The worst part about being a single parent is saying goodbye.
I have just got off the phone with my daughter, and now I am in tears. My daughter is three and a half years old, and yesterday I dropped her off with her father across the other side of the country. She will stay with him for six days. As a single parent, saying goodbye to my child is really hard.
When we’ve visited in the past, I have always stayed with them in the same house, but it hasn’t been easy, and it hasn’t been a good experience to date. So this time I thought it would be better for everyone if I stayed out of the way. Let’s just say my ex is quite unfriendly towards me. Civil behaviour I can handle, but he is far from it.
My daughter hears all the interactions her dad and I have with each other, because the only time we generally communicate is when my daughter and her dad speak (over speaker phone or Skype). My daughter actually got quite distressed about it a month ago, and starting yelling at her father over the phone: “DADDY, YOU STOP BEING SO MEAN TO MY MUMMY’. I had to end the phone call at that point.
For days and weeks afterwards, my daughter would tell me at random times: “mummy, my daddy’s not nice to you”. I got advice from a professional on how to handle these conversations with a three year old, because the last thing I want to do is bad mouth her father to her. So I have been responding with things like “yes, but he loves YOU soooooo much” and then I change the topic.
It’s a hard thing to navigate, because I don’t want her to think that that sort of behaviour is acceptable or dismiss her thoughts, but I DON’T want to talk badly about her father to her either. When my ex talks to me like that in front of my daughter, I usually respond in a firm tone and in a similar way to telling off a child. For example, “speaking to me like that is not very nice, and not acceptable; I will not tolerate that sort of behaviour”. More on this in another blog post.
The point is, when we are in the same place together, it is very toxic, and I believe, a very unhealthy environment for my daughter to be in. My daughter will run to me when I’m trying to stay out of the way during their time together, and then my ex gets upset and angry because she wants me, and everything is my fault. It’s a never ending cycle.
Last year my ex suggested he take our daughter to Brisbane for a week to meet his sister and her family. I really want to encourage their relationship and bond, but because they had never had even one night alone together, I suggested a two or three night getaway a few months beforehand to ease her into it. I could also gauge how she would handle it.
So exactly one year ago, when my daughter was two and a half years old, my ex came to Sydney and took her to Port Stephens for three nights. It was the first time I had to properly say goodbye to my daughter, and it sucked. I was worried and anxious the entire time, and I missed her TERRIBLY. I had only ever been away from her for one night at a time, when she’d had sleepovers at my parents place. If my ex and I had a communicative relationship I wouldn’t worry so much, but unfortunately we didn’t, and still don’t.
On their second day away I got a text asking me where to buy “Frozen” underpants. I was confused, I’d packed lots of underpants for my daughter, but I then got told that they had run out of the “Frozen” ones and my ex couldn’t handle the subsequent tantrum which was about my daughter “NEEDING” Elsa undies. The Peppa Pig undies simply wouldn’t do. If it had been me, it would have been tough luck. I wouldn’t have gone to buy extra undies whilst on holidays to satisfy my daughter’s tantrum. But I did think it was kind of sweet that he wanted to make her happy. So I offered some suggestions, and they went to buy some new undies. Problem solved.
At the time, I was out at a (child free) lunch with some single mum girlfriends, and we all thought it was GREAT that he was lucky enough to experience the “terrible twos” for three days straight.
But when they got back from their trip away, I got yelled at for raising such a naughty girl. Apparently the tantrums were all my fault, and her behaviour was not normal or rational. I tried to tell him about the concept of the “terrible twos”, and that it WAS normal. He didn’t agree. According to him, her behaviour was my fault, and I was a terrible parent for raising a child who would act like that.
My daughter actually did handle the trip pretty well, and seemed very happy when she came back. She had a great time, and spoke about him regularly after that. But I didn’t think that my ex would want to take our daughter away for a week after that (normal) experience, but he did.
