How I make it work… with single mum Gemma

What’s it really like being a single mum? How do single parents manage their daily lives to make things work as a family? Single mum of one, Gemma, shares her daily routine here.

What's it like being a single parent?

My name is Gemma Clark I live in Norfolk and am a Projects and Planning Officer in Local Government. I live with my 5-year-old daughter Luna.

I’ve been a single parent for just over 2 years.

My work life balance is something I try hard to improve. I work during school hours Monday to Thursday. Friday I have off but it’s my housework day so I do my food shopping and some cleaning whilst Luna is at school. I try to make sure that the time I have with Luna is time where I can play with her and spend some quality time rather than frantically rushing around doing chores. It’s hard to keep on top of everything but I don’t watch a huge amount of television in the evenings so once Luna is asleep I might do a bit of work on the computer, housework or ironing.

I’m a bit of an introvert anyway but the pandemic has really shrunk my world down further. Working from home does have its advantages, including flexibility, less travel and being able to work around Luna better. However, going to the office and seeing my colleagues was like a social event for me and was good for my well-being. I have struggled with the isolation although I am in a bubble with my mum. Once this is over I really will make more of an effort to see friends and family and make that distinction between work and my personal life, which at the moment is quite blurred.

My secret to getting everyone ready in the morning is being organised. I get school bags packed the night before. Luna has school dinners so I don’t need to worry about packed lunches. I get up about an hour earlier than Luna and get myself ready, (coffee is mandatory!), then after getting her breakfast and drinks sorted she gets dressed whilst watching CBeebies and then brushes her teeth. Sometimes we walk to school as it’s good exercise and sometimes I drive depending on the weather, but its always a rush out the door!

My support network consists of my ex-husband, who has Luna one day and night on the weekend and sometimes one night in the week after school. In the school holidays we try to split her time between us, which enables me to work when she’s with him.

My mum is retired and I sometimes ask her to help out if I’m going out for an evening with friends for example and my brother and his family live round the corner too so again he steps in if I’m stuck. I’m quite an independent person and don’t like asking people for help as I don’t want to burden people but maybe I need to work on that perception as we all need help now and again and shouldn’t feel ashamed about admitting that.

The bit I still find hardest over two years later is when Luna has just been picked up by her dad. I worry about her leaving me, I feel guilt that because of me she has to split her time between her mummy and daddy, but I also feel some relief that I can get a bit of breathing space to look after me or just be able to get things done more easily. The quietness really hits you the minute the door closes and you’re on your own, particularly over the weekend when you’re wondering what to do. I find the best thing to do is just get busy and not wallow in negative thoughts, so I will start my chores or go into town or see family and friends or just put a podcast or some music on. Anything to get me out of my head and stop the negative thoughts spiralling.

My me-time consists of a very important early morning routine which has literally completely changed my mindset and mood everyday since I started it about two months ago. I was in a crappy place mentally, struggling with what’s going on with the virus, work, worry of parenting etc. I watched a really great YouTube video by Natalia Benson about the importance of a regular morning routine and I am really reaping the benefits. I get up at 6am – I don’t hit snooze, I’m straight out of bed. I drink a full glass of water to rehydrate and I have made it a habit to never check my phone or look at social media first thing as that can really dictate your mood for the rest of the day (especially being so negative at the moment).

I get on my yoga mat and lie down and do some breath work, just slowly and consciously breathing and counting.  I count 10 blessings in my head and then I visualise three things that I want in my life. This normally takes about five minutes, then I do some yoga stretches which takes about 10 minutes depending on how I’m feeling. So it only takes me 15 to 20 minutes max and I’ve found that it really puts me in a more positive, centred place in the morning and for the rest of the day.

In the evenings I like to read and sometimes I do a HIIT workout on YouTube. I always listen to a guided meditation or sleep hypnosis session with my earplugs on when I go to bed. At the moment I’m listening to one about self-love which is helping me with some self confidence issues I have.

If I could change one thing to make life easier it would be to not beat myself up so much about getting everything done. I put a tremendous amount of unnecessary stress on myself to have the house looking lovely, and all the chores done, but actually it really makes little difference. The most important things are that Luna and I are happy and healthy, everything else is secondary.

One thing I love about being a single parent is being able to be me. I can have the house how I want it. I can buy clothes that I like and not have to compromise what’s important to me to please someone else all the time.

Dinner times at our house are early as Luna is always famished when she gets back from school, so once we get home she watches television, plays or does craft and I get tea on. Usually we eat around 4:30pm. I don’t mind eating earlier too as it makes the bedtime routine less rushed and I get more of an evening.

Once Luna has had her tea I get her bath ready. Sometimes her daddy FaceTimes her when she’s in the bath or just after. She has a little play and then gets her pyjamas on and brushes her teeth. She enjoys me reading to her so I read about four books and she’s usually asleep by 8pm but sometimes it takes her a while so I sit with her in bed until she’s asleep.

My best single parenting hack is writing everything down in a notebook. I have lists for my monthly budget and expenditure, lists of jobs I need to do, clothes I would like, things I need to get for Luna, items for the house, Christmas present lists… you name it I have a list for it! It’s so good to get all the stuff going round my head onto paper so when I think of something I write it down straight away. It helps me keep organised, which is key to single parenting and helps me feel in control.

