Being a single mum was never a life choice. In fact, I was arrogant and naive enough to assume it would never happen to me. I was the privately educated girl who was going to rock the world from my amazing country house with pots of money and a wonderful, devoted husband. We would bring up our four children together and never know hardship, there was nothing that made me think otherwise, I cringe just writing that.
Life just has a habit sometimes of delivering you what you need, rather than what you want and it appears that what I needed was a wake-up call, and not just one -oh no, a whole succession of them. I think life gave up hinting at me and just dropped a whole heap of shit on my doorstep and walked away tutting.
I had hints that life would not turn out as planned (as I mentioned I just ignored them though), like knowing that maybe I wasn’t a dream match for the man I was going to marry but not really wanting to admit it, even to myself because I so wanted my life to be settled and sorted and I was in a rush to find a place in adulthood that felt secure (ironic as it was that desire that led me to choose the least secure path).
I also got a hint when he asked me to marry him but took months to take me ring shopping, constantly putting it off. Oh and then there was the night not long before I found out he had an affair when he tried to warn me – when he said he was looking for some adventure, that he wanted life to be more exciting and that he felt like he needed to do something reckless…I remember my reply “well as long as you don’t go off with your secretary then it’s all good with me!” I’m sure, in the darkness, he must have looked a little fearful or surprised as I said those words, little did I know that that was exactly what he had already done.
The put down’s started not long after that and the strange behaviour that made me feel like maybe I was going mad. The fact that whenever she was around he wouldn’t hold my hand and would pull away before she turned around to see, that when I turned up unexpectedly at one of our Juice Bars she was still there, even though it was late and he greeted me only with a kiss on the cheek, dodging my lips. The fact that for some strange reason she required a lift home most evenings because her bicycle kept breaking, or being stolen (how many times can a bike be stolen?).
On a day out for my sons birthday he spent most of the time in a corner on the phone to her, it was work stuff apparently but he laughed and smiled, a lot. When I came over to speak to him he told me I looked like a old tramp and asked me why I was wearing the top I had chosen. From someone who had once cared for me so much that before I travelled alone on a plane with our son one time, he bought me a St.Christophers necklace to keep us safe and wrote me beautiful love letters, this was painful beyond belief, little jabs of the knife in my heart. I couldn’t reach him and he didn’t want me to.
We were at a talk with Theo Paphitis the night I found out. He was on his iphone looking at a message that had come in. I glanced across and noticed kisses at the end of each of the texts in the string of conversation that had clearly gone on. I asked why he was sending kisses to her, she worked for us, that was inappropriate. He laughably, covered up the kisses with his hand and showed me the phone ‘see, no kisses’…I think he genuinely thought that would throw me off the scent!
From there and over the next 24 hours things began to unravel, at an alarming pace….my body and mind could not keep up with what was happening, my world was falling apart around me with a few simple sentences that he uttered and I couldn’t remember how to feel or to react. Something else took over, a strange mixture of shock and anger that left me floundering between tears and disbelief, between anger and sadness, between here and there…the half way point where nothing will ever be the same again but it still hasn’t become a full reality…a suspension in time.
There were many breakdowns, on the bathroom floor, in Sainsbury’s with my son by my side trying to hide the fact that tears were flowing uncontrollably down my face, in a Garden Centre after I called him and he refused to answer the question of whether he was in love with her or not. I almost didn’t care who saw, I was too locked in my bubble of pain to notice the concerned or embarrassed faces of those around me.
No it wasn’t easy, no we didn’t have four children or the country house, or the pots of money. Yes I did have one beautiful and wonderful boy who has been my ‘why’ for everything since, yes it was also the thing that propelled me to far more of a life than I ever would have experienced had this not happened.
It made me just as much as it broke me.
You see the thing is, once you are a single mum, you open up to all this strength, this tenacity that you didn’t really know existed before. You come more resourceful than you ever imagined you could. I left with nothing from my relationship and there was no financial support forthcoming either – I had to make it work or no one would.
Becoming a single mum made me step up, it made me keep going, it gave me a freedom too – a freedom I never expected. I remember after six months of sleeping on the sofa, trying to make it work for the sake of our child, it was finally over. When that moment came I packed up what little we had and as we drove away I said to my son ‘we can do anything we want, anything, let’s have an amazing adventure’. Suddenly it felt like I had my life back and I wasn’t going to waste it.
There were other hard things about being a single mum that I didn’t expect; often weekends are lonely, I spent many weekends when I didn’t have my son, not seeing or speaking to another soul. Everyone was spending the weekends together as a family (especially in a village where I felt like the only single person to ever exist). You don’t get invited to much because people assume you won’t want to go alone or that you can’t come because of babysitting issues (I didn’t have any family nearby for the first few years). Women often become suspicious of you because you are single and presumably therefore are out to steal their husbands.
There were wonderful things too…the mornings when my son would call out ‘can I come for snuggles?’ and then crawl in beside me to cuddle up and sleep some more or just chat and giggle. The ‘mystery drives’ that we went on because we didn’t ever have any spare cash and this was my way of trying to be adventurous without spending a lot. We would pack a picnic, get in the car and he would call ‘left’ or ‘right’ at all the different turnings until we got completely lost and got out to explore the place we had ended up at – which in deepest Dorset is normally something ancient and interesting.
So what have been my take away’s from this experience that have helped me in business?
- I am more resourceful than I imagined, I can figure out a way around pretty much everything because when you have no choice but to make hard decisions, go without, go within and search for the last ounce of energy, go out and MAKE it work no matter what then you start to come up with solutions that other’s would not think of.
- I am creative, I do things differently because when you are a single mum you often don’t have the choice to do things like everyone else.
- I am strong, not having anyone else to rely on can really bring out the best in you and remind you that you are your own strength
- I look after myself, because when you have to care for someone else you also have to ensure you are in tip top condition (this is something I learned late in the game mind you, burnout was my constant setting before I remembered that I had to give to myself too).
- I am emotionally resilient, not at first of course, at first I was a mess, but over time you come to know that you can do more because of what you have already been through.
- I care, deeply. This is not just a trait that was acquired when I became a single mother obviously, but it has been developed as a result of knowing that we are all trying to do our best with the circumstances we have, with the past we have experienced, with the tools that are available, with the knowledge we have come to gather or do not yet have.
Single mothers are tenacious, voracious lionesses and in my group for single mums in business we know this, celebrate this and use this to become even more amazing. If you are a single mum (even if you are no longer single) and want to join a tribe of mothers who are in business doing amazing things, then please come and join us.