Firstly there is being a SEND parent and then there is being a single parent – the two struggles can often merge.
For so many of us parenting a child (or children) with additional needs is hard enough to navigate alone – it should win a trophy if you can manage to survive it together.
So often, the stress and conflict that occurs as a direct result of parenting at the extreme, leads to circumstances of having to become a single parent family as a way to move forwards.
When put under extreme pressure and tumultuous living conditions – it is often likely that we turn our angst onto one another as partners.
This will seem like a generalised sweeping statement, but it can often lead to adults going into crisis themselves (when they could also be undiagnosed with communication difficulties of their own) – proving even more difficult to cope in such a pressure-cooker environment.
I have noticed that there has been a surge of news stories relating to children/young people and/or adults with additonal needs and how their parents are struggling to cope – nine out of ten times it features a single parent.
Sadly, this will be read by so many and presumed to be the root cause of the difficulties the family are facing.
In reality, us single parents are actually holding the fort better now than we ever did when in partnerships, as we find ourselves synchronising our individual parenting to the specific needs of our children (without some of the continuous disagreements we were having previously).
I do envy other families who have been able to stay together and I commend them for doing so well at being united – it is not easy and they have showed true strength to achieve this.
Learning to adapt and cope emotionally with being single and facing the world as a solo warrior is a whole different ballgame.
When you find yourself separated from the person who you thought was going to be your soulmate it can feel pretty devastating in itself – especially when situational events have dictated the breakup rather than the simple act of falling out of love.
For some families that will have happened naturally but for many, like ours, stress and conflict were the ultimate factors.
As a SEND parent you don’t get an awful lot of time to wallow in it or come to terms with your own wounded emotions.
It’s back to the frontline and as soldiers we have to grab our weapons – the action requires us to move onwards wearily, with or without, our emotional commitment to those wars.
Let’s be frank – being single and being a SEND parent is nowhere near the fantasy escapism you might see in a Sex and the City episode.
I am not Carrie Bradshaw, I don’t own a pair of Louis Vuittons and I certainly don’t get to drink cocktails with an array of single yummy SEND mummies.
Instead, I’m faced with the reality of having my best school-run boots being caked in toddler vom (these ‘designer’ boots are still waiting to be cleaned, I hasten to add, and in truth cost me about a tenner in Primark).
I don’t particularly look yummy either.
You only have to see the scratches down my arm and the bruises on my face (from my autistic child in meltdown) that no amount of make-up or fake tan is going to cover before judgements are made that ‘she’s had a tough life.’
Let alone thinking about the amount of stretch marks that are spread out like Spaghetti Junction all over my tummy and where the kids like to bounce up and down as they scream ‘jelly flood!’ in my face.
Heck, I don’t even get the chance to wash without World War 3 happening in the living room, so bathing is more like a birthday treat.
And here I am, at eight o’ clock at night, with a lonely glass of wine, as I flick through the abundance of happy photos in my social media feed, before I become comatosed before 9pm.
Life can’t get anymore glamorous and exciting than that.
With my jim jams on I may as well whack the TV up and start singing from the top of my lungs “all by myselffff!” I mean, I have enough Bridget style pants to pull me in, but I have nowhere to go! Even Bridget Jones had a social life worth talking about, so why can’t I?
I often feel more trapped when I know there is so much excitement to be had and yet time just feels like it’s simply ticking by.
I can’t even begin to describe the loneliness and isolation us SEND parents really do feel – and that happens to us with or without partners in tow.
Then there are the opportunities you do get to finally go ‘out out’, often with people who have known you pre-parent days, and with whom you find yourself struggling to make conversation with.
You desperately want to add something of interest and then absolutely nothing comes out. Shall I tell them I had to negotiate with my seven year old that ‘parents do need adult time’ before I could come out to play?
There is a voice in the back of your mind trying not to talk about the reality of the daily struggles you are having – not just with managing to parent but with those who just don’t understand and whom drain your energy stores dry.
It’s not going to be a great conversation starter to talk about the system that brakes you into pieces; nor the angry and frustrated thoughts that begin to consume you ‘I hate the world and everyone in it.’ Where would you go from that? Can’t suddenly switch to who you think should win Strictly this year can you?
So you try to say nothing whilst you can fathom something remotely interesting to talk about, but the mean, grumpy and exhausted voice keeps making an unwanted appearance.
I’m sure Carrie didn’t have that problem – she just looked all forlorn, put on more stylish clothes and did a shoot for Vogue magazine or something equally as glamorous.
Gliding through her mahusive apartment, pouting some more and looking effortlously chic, then giggling over cocktails with her delicious friends as she has an abundance of parties to crash. Yep … that ain’t really happening for me. My party is just for one and this drunk voice in my head is not sounding quite like Celine Dion.
Believe it or not, I don’t really mind being on my own – the stigma of being a single parent is irritating but I can cope with that. It is a struggle bringing the three girls up singularly, but I do feel genuinely happy with the love and warmth they bombard me with as a result.
I just don’t know how, or where and even if I’ll ever find the time to start being me again.
Who was I before I became a single, SEND parent? What was I good at? What did I used to look forward to or even talk about?
I went to the theatre recently and had a fleeting moment of wishing I could be back on the stage again and felt reminiscent of the buzz I used to get from performing. Blogging seems to fill that void right now – it definitely is a creative outlet to pour my efforts into and makes me feel that I am connecting with other humans at least.
But when I think about it, I can’t even remember the last time I had a really good night out where I just danced the night away without any of the worries in the background; away from those thoughts that are entrenched from battle.
I could do that before, but somehow I’ve lost the ability to do it recently. It feels that life has moved on and I’m still craving the freedom I once had and probably took for granted.
Maybe I just need to learn to find myself again before I can find any glamour in my new life as a single, SEND parent.
I need to make my own version of SEND and the City, one that won’t rely on Mr Big coming into my life to provide me with a happy ending, but one that I can do all by myself.