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How hard is it being a single parent? And how do I explain this to my child?

Tagged as: Breaking up, Family<< Previous question   Next question >>
Question - (12 March 2019) 7 Answers - (Newest, 14 March 2019)
A female United Kingdom age 30-35, anonymous writes:

hi i have just recently broken up with my partner of 5 years we have a 3 year old daughter together I couldn't keep the relationship going any longer no matter how hard I tried he made no effort to spend any time with me and our daughter we would ask him to come to places with us but he could never be bothered he smokes weed which he spends a absolute fortune on he spends half of his wages a month on it while we are struggling to get any food in I work to but only part time due to our daughter my question is how hard is it being a single parent and how do I explain to my daughter about why we split up as she gets older thank you for any answers

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (14 March 2019):

On a practical level, the hardest thing about being a single parent is lifting you and your child out of the poverty trap it can cause. Childcare costs make it extremely difficult to improve life and your living conditions, because it is so expensive. And the absent father can find any number of ways to get out of paying and child maintenance.

If you have a supportive family and friends that's a bonus. My recommendation would be to keep in employment no matter how hard, because once your child has grown up and you don't have to pay for childcare, your chances of getting a better job will be much better, and you may finally be able to have a good standard of living. Also, don't fall into the trap of isolating yourself. If you are a working mum, it can be hard to meet other mums at playgroups and schools and, in turn, it can be almost impossible to meet other women or mums at work (depending on your job). Make sure you find some way to get out and meet other mum's to create a support network.

As to the Dad - instead of focussing your thoughts on him, ask yourself why you put up with this for so long, and, if you can, get counselling to help you - there's a strong chance you have low self esteem and that's why it's taken you this long to get rid of him.

I was similar. Married at 19, daughter born at 20, started divorce proceedings at 25, went to college, no help of any kind at all from her father, my family, or any friends. Incredibly lonely but loved being a mum. suffered from depression for years because life was so hard - no offer of a council flat because I was considered self sufficient because I was working (though my income was initially so low that I'd have been financially better of on benefits). I'm now 51, have a doctorate, lecture in a field I love, work as an artist in my own right and own property outright. I could not possibly begin to say how hard it has been and the superhuman strength it has taken. But I would not change a thing, except I really wish someone had advised me to make sure I made more friends and to be careful to choose a genuinely loving parter next time (these are my two weaknesses, I don't have many friends and had an abusive relationship for 17 years after divorcing, and am now single). My daughter has a masters degree and works in a great job for a globally operating company. Her Dad is still in his home village, still on benefits, grossly overweight and an alcoholic living in sheltered housing. My daughter has really tried to have a relationship with him but now wants absolutely nothing to do with him, because she knows how hard his lack of support has made things for us - he literally expects the world, and us, to support him.

I actually DID make a point of telling my daughter, when she used to idolise her father, that he was perhaps not as amazing as he seemed. Yes, it really hurt her and it was heartbreaking - even when he disappeared with no contact for a year, she still adored him. Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind - there was no point allowing her to believe something that wasn't true. Now, aged 31, she's in a 7 year relationship with a really lovely young man - a partner who treats her with all the love and care she deserves and never got from her Dad. Had I not been straight with her, I think she would have been forever chasing unavailable men, hoping to get the love he deprived her of. Instead, she learned to assess potential partners in terms of the real care they offer and deliver, rather than what she hopes and longs for them to give.

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A female reader, CindyCares Italy + , writes (14 March 2019):

CindyCares agony aunt Being a single parent is harder, but in your case I can't think you'll find it noticeably harder than what you have already been going trough so far.

If you had to beg him ( to no avail ) to spend time with you and your daughter , it does not sound like he was an involved, present parent anyway. It's not as if your child is going from a hands-on, caring dad to zero; she barely will notice the difference.

And financially, oh gosh, if he was spending half of his wages on weed, the other half, I suppose, will have gone mostly for HIS food, drinks, gas, clothing , toiletries, etc.etc.- for his personal necessities; I don't think there must have been much left to take care of you and your kid…

All in all, it sounds to me like you have got ridden of a millstone around your neck !

