Parenting in my shoes – I am a single parent

Ellen is a 37 year old single mum of 3 children – two boys and a girl aged 8, 6 and 4. She’s originally from Kilkenny but moved around for about for about 14 years before coming back to her home county when her relationship broke down.

Ellen is a qualified Health Care Assistant and Beauty Therapist but right now is a stay at home mother. She spoke to me about some of the difficulties and rewards of single parenthood – the challenges we often don’t think of and why we should be mindful of our language.


Meeting my ex-partner…

We met online when it was still very much taboo. When we told people they were shocked. Our relationship progressed quickly and we moved in together after 3 months. The joke used to be that I moved in one weekend and then never left. We were engaged but never got around to getting married.

I was actually 5 ½ months pregnant on my daughter when the relationship came to an end. The boys would have been 2 and 4. A very young family.

The emotional impact of the break-up on me…

I knew I was doing the right thing but it didn’t make it any easier. I was so sad for my children. I was sad for him and I was sad for me. Paired with being pregnant I was an emotional wreck and my family were amazing. My sister was just out of this world.

I never needed to worry about the boys being taken care of on the days that I found it hard to function because she was always there. There was also the worry of what was to come. How would I support myself? Where would I live? Would I be able to cope? Taking one day at a time is difficult when your world has just fallen apart.

And on the children…

Thinking back, the fact that they were so young meant that they just got on with things. Of course they were sad and we had tears but they adjusted very quickly. I was always honest with them. I never gave them false hope or made a promise that I couldn’t keep. I met with a child psychiatrist and took advice on how to deal with explaining the separation to them. She advised that you tell the truth in child appropriate language and that’s what I did.

Ellen and the kids

The impact on my career…

At the time I was training to be an Intellectual Disability nurse. I had to stop. I had no way of getting from Kilkenny to Dublin because I had no car. I think I probably wouldn’t have been able to continue even if we had stayed together but at the time I felt that everything that was going wrong was a direct result of my decision to leave.

The most challenging aspects of single parenthood…

I think this would be different for everyone based on your personality and your strengths. For me it’s maintaining my energy levels to get everything I need to get done. I have suffered with depression and the lethargy that goes with that can be debilitating at times. I try to get as much as I can done when I’m feeling good.
Finding somewhere to live was a massive challenge. Even though I qualified for support there were no houses to be rented. I was lucky to be with my Mam but I felt enormous guilt that the decisions that I made in my life were affecting others. I wanted to leave not because I wasn’t welcome but because I felt it was unfair to her.
I did get a house and it was the best feeling in the world to be able to have a home for my family.

The bits people don’t appreciate…

I’ve seen a lot of mothers lately saying things like, sure he doesn’t help I might as well be a single mother. Or people who have spouses working away saying that they are like single mothers.

I appreciate when you do all the hard work that you may think it’s the same thing but the one aspect of being a single mother that people don’t
realise is that sometimes, in some cases, you not only have no physical help but you may have somebody actively working against you. Waiting and watching for you to drop the ball. It can be very draining feeling animosity continuously.

Negativity, prejudices and assumptions…

A common question I get asked is if all three have the same father? This just proves to me that the stereotype of the single mother who pops out kids to get houses is alive and well. I can’t say that I have had it aimed directly at me but I do feel it when you see things in social media about single mothers. Why did you have so many children if you couldn’t afford to support them? I had my life planned out. I was being supported to rear my children and things just went wrong.

The last thing I thought I was ever going to be was a single mother of three children. I do feel the need sometimes do fight against the stereotype which is just ridiculous. It’s just more pressure I put on myself.

My support network…

I have amazing family. My parents and sister and aunts and uncles are all hugely supportive. The kids are so lucky to have them around. I’m not sainting them. We drive each other nuts but I’d be lost without them.

Sharing the load after a bad day…

Ah with who else but the aul mother! She has always been my best friend. I have such a renewed respect for her now that I’m a mother myself. She is a rock even though she doesn’t realise it herself.

Managing loneliness…

I am not lonely I have great friends and family but sometimes I sit and I think I would love to meet someone to share some experiences with. In another breath I’m terrified of all the complications that come with that. If they have kids and an ex and I have kids and an ex and …… well it’s a lot.

What would make the biggest difference to me…

I think this is the same for all families regardless of their composition. financial security. I would love to be able to give my children experiences that they’ll never forget. Unfortunately all the basics take priority and there are many months that there isn’t enough in the pot to do the fun things.

What I’m proudest of…

At 38 weeks pregnant on my second child I was referred to the psychiatric
department of Port Laois Hospital. I did not want to continue living. I wanted to close my eyes and for it to be all over. So when you ask me what I’m proud of…. It’s literally everything. I’m proud that my children are healthy and warm and feel love on a daily basis. I’m proud that although I have blips I’m still going.

Final thoughts…

Other mothers say to me, you are amazing I don’t know how you do it, I wouldn’t be able to cope. I always answer the same way. Of course you could because you would have no other choice. Women are amazing and resilient and adaptable and have been blessed with a bottomless pit of love for our children.

That’s what keeps you going. Sometimes I think I’m luckier than people with partners. I get two nights a month that I’m child free and I don’t have to share the remote after they go to bed. I’m on to a winner!

Ellen’s children


One thought on “Parenting in my shoes – I am a single parent”

  1. Great post. I always think how difficult it must be without a partner to help give you a break, but I hadn’t thought about all the stress and animosity of a breakup, so single mums really do an amazing job!

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