It’s hump day. The middle of the working week. Already the to do list has bitten the dust, replaced by the just-in-the-nick-of-time-battle-to-do-the-urgent-stuff list.
I’ve been working full time for over a year now. I’ve signed on for the job permanently – which means slotting into income bands, leave forms, performance reviews – bearing in mind I probably don’t have enough lifetime left to inch my way up the pay scale I even participated in some desperation negotiation. You would be proud, and a little bit pissed off that I didn’t manage to do that when you were alive. But you know it was your death that gave me the desperation to negotiate.
When I whinge my cubicle buddy the news journo quietly says “sometimes it’s not a question of want but a question of need” and I remember I’m a single mother with children at the expensive end of the growth chart and I am extremely lucky to have a good job in a regional area. Let’s face to it to have any job in journalism at the moment is a miracle.
So I plan how to redecorate the cubicle, wonder if I can be in three places at once and try to quell the guilt that the youngest child has a very different life to what her sister had at this age.
Sometimes I forget she was only just 14 when you died. In year eight at school. Pragmatic and mature she makes the best of the situation. Not complaining that where once her mum worked four days a week and was always home by 4.30pm now she struggles through the door closer to 6.30pm. Where her sister and I had many hours in the car doing the endless driving to after-school activities we now delegate that responsibility to Nana or the kind parents of friends when Nana can’t make it. Where once the weekends were family activities now it’s just the two of us, it’s quieter.
There was no hope of keeping things the same as before you died. There aren’t two parents working in tandem, there isn’t two people capable of earning incomes. It’s just me doing the best I can in the situation I’m in.
Sheryl Sandberg admitted last week that she hadn’t understood what life was like for single parents when she wrote her book Lean In. Now 12 months after the sudden death of her husband she realises she was wrong.
People become single parents for many reasons: loss of a partner, breakdown of a relationship, by choice. One year and five days ago I joined them.
For me, this is still a new and unfamiliar world. Before, I did not quite get it. I did not really get how hard it is to succeed at work when you are overwhelmed at home. I did not understand how often I would look at my son’s or daughter’s crying face and not know how to stop the tears. How often situations would come up that Dave and I had never talked about and that I did not know how to handle on my own. What would Dave do if he were here?
It doesn’t really matter what Dave or you would do if you were here. The circumstances would be different. You guys wouldn’t be facing life within a complex mix of regret, sadness and grief. Balancing the emotions of three individuals who were changed by the experience of loss.
For many single mothers, this is the only world they know. Each and every day they make sacrifices, push through barriers, and nurture beautiful families despite the demands on their time and energy.
Sheryl admits she doesn’t have the financial worries of most single mothers and urges more understanding for the struggles being faced by those raising kids on their own.
We need to rethink our public and corporate workforce policies and broaden our understanding of what a family is and looks like. We need to build a world where families are embraced and supported and loved no matter how they fit together. We need to understand that it takes a community to raise children and that so many of our single mothers need and deserve a much more supportive community than we give them. We owe it to them and to their children to do better. We must do more as leaders, as coworkers, as neighbors, and as friends.
Single parenthood whenever it hits you sucks the air out of your lungs. It’s a huge responsibility and it is frequently overwhelming, but around the world there are women (and men) doing what they can to raise decent human beings. Good luck to us all.
So while I sit here identifying with a millionaire single mum – really we have so much in common – I suppose you are rockin’ on up there – what with Bowie and Prince joining the ranks of heavenly beings.
At least tonight I can cross off write blog post from the to do list. I’ll get around to the rest of that list at some point.