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6 single parents on why they’ve never been happier

It’s often assumed that single parents have a pretty hard time of things, so we spoke to six single parents about the benefits of single parenting and what they love about raising kids alone.

It’s a common misconception about single parents that our lives are basically a bit crap. We’re juggling work and home, trying to earn enough money to run a home by ourselves and are basically biding our time until a new partner comes along.

We wrote a piece recently challenging some of the common single parent stereotypes around specific things like work and money, but this idea of all single parents as being essentially unhappy and exhausted still seems to persist. While we aren’t denying it’s tiring and overwhelming at times, that’s often just life isn’t it? Married parents, non-parents, it’s just the same, we all go through ups and downs.

What we found while we were researching our myth busting piece was that actually there are an awful lot of single parents who are not just surviving, but thriving. These are parents who have never been happier, who, whether they became single parents by choice or not, find immense joy and pride in raising their children on their own.

It’s a common misconception about single parents that our lives are basically a bit crap.

We spoke to six single parents from the Frolo community about what exactly it is that they love about being a single parent and today we want to share these stories with you. We hope that they inspire you and reassure you that even when it seems tough, there are plenty of benefits to single parenting.

Emily has a four year old son and her new partner of a year has a five year old girl who spends half her time with them. 

Benefits of being a single parent

‘My marriage broke up really unexpectedly in January 2019’ says Emily, ‘and I went through three months of being told it was just a break before finally I discovered he’d been unfaithful and woke up to an email ending our marriage for good.  It was devastating. I was heartbroken for my son who was born via IVF as our divorce also meant destroying the frozen embryos that were meant to provide a sibling for him. It seemed as if it would be the end of the world.  

I really quickly discovered that it was the best thing that could have happened to me and genuinely feel my year of total single parent life was the happiest year in a decade! It gave me more confidence and the ideas and self belief to start my own business and publish a children’s book. This would never have happened if my ex husband hadn’t walked out and I would really love to help dispel any myths and give a bit of hope to any newly single parent who may be feeling that their world is over.’

Jade is a single mum to her 16 month old son.

Positives of being a single mum

‘I am a full single parent,’ explains Jade, ‘solely responsible for my son and it’s all I’ve ever known. I separated from my ex partner when I was five months pregnant for reasons outside of my control. Despite trying many different avenues to facilitate a father and son relationship my ex-partner does not see or help towards raising his son. It is all on me. 

I am happier now as a single mum than I have been the past four years. I know I am able to give my child the best version of me and that will always remain a source of happiness and pride. Although being a single parent comes with the obvious challenges it also comes with many positives too, once you accept the path you’re on and ignore the stigma surrounding ‘single parents’ you can truly appreciate how lucky you are.

Becoming a single parent doesn’t need to be the end of life as you know it; for some people like me it’s only the beginning.

Every morning I wake up to the sound of my son babbling away to himself in his cot and this instantly starts my day on a happy note. I do not have to argue with someone day in and day out regarding parental decisions or relationship squabbles; I have the freedom to choose everything myself and raise my son the way I see fit. As I’ve watched him grow from a newborn, to an infant to a toddler the sense of pride I feel is overwhelming because I’ve done it all alone. 

I’ve always wanted to start my own business and work for myself but I never had the courage. After maternity leave I lost my stable job and as a single mum, the flexibility I needed to balance motherhood and work was not easy to find. I made the decision to start my own business so I can work for myself around my son with no boss or office to answer to. 

Becoming a single parent doesn’t need to be filled with doom and gloom or the end of life as you know it; for some people like me it’s only the beginning.’

Julie is a solo mum by choice to baby Betsy.

Solo mum by choice benefits

‘I honestly think it’s easier doing this single!’ says Julie. ‘No compromising, no judgements on someone else’s style or approach, no resentments about who’s the most tired, no schedules to navigate around, no side-eye about how much I’m on my phone, how much TV we watch or what I eat! Literally the only downside seems to be that I’d love a cuppa made for me occasionally, but even then I’m pretty confident I can train the dog to do it.’

Celine has a seven year old daughter and a four year old son. She has been single since her husband left when she was six months pregnant.

good things about being a single parent

‘I always felt being a single mum had a stigma attached.’ says Celine. ‘Initially I got hung up on feeling like a failure, feeling ashamed that people looked at me differently, like I didn’t fit into the ‘norm’, but then I thought I should focus on my achievements, the fact I got through the most difficult time, and my children thrived from it and are happy, healthy and kind hearted children. I feel proud of my achievements – little things like getting through a tough day, turning the littlest of things into a special adventure for them, for working and taking pride in my job, becoming a strong independent woman who pays for our home and for making the most amazing memories.

Whilst I don’t get the encouragement or support from a partner in parenting I can honestly say that whilst it’s twice the work, it’s twice the pride! I’m not dependent on another human, it’s all on me, and that’s a feeling I wouldn’t have if I weren’t single! If I do treat myself to something expensive I have done it knowing everything else has been paid for and provided for and that feeling is amazing – it means I am one strong independent woman!’

Wendy is a mum to five children, including two sets of twins, three of whom still live at home.

Benefits of single parenting

‘I left a very toxic marriage,’ explains Wendy, ‘and was left with nothing. I didn’t want to be on my own at home whilst the kids were with their Dad so I decided to empty my account and go to New York for a few days. I decided on that trip that I was in charge of my own narrative and that the tag of single mum and all the negative connotations were not going to define me.