So three months later, he took her to Brisbane for a week. It was the worst week for me. I felt empty, and honestly, like I was missing a limb. I went out to lunch with some girlfriends on the first day after they were gone, and just burst into tears. It’s such a strange experience for me, being without my daughter. I have been a single parent since she was just a few months old, and my life really does revolve around her.
Sometimes in our day to day life, when I’m feeling stressed and frustrated, I envy those single mums that have their child’s father quite involved. Imagine having a break every few days, or even every second weekend…
I imagined that when they would be away for the week I would get so much done, I could sleep as long and often as I wanted, I would be free.
But the reality is very different to the fantasy. I felt depressed, empty, worried and on edge. It was a really unpleasant week and I was full of worry. My ex wouldn’t answer the phone if I called, and wouldn’t call me back. He wouldn’t respond to any texts. And look, it wasn’t like I was harassing him. I am fully aware that it was their time together, but just a quick text letting me know that our two year old was OK, would have been a huge relief for me. He let me speak to her once later in the week for a few minutes, before yelling at me that she had not spoken about me the entire week and then hanging up.
When she returned I was whole again.
That same day, my ex screamed at me on William Street outside the German Embassy after going to a (court ordered) passport interview. He called me the c-word, among other things, whilst holding our daughter. I stopped making an effort with him after that. Enough was enough. That was in January.
It’s now been 8 months since my daughter has seen her dad (not because I have been withholding her by the way, but because I have stopped initiating the contact as much). My ex was court ordered to come visit her in March, but never showed up. Because our court orders state that we are to go to Perth two months after his visits to Sydney, we have not been.
BUT, my daughter has been speaking about her dad regularly for a couple of months now, so I thought the right thing to do was to go to Perth so she could see him. I think she has been missing him a lot. Which brings us to yesterday.
Her father met us at the airport, and then agreed to drop me off at a train station (which I must admit, was unexpected and very nice). There is not much public transport available at the airport in Perth. I was feeling sad on the plane and got all the cuddles I could from my daughter, before I knew I would have to say goodbye to her. I have been preparing her for a few weeks now that we would be saying goodbye, and that she would be having a special week just with daddy. She’s been speaking to anyone and everyone about how excited she is to be visiting her daddy, so I haven’t been too worried about her in the lead up.
As we landed, I gave her lots more cuddles, and told her how much I loved her and how much I would miss her, but I that I was so happy that she was going to be having lots of fun with daddy. It took a lot to hold back the tears.
When they dropped me off at the train station, I jumped in the back seat of the car to give my daughter another a squeeze, before retrieving my bags from the back and waving them off. Then I cried.
Saying goodbye is SO hard.
Luckily I had a distraction, and was excited to be catching up with an old friend who lived an hour away on the train. We had a great catch up in the afternoon, and then I checked into my hotel, ordered a pizza (which I ate in bed), watched The Bachelor, and had a glass of wine. I felt pretty good. I was excited about the prospect of sleeping in for the first time in months.
This morning was also pretty great. I slept in (until 8:30 am Sydney time), enjoyed the buffet breakfast and relished eating in peace and quiet, without having to butter anyone else’s toast or share my food. I was looking forward to catching up with my friend again for lunch, and then going to the movies, before finishing up the day with dinner and cocktails. Maybe all the single mums I have spoken to about this ARE right, I thought. Maybe it DOES get easier!
Then the phone rang, and it was my ex. Hooray, I thought! How nice of him to call and let me know how our daughter is. But it was my daughter on the phone, in tears. I spoke to her for 20 minutes trying to calm her down, whilst my ex got increasingly frustrated in the background. My daughter was so sad: she was missing me, she was tired, she wanted a mummy cuddle and she told me she wanted me to pick her up. She SCREAMED that she wanted me to pick her up. She got quite hysterical towards the end, and was almost hyperventilating.
This is the worst part about being a single parent. Seeing your child suffer, because you can’t be there with them, and there’s nothing you can do about it.