My advice is going to be very superficial, I know, i.e try to pass to a full -time job, ( or get a second part- time )

and you'll be fine. Now, I don't know anything about the day care situation in UK. In my country, while private day-care is very expensive,at least there are also State subsidized / City subsidized day care centers and pre-schools at very low prices for working moms, on a sliding scale fee according to your income.I don't know if there are similar programs in UK , anyway I know that there are different kinds of benefits for single parents, so start checking and find out what help are you entitled to get through your Social Services.

As for how to explain your daughter what happened… I don't think you'll have a lot of explaining to do, at least for many years. It's not like your kid is going to be a conspicuos exception, the only kid in her school class that does not have a dad around or whose parents split up ! Probably, if not half of the class, a good 30% will be in her same boat, - it will feel normal to her , nothing unusual. If and when she is old enough to ask precise questions, I would not get too much into details, I would just tell her - the truth, i.e. that many people °think° that they can get along and have a happy life together , but then some times they find that this is not the case and decide they wìll both be happier being apart.

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (13 March 2019):

It sounds as though you've been a single parent even in the relationship so I don't see it being any different when you move on.

Like any relationship between co-parents, it's about what's right for the child. Having a relationship with her father is important but only if he has her needs as his priorty which it sounds like he hasn't, given what he spends his money on.

Never bad mouth the other parent or use the child as a pawn, this will only effect the child. Be respectful, reasonable and caring with each other and keep your problems between both of you. Dopn't involve the child.

You don't need to tell your child why you split up, only if she asks when she is older but remember you must always hold back from bad mouthing her father even when she is an adult. Just say, we weren't getting on and you weren't happy so you moved on.

I've been a single parent for 16 years and I've never found it difficult.

Good luck.

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A male reader, N91 United Kingdom + , writes (13 March 2019):

N91 agony auntIt sounds like you’ve already been doing a fine job as a single parent up to now! Keep it going.

If your daughter asks where daddy is, then just keep it simple. That sometimes adults fall out with each other and they have to go their separate ways. Whatever the outcome, everyone still loves her and nothing will change.

Best of luck

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A female reader, Youcannotbeserious United Kingdom + , writes (13 March 2019):

Youcannotbeserious agony auntUnder these circumstances, being a single parent can't be much more difficult than what you were used to. It may even be easier. Your ex was an ABSENT parent for all intents and purposes. Well done for getting out of this "non-relationship".

I wouldn't worry too much at this stage about what to say to your daughter about the split. Just say mummy and daddy didn't get along any longer and were better living apart. Reassure her that daddy still loves HER (regardless of how little interest he takes in her).

I don't suppose there is much chance of your ex being much of a hands-on father, given that he couldn't be bothered even when you were together, but you should at least make sure he pays child maintenance for his child. Take legal advice if necessary.

As your daughter gets older, she will go to school and you will be able to work longer hours to support the pair of you. In the meantime, make sure you are in receipt of all the benefits you can and don't be too proud to accept help from friends and family - whatever it takes to keep yourselves fed, clothed and warm. Check out mums' groups in your area and meet up with other mums with children of a similar age. This will not only provide playmates for your daughter but also a support network for you. Such groups often organise joint events and offer child-minding support, all of which can be extremely useful.

Stay strong. You WILL get through this.

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A female reader, Honeypie United States + , writes (13 March 2019):

Honeypie agony auntDon't go into details.

She is 3. She doesn't CARE about the pot/weed and his shortcomings.

All you really need to explain is that sometimes people don't get along, sometimes it can be fixed and other times it can't. That it is an ADULT problem, and SHE isn't at fault. That you love her no matter what.

She will adjust to you being a single parent. As long as YOU are around, love her and (if he is worth a pot to piss in) he sees her too, that is all she needs. If he isn't... then YOU will have to be mom AND dad in a sense.

Also OP, look into food banks and charity food packs. there is The Trussel Trust, FareShare just to name a few. Look up what could be available locally for you.

And look into Child maintenance.

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A male reader, anonymous, writes (12 March 2019):

Sorry, you can't really explain the shortcomings of her father to her without damaging her in some way.

Worse still, because children are likely to idealise the absent parent, you're likely to drive her towards her father, warts and all.

Bite your tongue and explain in neutral terms that you and he couldn't make it work. Don't bad mouth the other parent- she'll figure it out when she's older. But only she can make the decision that her dad is a deadbeat. If you try and tell her it'll backfire badly.

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