I’m 46, recently graduated with a first degree, and I’m about to start a masters in a completely different career, training to become a psychologist! None of this could have been done in my restrictive previous marriage. I have no one to answer to or consider aside from myself. 

As single parents we underestimate our skills and resilience. Just getting through an average week takes a whole lot of skills and organisation that we shoulder singlehanded. Never be afraid to be your own champion!

I decided that I was in charge of my own narrative and that the tag of single mum was not going to define me.

Sam is a single parent to Sonny, aged four.

single parent benefits

Solo parenting is hard, it’s intense, and I say that as someone who has a pretty low-maintenance child and a great support network! BUT it’s also the most rewarding relationship in the world. Me and my boy have an incredible and unique bond. 

I’m not going to discredit the plight of single parents at all, I know it’s damn hard, but that doesn’t mean it’s unhappy or that they’re aren’t benefits to single parenting. This wasn’t how I thought my life would pan out but I absolutely love it now, more than anything and wouldn’t have it any other way.’

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5 things that changed when I became a single parent

Emily was devastated when her marriage ended in 2019, but she soon discovered some positives to being a single parent that she wasn’t expecting.

My marriage broke up really unexpectedly, on my part at least, in January 2019. I went through three months of being told it was just a break, that he was temporarily staying at his mum’s but definitely coming home, before finally I discovered he’d been unfaithful and woke up to an email ending our marriage for good. 

It was devastating, in so many ways. It was a complete shock and I was heartbroken for my son. He was born via IVF and our divorce also meant destroying the frozen embryos that were meant to provide a sibling for him.

To start with it seemed as if being a single parent would be the end of the world but I really quickly discovered that it was the best thing that could have happened to me.

These are just a few of the reasons why…

I rediscovered my value.

When my husband left he told me I’d become ‘just a mum’.  While being a mum is the most important job and I absolutely don’t think there is anything ‘just a mum’ about it, I probably had let being a parent absorb me and I had very little self worth left. 

Being a single mum has made me see the reality. I’m a Head of Marketing who can spend one day presenting to a board and the next day jumping into puddles. I’m a mum who loves spending time with my son and bonus daughter from my new relationship, (no ‘step’ in our house), but equally I relish child free time. I love to lie in and spend all morning reading a magazine or sitting in the pub drinking too much red wine and laughing with friends.

I’m responsible but I believe in myself enough to take a few risks. I’m constantly broke as I don’t get any child maintenance, (long story), but that means that everything I provide for my son gives me a real sense of pride, and I’m hugely lucky to have very supportive parents.  Our co-parenting relationship has it’s ups and downs but on the whole is very civil – he recently came round for lunch with us on our son’s birthday.  I am now very confident in setting boundaries to protect myself though.

I am more confident.

Not just in my parenting, but in life generally.  So many of my friends kept telling me at the start how strong I was to be doing it all, and I know there is a tendency for single mums to say that we don’t have a choice, we have to be strong, but actually I am really proud of how I’ve not just coped but thrived.

I’m less inclined to sit back and just accept what I don’t like and more inclined to get up and try to change it.  For example, I hate the fact that there are no fun books for kids featuring characters who are from single parent families and, after an awful bedtime where I read Teddy Stick Man and he asked me if Father Christmas was going to bring his daddy home, I decided to do something about it. I have now written a couple of stories, one of which is currently being illustrated to be published this year.  

I’ve become myself again.

We live in a new house, in the area in which I always wanted to live before being convinced out of it by my husband. Instead of living in a new build that has been painted his choice of neutral, muted colours, I’m now living in a slightly ramshackle Victorian terrace with a pink front door that I’m slowing doing up bit by bit. 

It’s a bit shabby round the edges but full of colour, rainbows, laughter and reflects our life perfectly. Even my style has changed. I now wear things that make me happy – silver sequin trainers, bright pink leopard print, hot underwear – and I love it!

My social life got better.

Yes being the primary single parent means I can’t pop out on a spur of the moment in the evening when I have my son, but it does mean I can plan to have a social life. 

My ex-husband wasn’t the most sociable unless it just involved drinking in a pub or watching the rugby, and since we split up I’ve caught up with friends I’d lost touch with, spent more time out and about with friends, and been for weekends away, including to Paris with my girlfriends. Paris is where the ex proposed to me so we went to reclaim the city and I threw my wedding ring back into the Seine!

I’m choosing the direction of my own life. 

I’ve started writing a blog, which has been incredibly cathartic. I’ve had so many messages from women in the same position telling me how positive they find it, which feels amazing.

This year will see me start my own small business, which is totally inspired by my experience of being a single mum, plus publish a children’s book and hopefully lots more exciting things!

Read more from Emily on Instagram or on her blog, Pop Goes Perfection.

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Finding love again as a single parent – Adele’s story

Lots of single parents dream of finding love again, but sometimes it can feel impossible. In this post not-so-single parent Adele tells us why you should never give up on love.

