“I’m pretty much a solo mum too,” said a well-intentioned friend who was complaining to me that her husband came home late most nights from his well-paid job - which afforded them their lovely house and comfortable lifestyle - meaning he often missed the bedtime routine. This made her feel like she was doing things solo.
The difference is, he was at the birth, he is always at the end of the phone for support, he is there to share dinner and adult conversation with in the evening. He is there to go to bed with, to give a hug, to go on holiday with, to help pay the bills, to discuss parenting questions. He is there most weekends. He looks after their baby whilst she goes to her Saturday morning yoga class, and on Thursday nights when she’s having drinks with the girls.
The point is, that although he might leave her to do the majority of the weeknight routine, she certainly isn’t bringing up her child alone. She has someone to share the load, even if it doesn’t feel like it’s being shared equally.
I’m a big believer that these things aren’t a competition and everyone has their different challenges to overcome. If someone feels like they are bringing up their child alone because their partner is away a lot or doesn’t help out, that must be hard to deal with. They went into becoming parents as a partnership, so it must feel frustrating and possibly lonely when you’re doing the majority of the childcare. I went into motherhood knowing I would be doing it on my own, but now my daughter is nearly 16 months old, I fully understand the loneliness that can come with that if it’s not managed.
At 37 I found myself single and more than ready for motherhood. With no partner to try to conceive with naturally, I decided to become a solo mum using IVF with donor sperm. It took me almost 3 years of consideration to decide to follow this path. I had to allow myself to grieve the loss of my fantasy of becoming a mum in a loving relationship.
I chose solo motherhood because I was approaching 40 and was worried that due to my age there was a strong possibility that my fertility would be in decline. I felt that I may lose out on the opportunity to become a mum altogether if I waited any longer to meet a suitable partner. Once I decided this was the right route for me, there was no holding me back.
After undergoing IVF, I experienced disappointment following the first embryo transfer, but the second frozen embryo transfer resulted in a positive pregnancy test. 9 months later was the arrival of my beautiful daughter Daisy.
I’m an extremely sociable person and before having a baby I would be out with friends most nights for dinner, drinks or socialising. I knew that when I had a baby things would need to change, and I was ready for that. But what I wasn’t able to accept was a total lack of adult company. I have had to work very hard to get the right balance for me. I can see how it would be easy to become very isolated if you don’t put the right steps in place.
It is very important to me and essential for my mental health that I still have an active social life, so I have worked hard on figuring out how best to achieve that when I am the sole carer for my daughter.
These are my tips for fellow solo mums, based on what I’ve learnt along the way:
- Don’t wait to be asked
Your friends and family might not realise you are feeling lonely and might not think to invite you to things. I sometimes find that my friends don’t invite me to things where it will just be couples with their children. They choose for me, when in fact I would have liked to join, despite being the only one without a partner. This is why I no longer wait to be asked along to things. If you want to make sure you have plans, there is nothing stopping you from doing the arranging.
- Socialise during the day
If you know you are going to be at home on your own in the evening whilst your child is sleeping, try making sure that you have done all your socialising during the day. I did this when I was on maternity leave, and I do it on weekends when I don’t have other plans. I get out and about with my daughter and see people - that way I appreciate some time alone in the evening.
- Get organised
You might find that your social calendar will be a lot more full if you organise things to do in advance. When I haven’t organised anything, I often end up on my own with no options. I find it easier and more fun for Daisy and I to do things with other people, and I also think it’s healthy for her to be around more people than just me. For this reason I always ensure I’ve planned things ahead and that my diary is full up with fun weekend activities.
- Weekly pub night
I really missed after-work drinks on Fridays, until I realised it was totally possible to still do that. Now my usual Friday routine is to take Daisy to the pub for her tea as soon as I’ve finished work in the late afternoon. I have a cheeky glass of wine, she has her dinner and we both enjoy being in a lively atmosphere. If it’s nice weather, she can have a bit of a run around outside. Sometimes we go just the two of us and other times we are joined by friends. It feels like I’ve had a Friday night, but we still get back in time for bathtime.
- Entertain at your house
If you need to stay in during the evening, but don’t want to be without adult company, then the best idea is to invite people over to you. I do a lot more entertaining at my house, rather than going out, than I ever used to. Ask your friends over for dinner, or just a cup of tea.
- Make new friends
However many friends you have, it can be helpful to make friends with people with children of a similar age to yours. There are so many ways to achieve this. You can enrol in an antenatal class when you are pregnant, or you can use numerous apps. Mush is a good one for finding mums nearby with similar aged children. Frolo is a new app that will be launching soon to find other single parents in your area.
- Utilise technology
It’s not exactly the same as face-to-face, but if you are craving some adult company, organise a Skype catch up with your pals. I used to go a bit mad trying to schedule them in advance, but then I decided to go old-school and just call people on the off-chance they were free. It’s always good to catch up, even if it’s virtual.
- Make the most of alone time
There will be times where you are on your own, so try to make the most of them. When your child has gone to bed, do something you enjoy. Do an online course, read, take up a hobby like art or knitting, write a blog, do an online exercise class - whatever you like, as long as it’s something you enjoy that can be done solo. This really helps to ensure that time on your own is not viewed as negative. It’s about maximising the time you have in the best way possible.
For further help on thriving as a solo mum, you can check out my online course Thriving Solo which covers all elements of how to live your best life whilst parenting solo.
Mel Johnson is the founder of The Stork and I, a support group for single women considering solo motherhood. She runs group coaching courses and a solo mum support group as well as offering 1:2:1 coaching.