There are lots of reasons why motherhood can sometimes be lonely, but Gemma Fraser has great advice for when circumstances are especially tough...
I'm not ashamed to admit it. Being a single mum is the toughest job I have ever had in my life. It is emotionally draining, physically exhausting and mentally challenging. The 'mum guilt' every mother feels is amplified as you worry you can't give your child everything you want to give them because you're going it alone. You have to shoulder everything by yourself - bringing up a vulnerable, helpless human being, running a household, work, bills, (makeshift) DIY....the list is never ending. Of course, the rewards trump all of that. To be able to look at your child and say, hand on heart "I did that" brings a feeling of pride so overwhelming I had no idea it even existed.
But one of the things I hadn't prepared myself for when I found myself catapulted into the world of single parentdom was the isolation. Being a single mum is lonely. Very, very lonely. And there is no lonelier time than at weekends. All my mum friends would be excitedly counting down the days until the weekend arrived, knowing they would have a chance of that highly coveted lie-in, being able to 'treat themselves' to a supermarket shop without kids in tow, and just simply having someone to talk to over the age of five. But for me, the approaching weekends brought feelings of dread and despair. With none of your usual classes or playgroups on, and mum friends with partners out of bounds, just how do you fill those long, lonely hours when everyone else - at least in your mind - is having fabulous family time and Pinterest-perfect days out?
1. Make plans
Do not just wake up on a Saturday morning without any clue as to how you're going to spend the day. You will find yourself losing a morning lounging about in your pyjamas having "just one more coffee" before showering, then becoming frustrated that you've wasted half a day doing nothing. Your child will inevitably become fed up with being caged, you will both be in bad moods, and the whole day will be a write-off. No matter how dull or monotonous the plans are - a trip to Aldi at least gets you out the house, plus you can pick up some good snacks - they are an essential part of dealing with The Weekend Blues.
2. Avoid "happy families"
Don't be stupid enough to make plans which will involve bumping into happy, smiley families all day long. Don't be crazy and take your child to the zoo, or a family farm park or anywhere predictable like that. The likelihood is that these family days out will result in tantrums, parents snapping at each other, and repeatedly cursing the fact they've just spent £50 on entrance fees, but you only see the Kodak moments. Think about places that are reserved for solitary parenting at the weekends - ie places where one parent takes a child after drawing the short straw, allowing the other parent to "enjoy" their hangover in peace. Think rhyme time at the library, soft play (shudder), or swimming. These activities rarely involve the appearance of two parents, so can be less daunting. And your child will definitely have fun, which is really the ultimate goal.
3. Go off grid
The best single parent days out I've had with my daughter have been when we've disappeared on an all-day adventure as soon as we were up, dressed and breakfasted. We tend to disappear out into the countryside and visit ruined castles - she loves exploring all the nooks and crannies, I love the history, and we both love the picnic. And the great thing is that there's usually no mobile phone signal so you're not subjected to the happy family faces grinning back at you on your Facebook newsfeed all day long.
4. Make friends with other single mums
Sometimes it can feel like you are the only one in the whole entire world who is going it alone. But, of course, there are plenty of mum heroes out there taking on the burden of responsibility that, in an ideal world, would be shared (and shared, and shared some more). It's refreshing to meet people in the same position as you, who understand how hard bringing up kids alone can be; people who just "get it". Single mum friends are also great for helping you out, and especially great for nights out when a willing babysitter offers their services. If you don't know any other single mums, or even mums whose partners work at weekends, then what are you playing at?! Get searching your Mush app for mummy heroes near you - it's what it was made for!
5. Reward yourself
As any mum knows, spending a full day looking after a child by yourself is draining. Even on a good day. But every mum also knows - or definitely should know - that treats aren't just for kids. Make sure you have something special waiting for you once your beloved child is happily in the land of nod, dreaming about the day's exploits with their supermum. Whether that's a nice bottle of sauvignon blanc chilling in the fridge, a double chocolate cheesecake, a long soak in the bath with candles, or even just a night in front of trashy Saturday night TV, make sure it's something that is going to help you relax and unwind - so you are ready to do it all again tomorrow.