Single parent dating

I got divorced on July 4, 2018 – Independence Day. My ex-husband is American so it really was Independence Day. Two and a half years later I’m buying a house with my new boyfriend, who was my boss until a few months ago, so yes 2020 was QUITE THE YEAR! We had our first date in March, our first house viewing in July and we completed a week before Christmas nearly exactly 9 months after our first date and first kiss. In 2020, anything really can happen…

So what’s my story? I got married in June 2012, my daughter was born in November 2014 and my husband moved out in February 2017. I won’t go into the “why” because I’ve agreed to keep it confidential but let’s just say that some relationships don’t cope with going from couple to parents. 2017 was my annus horribilis: my dad died, my marriage broke down and I became a single mum.

Nobody can prepare you for the mental and physical load of being a single parent. Suddenly you have to decide everything on your own, and while it’s great to be able to choose what you want on telly, sometimes all you want is for somebody else to organise something, for somebody to plan something, somebody to cook you dinner and most importantly for someone else to take the bins out!

Why I say there is always hope though is because three and a half years later I’m moving in with my boyfriend, I’m more in love than ever and it’s clear that you must never give up on love, nor on yourself.

However, life is never simple. I’m not only moving in with my boyfriend but also his two teenage sons, one of whom will live with us full time. I really underestimated the complexity of suddenly becoming a step mum to teenage boys – who knew an intense 6-year-old was NOTHING compared to teenagers!

I’m also leaving North London to move to South London out of love and if you’re a Londoner you’ll know that says a lot!

So when did I introduce my daughter to this boyfriend? Literally the second time we met up after our first date because I knew straightaway that this was not a short-term thing, that this really could be it. I know it sounds crazy to be that sure after a first date but we had no doubts. We had known each other for a couple of years previously so he was not a stranger, which makes a massive difference. He already had two children and I knew what he’d done for his sons, so I knew that not only did I find him super sexy but he was also a great dad.

Let’s rewind to this first date – how did I even come up with the concept of asking my boss out for a date?! Two things: my aunt telling me “just ask him out of you fancy him!” and realising that we might not be in the office much over the coming weeks. I panicked at the idea of not seeing him anymore and had a feeling he might be feeling the same. So on a Tuesday evening, off we go to The Ned (my favourite bar in The City), have two drinks, and as he said to me “do you want a last drink” this happened:

Me: “This might be the most embarrassing moment of my life but I have to tell you that I really like you and I think you might like me”

Him: “I have been dreaming you would say that, I feel exactly the same”.

No, you’re crying 😊

At first I introduced him as my friend and my daughter, being quite inquisitive and clever, quickly asked if my friend was going to have another sleepover… I don’t remember exactly when I told her he was my boyfriend, but it didn’t take me long. This might seem crazy but I just knew that he was going to be in our lives for a long time and now I know he’ll be in our lives forever.

What also happened quickly is that my boyfriend and I came to the same conclusion – that we were meant to be together and that we wanted to live together as soon as possible. Once it was allowed we started viewing houses together and he put his flat on the market at the beginning of the summer. We had made a list of what we wanted in a house about six weeks after our first date and somehow, in a twist of 2020 crazy fate, we now live in  a house that ticks all the boxes – it even has a palm tree in the garden which is always been one of my dreams. It’s completely surreal. I’ve gone from living alone with my daughter in a flat I bought with my ex-husband when I was pregnant to living in a house with three men south of the river.

We got lucky that’s for sure… when you want XYZ and you meet another person that wants XYZ and you’re super attracted to each other and they have all the characteristics and values that you look for in someone, it just fits together straight away, it just clicks, it just works, it just makes sense and there is no doubt. We still can’t believe our luck to be honest.

So my life as a single mum officially ended on the 17th of December when I started owning a house with a man who wasn’t even my boyfriend at the beginning of 2020.

People have said to me “Are you still a frolo?” in my mind, “once a frolo, always a frolo”. I’ve made amazing friends from Frolo and had I not become a single mum I wouldn’t have met these people and I would’ve had the fun times we had. Divorce was not fun nor easy, it’s been pretty difficult and it still is in some ways, but that was my path and now I know I’m really one of the lucky ones who’s hopefully found an amazing second husband.

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How I make it work… with single mum of two Sarah

Single parent stories

My name is Sarah, and I’m a single mum from Sussex.

My family consists of my son who is 12 and my daughter who is 10, and our two rescue cats.

I’ve been a single parent since Christmas 2014. At the time It was a HUGE shock to me and the kids and he moved just out a few weeks later.

My work life balance is that I work full time for a charity and my role is based at home (even pre-pandemic). This is the only way I can juggle working full time with children and I need to work full time because bills!

I used to have to do a lot of travelling for work and used breakfast and after school clubs on the days I wasn’t around to do the school runs, but this is on hold for now. I am hoping when I go back to this the children will be old enough to do their own school runs and this will save me the cost of childcare.

My employer is very supportive with flexible working and were extremely understanding during the months of homeschooling. I was also able to work condensed hours during the summer holidays to spend a day a week with the kids.

My secret to getting everyone ready in the morning is having a routine. I also have a son that’s never really slept and is up at 6am every day. It used to be 5am so perversely this feels like a lay in. I could tell you what’s happening at 07:20am and 08:20am on any given day because we do the same thing every morning.

My children go to different schools, (one is at secondary school one is at primary school), so I can get my son out the door before ‘encouraging’ his sister downstairs. I also iron all the uniforms on Sunday nights so nothing has to be done the night before or in the morning. Bags are packed and anything I need to remember, like Christmas Jumper day, or Evacuee Day, are all on the family calendar so don’t get missed.

