If there’s one thing parents can all agree on it’s that parenthood can be very difficult at times, so when we talk about someone raising their children as a single parent, we often do so in terms of how challenging it must be.
Here single parent of four children and blogger, Mel Knibb @lecoindemel of Le Coin de Mel presents an alternative view – how her life has improved since her separation from her husband.
My ex-husband left during lockdown after an extended period of living together despite being separated (and then divorced).
I had been trapped in a way and, as we’d met in my early twenties, I’d felt that way for a very long time.
Honestly, I thought I’d be trapped until my children were 18, so the decision to separate before they reached that age made me feel free… and free to be myself.
My mum and dad were divorced and I hadn’t wanted a “broken” family – I wanted a mum and a dad and kids.
But I found that I had to let my picture of what an ideal family looks like go.
And when I did it was like a prison door had been opened; there had been a pressure on my chest I wasn’t aware of that was so hard and heavy, and when you lift that pressure it’s amazing.
“There had been a pressure on my chest I wasn’t aware of that was so hard and heavy, and when you lift that pressure it’s amazing”.
So, oddly, when most of the country was miserable locked in their houses during last January it was a lovely period for me – although it did help because I’m a keyworker and my children could be at school along with the other essential workers’ children.
I’d always felt like the “strong” one in our relationship, holding the house together, and now I went on a mission to improve our house with zero money, learning all sorts of skills to transform our home for nothing.
For example, our kitchen is very old: very tatty and sad and horrible.
I looked on the internet and gave myself a budget of 100 pounds and I used that to delaminate all the cupboards, paint the tiles and transform the doors.
I also learnt to tile to do our bathroom, to try and make the house a home.
I transformed the master bedroom into a lovely room for our teenager and changed my youngest daughter’s bedroom for pennies– all of which was really satisfying.
During this time my children would still stay with their father as, to me, that was one of the most important things about the relationship. We’re a partnership for life regarding the children.
I think that’s essential as we’re supposed to be the grown-ups. We can be in an awkward position, but we have the life experience to put up with it.
Even so I really, really struggled when the children were with their father so I would go on these mad, mad transformation projects.
I would do the downstairs toilet or the kitchen in a weekend so every time they would come back there would be something new and different and exciting.
Another thing my husband and I had argued about was food as, being French, I loved “fancy” food like ratatouille, which he wasn’t as keen on.
Now, we’ve gone from two salaries to one and a bit, so our finances went from comfortable to… not so comfortable.
But I still have strong beliefs regarding eating good food and I won’t budge on that!
So we work together in the kitchen and try to eat well and eat together.
Some of my friends would say to me ‘why do you bother teaching your kids to cut onions?’ and I say ‘one day they’ll cook my dinner’. And do you know what?… They already do!
But, onions aside, I have an amazing network of friends and family – the best ones you can possibly imagine.
I started a bubble with another family and we’d exercise together, eat and do things together during lockdown, and my husband’s family have also remained very important to me.
We have each other’s backs which is lovely as, with COVID, I haven’t been able to see my biological family in France for years, particularly given the cost of travel.
But this period has really taught me the value of things.
I was very driven before I had my children: I wanted to earn lots of money and be able to travel and do all sorts… but that’s changed.
If I didn’t have that small budget I wouldn’t have the satisfaction of doing the work myself and this has been a period of personal, not financial, growth.
It’s empowering and, at 42, you don’t expect to learn new stuff. I keep thinking ‘I can do that, and I didn’t have to pay anyone’.
And that’s filtered down into my viewpoint in general.
I’m really proud to say I’m a single parent and not ashamed of being divorced – especially when people ask how many kids I have and they’re like “wow!”
I genuinely believe it’s made me a better person. Whilst there were no problems with money while I was married, I’m much happier now.
That realisation is why I always try and make time for my children. One day a month we have a ‘mummy day’ where I spend a whole day with one of them, and we’ve got a vision board which contains our dreams that we all talk about.
Our dream is to own a yellow camper van. We live and breathe it and we have pictures of camper vans all around the house.
We also talk about skiing in the alps one day, like I did as a child.
One day there’ll be more money again and although I could go back to working full time, for now, I don’t want to… I want to be there for my children.
You can’t do everything… it’s a choice, and what I choose is the simple things in life: happiness and contentment.
I feel like I’ve taught them something too – taught them that you don’t have to be in a relationship if you don’t want to and you should do what’s healthiest for you.
My kids are the only legacy I will leave behind on this planet. I’m not Monet or a famous singer. They are what will remain when I leave this life, so I want to leave children who are happy, and make people around them happy too.
If you’re struggling as a single parent or with any aspect of family life, contact our FamilyLine helpline for free information, guidance and support or just someone to chat with.