How to Win at Being a Single Mother (By Someone Who Hasn’t Quite Won Yet)

Okay, so let’s get some context all up in here. I’m an actor, a writer, single parent activist and single mother to a soon-to-be-17 year old. I’ve got my own one woman show, Muvvahood, about being a single mother.

Now, having done the single mothering thing for ten years now, I’m an old hand at it, it’s my specialist subject. So the most common question I get asked is: “How do you manage it?” along with “are you like, literally, Superwoman?” (NB: I’m not Superwoman. Yet.) I really don’t think that any single mum ever feels like she’s 100% cracked it, that she’s ever really ‘won’. But I have learnt a lot as a single mother and I’m proud of that so I wanted to share some of my wins so far.

What helped me is to remember that ultimately I am raising an actual HUMAN BEING.

I know, ground breaking, right? I mean, part of me has always thought that it’s totally insane that I’m in charge of anything larger than a guinea pig, but there ya go. So, if we remember the principle that you are raising an actual human to adulthood, it stands to reason that you’re in for a marathon, not a sprint.

Spending 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with one person is a madness. Imagine going on an extended holiday with your best friend and staying in his/her presence for 16 years. Obviously you’d get a bit pissed off with each other sometimes, right? So it’s okay if sometimes you and your child (or children) get a bit pissed off with each other. It’s okay that you adore each other totally and utterly but also that sometimes you just cannot even look each other in the eye. Recognising this and being cool with it: win.

Ask a single mama what she feels and chances are she’ll answer: ‘tired’.

All parents get tired – and single parents will have times where they are tired to the point of delirium. One time I was so tired that I was convinced I could see a tiny version of Gordon Ramsey; he was carrying a satchel and swearing at me. I had a little sleep and he went away.

Tiredness is a killer, it can suck the joy out of you and you run the risk of potentially seeing miniature Gordon Ramsays with satchels, which ain’t good for anyone’s mental health. The tiredness of single parenting will apparently pass at around the 18 year mark (so I’m told) so you just gotta accept the tiredness and go with it. You will be knackered. Find ways to grit your teeth and work through it when you absolutely have to but also find ways to absolutely protect the rest you need. Protect your rest time like a lioness. If you can get even just a small amount of decent rest each day you are that bit closer to winning.

You’ll always feel like you’re not enough.

Of course you’re not enough! One person – like one slice of Vienetta – is never enough! The average person comes into contact with an estimated 10,000 people in their lifetime (so Google tells me.). Trying to be the be-all-and-end-all for your child will drive you mad. You’re not enough and that’s fine. If you’re there, and you’re trying then that’s good enough. The day I realised the difference between ‘not enough’ and ‘good enough’ was a major win for me.

If you’re feeling really down and really struggling, know that you are not alone.

I know you feel alone, believe me, I do. Through making my show, I’ve spoken to lots of single mothers in lots of situations and all of us have times when we feel isolated and just can’t see a way through the struggle. We are not just raising an actual human on our own but we are, lets face it, battling a system that is not on our side. Don’t engage with nasty online comments about single mums. Ask if you need advice with work, housing, benefits, childcare, child maintenance etc. You’re not alone, but others often have no clue that you need help or what you need, so please speak up. You need a team behind you to win.

Everything changes.

However difficult things might be, try – really try – to find the joyful moments – the mini wins. The years when I really struggled were when my son was still at primary school. We’d gone through an eviction but I was desperate to keep some stability for him and kept him in the same school which was a good 45 minute walk away from our new flat. I was juggling various work, trying hard to make ends meet, so he’d go to breakfast club in the morning, then to school, then teatime club in the evening and then home.

I was worn out from walking him there and back each day, managing a fluctuating income that was barely paying my bills, sorting out packed lunches and school uniforms, additional childcare, trying to work and then get time off for parents evenings, school plays and assemblies… I felt guilty and knackered.

Those days seem like yesterday and yet a few years on and the school days are gone forever. I miss them. I miss the long walks to school and the making of packed lunches. I miss the assemblies and the school plays. I miss helping with homework I could actually help with (instead of battling with GCSE Maths revision guides). Those days disappeared in the blink of an eye. Everything passes. Find the joy while you can. Tiny moments of joy are tiny wins.

When all else fails, just remember again – you are raising an actual human person.

You’re working hard, you’re doing good. Raising a human being on your own requires boundless energy and abilities beyond that of Superwoman. It requires negotiation skills that Alan Sugar would be proud of. It requires you to juggle to the extent that even Dynamo would consider it magic. Now when I look back to when when I saw that tiny Gordon Ramsay, I distinctly remember that even he looked proper impressed.

YOU ROCK. You’re a boss.  And you’re winning, even if you haven’t won yet.

About Libby

Libby is an actor, writer and activist. She lives in Walthamstow (shout out to the E17 massive!) with her son who now towers over her. As well as being a single mother, Libby is a connoisseur of mascara and acrylic nails. She also used to box and has had three fights. Come to see her show, Muvvahood – you can watch the trailer here

Follow Libby on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

Image credit: Libby Liburd, by Kasia Burke

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