I’m currently walking my daughter to school which feels like a commute so when I come back home I’m ready to work. I’ve also had a 40 minute walk before sitting at a laptop all day.

My support network is basically other Mums. Mums from the school have been my lifeline but I try to set things up so that I don’t have to rely on anyone else for anything. Mums also get it.

The bit I find hardest is asking for help. I am awful at this and only do it if the kids and I really can’t sort it out between ourselves.

My me-time consists of sitting down finally at 9pm and mindlessly phone scrolling – honest answer! I also do yoga which may sound like a cliché but is so good for me. I do this via Zoom now which means I don’t have to leave the kids at home alone to go. I even do one class which involves laying in bed in my pyjamas. That’s my kind of exercise!

If I could change one thing to make life easier it would be more time. Starting at 7am and not sitting down till 9pm is exhausting, 5 days a week with no break and no one to even make a cup of tea.

One thing I love about being a single parent is that we are a team. We know each other like no one else does and we all look out for each other. There is nothing that we can’t discuss and they know me better than anyone else in this world.

Dinner times at our house are done together. We sit down together for dinner at the dining table everyday. We all eat the same thing together and talk about our days, although the less said about my cooking the better.

Our bedtime routine is much easier now they’re older. They go up at 7:30pm, shower, pyjamas on, put any washing away and then read before lights out. Lights are meant to go out at 8:30pm but it’s more like 9:00pm. They don’t need me to do much for them at bedtime so I use this time to tidy up the house, put the dishwasher on, load the washing machine, run the hoover round. This means that I can finally sit down when they’re asleep.

My best single parenting hack is to be organised. I have a calendar in the kitchen and everyone has a column. Everything goes on it, all the appointments, all the Inset days, all the school events, all the childcare so everyone knows where everyone is and what’s happening.

I also organise my finances, (by day I give people who are in debt money advice). When my ex left, my income didn’t cover the mortgage, let alone food, so I got organised looking at what I had coming in and going out. Now I have the freedom to decide how my money is spent and the children make the decisions with me. I even have a Christmas spreadsheet.

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20 questions with single adopter Leon

Leon is a single adopter and has one son, aged six. Here he tells Frolo a bit about his work-life balance, his greatest achievement and his motto for life.

Single adopter dad

How long have you been a frolo?

18 months.

Tell us a bit about your frolo family.

I’m a single adopter to a 6 year old.

How do you manage a work-life balance as a single parent?

It can be tricky, but with him being a school it helps to plan my day and I utilise after school club to give me a few more hours in the day.

What do you like to do when you have time away from children?

Sleep! And do as little as possible. But catching up with friends and myself mainly.

What do you like about the Frolo community?

It normalises single parenthood and acts as a community which is super useful.

Describe parenthood in three words.

Fantastic, nonstop and motivating.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t let self-doubt hold you back.

Best parenting advice you’ve ever received?

There’s no rule book for parenting.

Who or what is your greatest love?

My handsome son.

Where is your happy place?

Sat on a beach somewhere sipping a cocktail and watching my gorgeous boy enjoying himself.

Is there a book you’d like to recommend to other frolos? A podcast?

My first children’s picture book which will be out later this year. It’s called ‘You, Me and Lots and Lots of Love’ You can follow my Instagram account for updates as and when I have them – lots_andlotsoflove.

What is your motto for life?

I have two. Everything happens for a reason and nothing happened before its time. To settle for being ordinary is to fail at living.

What is your greatest achievement?

Buying a house on my own and doing a full on renovation project and going through the whole adoption process myself – all within three years.

Any regrets?

Many, but nothing can be done to change the past so I’m all about working with the universe to dictate how my future is looking.

Biggest life lesson?

Nothing good ever comes out of staying in your comfort zone.

Last time you laughed hard?

Every day, but yesterday evening.

Last time you cried? 

Last week when watching Karate Kid with my son (I know, totally odd). I was explaining to him that anything is achievable with hard work and determination and it was just one of those silly parent moments when you have a little cry for no apparent reason! I think it was seeing him really grasping that point.

What song would you add to the Frolo playlist?

Oh God too many, but Happy by Pharrell because its one of my sons favourite songs and it really does personify him.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out on their single parent journey?

Make sure you have a reliable support bubble and to ensure you make time for self-care.

What have you learned about yourself through being a single parent?

That anything is possible.

That it requires much more patience than I thought.

You have to trust your gut when it comes to your child.

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How I make it work… business owner and single mum of one Debbie

How to make it work as a single parent

My name is… Debbie, I’m 41 and live in North Yorkshire.

My family consists of… Myself, my son (who is almost 2yrs old) and our German Shepherd, Bodhi

I’ve been a single parent since… I was 12 weeks pregnant, through choice.

My work life balance is… getting better! When I first had my son I suffered with severe post-natal anxiety and I couldn’t stand to be away from him, so I left my career as a general manager at a sports brand and decided to take extended maternity leave. When I did return to working, I took a job that I was overqualified to do to allow me the head space to be a parent too. I finally decided to have counselling for my anxiety issue, which was still dominating my life almost a year later, and this was the catalyst to my recovery. After speaking about these issues I felt I got a lot of confidence back and started my own business in July 2020. I am extremely fortunate that this allows me to work from home and around the needs of my son.

