invite some friends around and cook an incredible meal (well, apart from the Disaster Dessert). You are beginning to believe in yourself again and to feel the odd moment of joy.
A whole year has passed and so much has changed. The kids are inches taller and they look happy and content. You walk again with a spring in your step. You chat to the neighbours rather than hurrying past. The horrible year is behind you, and you survived. You feel confident. You are embracing the future rather than looking over your shoulder at the past. You think about what will be, rather than what was lost.
And then you realise that you away on vacation. Just you and the kids. You’ve done so much – and mostly by yourself. And even managed to get the kids away for a holiday! You can’t believe how far you have come and you thank whichever God you pray to for giving you the strength and helping you on your way.
And you think about the power of one. The power of one year. And the power of one amazing person – you. Happy Anniversary!
Bob says: In the last 12 months, despite being 45, I have been feeling 13 again. I will try and explain:
When I was thirteen I had a passion for diving off heights into water. Cliffs and bridges were good, but my favourite was the 10m “Top Board” at the Empire Pool in the Centre of Cardiff. Those of you who have ever done high-board diving will now of that lovely sensation that is a mixture of fear and excitement. It became a drug to me. And I started experimenting!
The “moment” that gave the greatest buzz was (for me) that moment when you were clear from the board...heading upwards and outwards; that moment just before you feel the acceleration of gravity take over and hurtle your body downwards.
I quickly found that this “buzz” could be enhanced by jumping off backwards or from a hand stand. That “slit second moment” in the air then could be made all the more unstable. Unpredictable. Exciting!
12 months ago I found myself longing for that same sensation. That feeling in the tummy. That ‘buzz’. But like most habits, you need something a little bit stronger and more dangerous to give you the thrill.
I chose the moment 12 months ago to take the advice that many had offered me: Find out what it is that you want to do...and then do it!
So, last summer I found myself commissioning a new website for www.onlydads.org together with making a personal commitment to myself that for the next few years at least I was going to make the OnlyDads support network work, both for other single dads who might need some support and direction and financially for me and my family. I had never “launched” a social enterprise before. I guessed the learning curve would be steep. I knew if I got things wrong, the failure would be catastrophic.
High risk and frightening – real life gambles. In August 2009 I had decided to launch myself off the OnlyDads platform with one child tucked under each arm. The feeling was sensational. It really was like being 13 again.
The last 12 months have been exciting. I planned them to be. When you stake a lot on a project you make it work. You have to.
Apart from the general buzz of excitement, six things stand out for me: Not all of them expected, but all of them wonderful in their own way. They have been the added bonus of the odd twist and somersault in my OnlyDads project:
The last 12 months have led to me meeting with and engaging with some wonderful dads (and mums). The feeling that you get when you have helped (even in the smallest of ways) a Dad hold his family together or more usually, make the most out of a difficult situation is wonderful. Wonderful in the sense that you are achieving what it is you set out to achieve.
Talking of wonderful people – as part of an exercise to bring OnlyDads to wider public attention, I set up a Twitter account. What a joyous thing to have done! I will not mention names here, but ‘friendships’ have been established that go way beyond the advertising of our organisation. There have been evenings when I have been sat at my computer with tears of laughter spilling out down my cheeks. There have been other times too, when tears of the other sort have made their presence felt. I think for many single parents who like to wear their heart on their sleeve, Twitter can, at times, be an emotional release valve.
A Wonderful Woman
Talking of on-line entertainment! I began corresponding with someone very special. To cut a long story short...I found myself falling in Love. And when we eventually met “in the real world”, my feelings of love were confirmed. But, it was not to be. To those single parents who struggle to find the right partner to rekindle their lives with...my heart goes out to you. The pain and sense of longing can be very difficult to live with. But live with it we do. I believe I made some catastrophic errors of judgement in that fledgling relationship. The good news is, I haven’t learned anything as a result. It was one of the very few moments in my life when someone completely turned my head. It was the dive that went wrong. It hurt. But love is just like that.
The Wonderful Natasha Phillips and Billy (Dadshouse) McGranahan
In June this year, OnlyDads co-hosted the Westminster Debate for Fathers. The debate, held in a rather grand committee room in the Palace of Westminster took some organising! Not only will I remember the “sense of occasion” but the sheer joy of working with these two named individuals will live with me forever. And I mean that. It was such a privilege to work with two committed and truly inspirational people. And the laughter along the way...I really can’t tell you!
This was an important event for OnlyDads and for me personally in many ways. Most importantly is gives us confidence to reach out and help more people in the months and years ahead. Billy and Nats. Thank you.
A Wonderful Colleague
Rebecca runs our www.onlymums.org side of the operation. She is currently on maternity leave (big hugs to Rebecca and her partner).
In the last 12 months she has been a shoulder to cry on, a friend, someone who has kept me from wandering too far from our ultimate goals and a lot of fun in the office too. I have been blessed with some lovely colleagues in my working life – but Rebecca has been an absolute rock this year. I quite simply could not have chosen a better colleague.