My secret to getting everyone ready in the morning is… always having a fully stocked baby bag, so I just have to get us washed and dressed, then we can grab it and go… and I usually do my make up in the car!

My support network consists of… my mum (for ad hoc childcare and emotional support), my brother and sister in law (both have been single parents prior to meeting each other), my friends with kids (for moral support and kiddie meet ups), and my friends in sobriety (I stopped drinking almost 7 years ago now).

The bit I find hardest is… being away from my son. My co-parenting relationship with his dad was very tumultuous in the beginning, and we eventually went through the family court system as we were unable to agree on the best living arrangements for our son. A year into that arrangement things are considerably better, and we all work hard to be friendly and have daily contact with each other when he is with the other parent.

My me-time consists of… baths, walking and podcasts. I still struggle with anxiety at times, especially during this pandemic, but I have some good coping mechanisms – getting outside is usually the best cure, and having a dog gives me an excuse! I really enjoy catching up with friends over coffee or dinner, and hopefully 2021 will see more of this.

If I could change one thing to make life easier… I would make counselling available to all new parents. As an older mum, (geriatric, as the medical professionals so kindly referred to me as), I felt a monumental shift in my mental health after having my son. I was overwhelmed with love, riddled with worry, and left doubting my ability to cope. I think if I had sought help earlier, or my anxiety had been identified by health visitors, then my journey into new parenthood would have been different. There is so much shame around feeling like you cannot cope, which for me was only made better by talking openly and through connection with others in a similar position.

One thing I love about being a single parent is… the bond between my son and me. When I am with my son, he takes my whole focus. We go on mini adventures to the woods, seaside, or farm. I am making the most of him wanting to spend time with me, as I know it changes as they grow up.

Dinner times at our house are… messy! And I would not have it any other way.

Our bedtime routine is… usually early as my son likes to start his day between 4-5am, so we usually do bath time straight after dinner, then snuggle in my bed for a movie with a bot-bot.

My best single parenting hack is… try to stay in the present moment; stop worrying about the future, all it does is stop you enjoying the little moments with your children.  

Enjoyed Debbie’s post? Read more single parent stories.

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How I make it work… with mum of three Rita

Single parenting real life

My name is Rita.   

My family consists of three hilarious boys aged 10, six and six. The boys have a different last name than mine – so we can’t really call ourselves by that. One day I looked at them and thought that they looked like such a fun ‘tiny boy tribe’. The name stuck, so that’s what we proudly call ourselves – the Tiny Boy Tribe.   

I’ve been a single parent since February 2018. And to be honest at the time it hit me like a ton of bricks. I remember thinking, “How is this my story?”. Now, it’s much more like, “I’m so lucky this is my story”.  

If you told me at the start of my journey that I would find joy in single parenthood I wouldn’t have believed you. In fact, I would have probably been mad at you for daring to say that to me. But I have found SO. MUCH. JOY. Frolo has been a huge part of that, so you if you haven’t already, check out the app and find your tribe.   

My work life balance is sacred to me. I’m a big believer in my kids knowing that I work and seeing the reality of that. I don’t hide that from them. But I also have golden rules. I never miss the stuff that matters like stay-and-plays or performances. I’ve always worked in media, so it’s about being flexible. I work before they’re up and after they’re in bed when I can, so I can maximise my time with them.  

My secret to getting everyone ready in the morning is enabling them to do things themselves. Getting three boys and myself ready ahead of the school run and the commute can feel like work before work has even started. So instead, from about five-years-old, I had the twins dress themselves and from nine my eldest knew how to toast his bagel and butter it.  

I set out their clothes the night before and put their toothbrushes and toothpaste where they can reach it to help them, but our kids are capable of so much more than we sometimes think. It was actually my mom, who was visiting, who pointed this out. She was like, “Why you getting four people in the house dressed when you should be getting one person dressed?” It’s taken the stress out the of morning so we can all have a better start to the day together.    

My support network consists of so many amazing people. I’ve been an ex-pat for 12 years, so I’ve always had to make my own family. I have two amazing frolos, who I just don’t know what I would do without. They’re my soul sisters.  

And I have an amazing group of friends. I’m also really close to my ex in-laws. They all pitch in. My family visit as often as they can, but I don’t know where I would be without my support network.  

There are two things I would say about building your own. First, put yourself out there. Some of my closest friends are school mums I spotted on the playground and thought they looked like nice people, so I just went over and introduced myself and asked them if they wanted to get a coffee. The worst someone can say is no thank you. Second, I used to have all this guilt about people helping me, so would struggle to ask and instead would soldier on. I’ve learned people want to help. But I’ve also learned I can thank them in in my own way. I do babysitting swaps or drop a treat off when I have a moment.   

The bit I find hardest is always changing. At first it was the loneliest, then it was the exhaustion. But I’m no longer lonely and by some miracle my stamina has improved. The things I used to find hard I don’t anymore. And that gives me hope that the thing I find hardest now – having a boy at the start of puberty – will get easier too.   

My me-time consists of spending time with my friends. It’s funny because when I was married, I used to feel guilty about spending time away from my husband and kids, like I somehow had to make up for the fact that I spent two hours out. I think every parent – single or not – should have time to themselves to cultivate their interests or just drink wine with the girls in fits of giggles. I come back to the boys a better parent any time I do.   

If I could change one thing to make life easier I would get more representation for single parents in government. Married couples can earn double what single parents do and still get Child Benefit and subsidised childcare. It’s insane to me. And that’s not going to change until there are enough voices, speaking from a single parenthood perspective to affect change.   

One thing I love about being a single parent is the people I’ve met through Frolo. They’ve been life changing. They’re an extension of our family. We’ve gone on holiday, celebrated our kids’ birthdays, laughed until our sides hurt and carried each other through the tough stuff when we’ve needed to.  

Dinner times at our house are a lot of fun. It’s when we can talk without distractions. Sometimes we play music and dance around the table. Sometimes it’s a rushed meal on paper plates. But it’s always just us four, taking a few minutes to just be with each other. I want them to grow up remembering those moments, amidst all the chaos, of us making the effort to sit down around the dinner table. 

Our bedtime routine is varied. Some days I have the energy to play games or stay up and watch movies. Other days it’s straight into bed. I always tuck the twins in first and then my oldest, who I read a couple chapters to each night. It’s my way of getting one-on-one time with him. But before I turn out the lights I have them each repeat that they are brave, kind, smart and loved. When you’re a single parent, you have to find a way to reset through all the chaos. Having them repeat those affirmations is my way of making sure that no matter how crazy the day was, they can go to bed knowing that about themselves.  

My best single parenting hack is a phrase I always tell the boys, “You are old enough and you are capable enough”. I cannot do it all. That’s impossible. So when they don’t want to clear their plates or put their clothes away, I tell them that. I think empowering them to learn to do those things on their own is good for them and me. And if I’m allowed a second hack, find your tribe. I am so grateful for mine.  

Enjoyed Rita’s post? Read more single parent stories.

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What I’ve learnt about… being pregnant and single

Words by Dominique Afacan

When I was 38, I decided enough was enough with the dreadful app dates. It was time to take things into my own hands and get pregnant on my own. Or at least with the help of a sperm donor. Two rounds of IVF and one embryo transfer later and against the odds, I had succeeded. Of course, while I had prepared for solo motherhood, I had no idea what to expect from a solo pregnancy (and that’s without throwing corona into the mix). Yes, I had expectations and fears, but the reality was very different. Here’s what I’ve learnt so far (with six weeks to go!). 

Finding out I was pregnant didn’t feel lonely

Before I got pregnant, I worried that the happy moment I saw the two pink lines appear on a test stick would be compromised by the sadness of not having a partner to share in my joy. The reality was totally different. I had invited so many people along on my pregnancy journey that if anything, I wanted this to be a private moment. I wanted to do the test before text messages began to flood in asking not very subtly, ‘how things were’ at the end of the two week wait. I ended up testing a day early and as the two lines slid into view, I let out a weird, crazy lady laugh. I remember looking at myself in the bathroom mirror as if to make sure this was all really happening and then sitting on my bed staring at the test in disbelief. It felt magical – and anything but lonely.

You’ll rely on your friends more than ever

I might have wanted to be alone for the test bit, but wow, after that, I needed my friends more than ever. All the casual chats I might have had with a partner were now allocated to various friends who I drafted in from all areas of my life. My list of topics up for debate was endless – I needed to brainstorm on names, decide which pushchair to buy (that was tiresome for all involved), get the lowdown on breast versus bottle (this still feels like a minefield), and discuss every twinge and new development in my body. My support network was key, and without them I would doubtlessly have gone mad. I still did, a little bit.

You aren’t that different from your coupled up pregnant friends

I was really lucky that three of my oldest friends happened to get pregnant at the same time as me. I really thought I’d missed that boat on that, what with being 40 and all, but it happened, and it was such a treat. The fact that I was single made no difference whatsoever to our collective experience – we all got together on a Zoom call every few weeks to compare bumps and exchange our latest news – and for the most part, we had similar woes  – fears about bleeding in the first trimester (I was sadly a pro at this), stressing about corona (even more of a pro), and then anxiety about the actual birth (gold medal champion). Partner or otherwise, I felt like we were all in it together.

I still went on a baby moon

I am not a fan of the term baby moon, not sure why, but I am a fan of holidays, and I wasn’t going to let the fact I was single stop me from taking one. Originally, I had plans to go to Mallorca, but corona put a stop to that. So off I went to an Airbnb in Whitstable. By myself. It was only one afternoon back at the cottage, feeling warm and cosy after a lovely windswept walk along the beach, that I realised I wasn’t alone at all. There were three heartbeats in that cottage – mine, my baby’s and my dog’s. I found that so heartwarming.

Your attitude shapes people’s responses

Before I actually got pregnant as a solo mum, I felt a lot of shame around the whole thing. I suppose I thought people must think I’d failed in some way to get to this point. Fast forward to today (and thanks to a hell of a lot of therapy) I now love telling people about my unusual journey to motherhood. I’m proud of myself and all the challenges I’ve overcome to get here and I’ve noticed that people tend to mirror that attitude back at me. When I was filled with shame, people responded to me with pity and concern, now that I am genuinely happy and comfortable with my position, people respond with excitement and enthusiasm.