My Wonderful Daughters
Priya (13) and Anya (10) are by my side every day. I know (like most single dads) that they miss out by not having a mum around the place. But they are basically happy kids. I feel our relationship has got stronger in the last 12 months. Priya of course is changing into a young woman now, and Anya is at that stage in her life (10 is a wonderful age) when happiness is the order of the day. Like all single parents I do the guilt thing. But (and I hope all single parents will relate to this), I do the best I can. It’s not perfect; there are gaps in my parenting toolkit. Sometimes I lose my patience, sometimes I give them junk food and wish they’d disappear for a few hours so I could have some peace...but all said and done there is love in the house. And that is what matters.
Like most reading this, I see that the last 12 months has had its “ups” and its “downs”. I guess the next 12 months will too! And if like me 12 months ago, you feel like you might be standing on the edge of a diving platform...have some free advice. Go for it! At our age no-one will catch you if you fall, and if it goes wrong you will be hurt. ...may your next 12 months be exhilarating
Kirsten says: One Year On from the decision to divorce and whether that decision was taken by you or for you, it’s a date you don’t readily forget.
You may be newly divorced or miles from that elusive decree; you may be in a new relationship or perhaps you haven’t had sex for years, but you’ll almost need to feel loved whether or not you admit it to yourself.
At best, dating and new relationships will enable you to see a new life is possible - that there is love in the world. And your children (if you have them) will be given the message that you are worthy of love, that you can speak nicely to your partner and show them genuine affection, even if they can’t remember you doing that to your ex – their other parent.
If you don’t buy a ticket, how can you win?
One Year On for me is now over six years ago; and I have learnt more about relationships and myself in the last six years than I learnt the previous, ahem, four (plus) decades. I have recognised that if I don’t go out there and be pro-active about finding love again, it just ain’t gonna happen (it’s that lottery rule: if you don’t buy a ticket, how are you going to win?) But I also know that I have no interest in introducing a boyfriend to my children unless they are very special. But just what is very special?
One Year On back in 2004 and I was in what I thought was going to be a long-term relationship, when it was suddenly and effectively sabotaged by my ex before the year was out. Okay, my ex-husband did me a favour (as I reluctantly admitted to myself later on, but I’m sure it was never his intention to do me a favour), but it’s hard to have lost love, however misplaced that love was (with the benefit of hindsight) through the jealous actions of an ex. I coped with it by deciding that secrecy had to be the answer to finding love so long as the jealous ex was causing trouble – and as a result I know a little bit about affairs: not my normal modus operandi, but an interesting stage in my journey of finding out what I wanted in relationships.
Five Years after One Year On
Here are my top 7 learning points, five years after being One Year On:
1. That if we don’t go out and find love again, we are in danger of letting our previous failed relationship(s) become the template for our lives: that was crap, why should I bother? And don’t we use every justification not to ‘get out there’?
2. That in many ways I am glad I’ve not found ‘the one’ as long as my own children have been living with me, because the more I hear and see of the difficulties of blending step families, the more I am convinced this minefield was one I am blessed to have avoided. Instead, my children have rarely had to change their lives to accommodate a partner of mine, except perhaps for there to be an extra person on holiday, or to lay an extra place at the dinner table.
3. That my ‘ideal’ partner, the one I had in mind for many years, (i.e. slightly older, divorced, father, professional) is a total myth. Once I realised that (slightly) younger men were often more fun, and men without children likely to be more interested in me than those with the ties of children, my scope for dating became wider and my dates more interesting.
4. That I can seek out relationships which work on the level and intensity which I want, i.e. coming together for the fun things – the so called ‘Living Together Apart’ arrangement seems to make a lot of sense.
5. That it’s important that my top ten ‘Must Have’ qualities in a partner are present. But crucially, if only one ‘Must Not Have’ is present, I move on fast - it simply is NOT going to work out and why waste precious time on a doomed relationship?
6. That’s it’s important to fulfil my own needs as far as possible, then I become far more attractive to the sort of man I want to attract.
7. That I really do like to have a man and love in my life, but if I haven’t, that’s fine too. But at such times of lack I’ll suddenly be jolted back to facing the fact that I don’t want to be single for the rest of my life. This saying is so true:
"When something seems to be missing in your life, it usually turns out to be someone." Robert Brault.
It might be at a hen night, or seeing my children in love. And then I’ll be back on-line, on my favourite dating site with my motivation high, knowing Mr Right is out there and that it’s up to me to find him.
One Year On I knew none of the above. But five years after One Year On I am still finding the answers to relationship issues and challenges which challenge all of us. It’s meant a new business for me, and a fascinating journey - one where I faced my fears, time and time again. I recommend it to anyone desperately unhappy whether or not they are courageous. After all being courageous doesn’t mean being fearless, it means being able to face your fear.