About Dominique

Dominique Afacan is the founder of the Nesting newsletter, celebrating all the best things about hanging out at home. Enjoyed Dominique’s post? Read more unusual and inspiring single parent stories.

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Holly’s Frolo Story

Holly's Frolo Story: Holly and her children at the beach

Once upon a time there was a woman who had two beautiful kids by herself and they lived happily ever after.

This is a greatly condensed and diluted version of the story, which skips past a ravaged bank account, a laundry basket that won’t quit, the mental tippexing out of various ill-timed viruses, the installing and deleting of dating apps, self-loathing next to other – seemingly perfect – parents, and hundreds of half eaten tins of baked beans.

Dad raised my brother and I on his own, following a nervous breakdown which played a part in my Mum leaving him. It was 1981, I was 4 and Matthew was 6. That same year, David Bowie released ‘Under Pressure’ which served as a fitting soundtrack. Dad ran his own business and taught me what truly mattered. He warned me of people who viewed kindness as a weakness, showed me what he could of the world, and left me with no doubt that I could reach my own cookie jar – regardless of age or stature.

It’s 2020, I’m a gay single Mum with a 5-year-old boy who I want to dance with every night (even when he requests Bruno Mars) and a 1-year-old daughter who is more independent than me at times, and says hello to cars. ‘Rain on Me’ has been released by Lady Gaga which, again, seems fitting – only they should have released a ‘lockdown mix’ involving swear words and something unkind about our government when played backwards.

I seemed to turn 36. I’d got plenty out of my system by then, but I had also rudely lost both my parents to cancer in close succession five years before and knew, in a bone-chiming way, that I was ready to embark on my biggest ambition of all: parenthood. Despite my romantic efforts to find a co-pilot and a second set of nail-painted hands with whom to start a child-rearing home, my desire to start a family became a deafening obsession and I developed Kanye West-flavoured swag and eerie calm that I could totally do this solo.

I had heard of Stork Clinic in Copenhagen via my Danish friends – and I had fallen deep in toe-tripping love with Denmark on a visit at the age of 19 – so I went to discuss my options and chances to conceive. They were bloody brilliant in every regard and it felt like I was strutting into a classy private members club which I couldn’t afford, and yet the VIP lounge was at my disposal 24/7. I found the chapter of choosing a donor to be surreal but comforted myself with the fact that, actually, what does anyone know about the person they pro-create with beforehand? Do they know, like I do, that their aunty has green eyes and curly hair and the professions of both their parents? I was blown away by how elaborate the profiles were and found that the European Sperm Bank operated a super slick and friendly service, which helped to oil all the cogs turning in my head. Stirring your DNA with another human being goes beyond a paint colour-match at B&Q on a Sunday.

Johan finally made his royal arrival into my life after a turbulent year and a half. The sixth IVF attempt won me his deep, devoted eyes, determination, and dirty nappies. Despite being acutely aware how much each failed attempt hurt, I would do it thrice times over, and with a vodka shot in my eye, knowing him and how utterly game-changing motherhood is. 

My boss of 12 years excluded me from meetings the moment I fell pregnant. I chose to actively ignore this reality as it seemed too retro as a concept – and ignoring it made coming into the office each morning more palatable. I was forced to play a game of uncomfortable verbal chess when I was only offered statutory maternity pay, despite knowing my value and loyalty to the company. Upon Johan’s arrival, I was refused the option to work from home one day a week, despite living on the other side of London with no grandparents or partner at my disposal. My Hallelujah moment happened in the form of one of our biggest clients learning of my situation: he nudged me to quit and offered to personally finance the set up my own agency. Representing a different skill-set, I was given complete creative freedom and Johan was now 5 months old.

In Crowd Agency was born from my bedroom with a red Ferrari-shaped phone, a laptop and a pocketful of optimism. It’s my third baby who never sleeps but pays for the life that we have by the sea in Brighton and the eye-watering costs incurred from childcare. Fertility treatment inadvertently preps you quietly for what’s in store with parenthood: you learn to find patience you never knew you had and money when your piggy bank is a pile of porcelain dust. I moved my home and office to Brighton when heavily pregnant with my daughter and whilst, in hindsight, I can see that was a little hardcore, it’s a move that I pat my instincts on the back for daily – especially when I leave the office, scoop up the kids, and head to the salty air of the beach.

Silke also made me fight for her existence as she didn’t turn up to the party until the sixth attempt either but, again, the idea of her not being nuzzled into our family, dancing like a drunk uncle, and putting valuable objects into our kitchen bin, is unfathomable. Sure, I’m tired. But I’m also aware of the advantageous aspects of solo parenting and, even in my darkest hours as a parent, I am acutely aware of how fortunate I am and shudder to think about the generations who stood tall before us – minus mod-cons, in true poverty and during wars etc. 

I’m a solo parent but I have an ammunition cabinet full of the most luminous friends. My spaghetti junction mind means I’m never alone and always working with a known and trusted crack team: me, myself and I. I exist in organised chaos, but it’s my noisy, sticky, permanent marker-stained chaos and when that play date happens, or Silke slow dances with Mr. Sandman, gifting me an hour, all I can hear is the dishwasher whirring and myself missing them.

About Holly

Holly is a frolo who lives in Brighton with her son, Johan, and daughter, Silke. She is also the co-founder of In Crowd Agency.

Enjoyed Holly’s post? Read more single parent stories.

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