My Single Parent Test
My husband Sukh and I often go away for work. Even though my trips are shorter – no more than ten days at a time – they’re more frequent. Read about my recent trip to Mumbai here. Sukh’s first work trip abroad came in the summer of 2016 when he went to work at the Olympics in Rio. It was something he had wanted to do for a long time and after a gruelling application process, he was selected to work for the Olympic Broadcast Service.
It was a really exciting time for him and the kids and I were over the moon because it was an opportunity of a lifetime. He would be right in the heart of the biggest event on the planet that summer. He would meet people from all walks of life and finally get to see a bit of Brazil, a country he’s always been keen on visiting.What was an exciting time for Sukh, was a scary one for me. I would be here, at home, with the kids for five weeks. From the outset, I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I would have to juggle their social calendars, clubs and family events over the summer, which normally Sukh and I would share.
Marriage and parenthood is a partnership. We each have our individual roles to play but we have shared duties too. We rely on each other. We’re able to pick up from the other if one is unable to do something or be somewhere. If one is late home from work, we know the other has dinner, homework, bath and bedtimes sorted. If one needs a little ‘me’ time, the other is there to hold the fort for a while.Now, I would be the one responsible for everything. Thankfully Sukh’s trip abroad was mostly over the summer holidays so at least I didn’t have school and early nights to think about. I decided to take the whole summer off work and just be there for the kids. I knew Shalini and Shivam would miss their Daddy like crazy so it was a wise decision. This way I would be able to keep them occupied with days out and activities at home.However, Shalini was sitting her eleven-plus that September and she had an intense summer schedule set by her tuition centre; one mock exam per week followed by two lessons of Maths, English and Reasoning. She also had to do four practice papers a day at home. (I have written a blog post on the 11-plus and will be putting that up on my site soon). This meant driving her to and from the exam and sessions a couple of times a week and scheduling a fixed time at home for her practice papers which took a couple of hours. Outside of that, her time was her own. That’s when I would plan fun things to do to keep her entertained and also relaxed.There were lots of things going on in the extended family too, which would keep us busy. In my mind, I had a plan. But I was still anxious and in the weeks leading up to Sukh’s departure I had many disturbed nights. I never spoke about my feelings with anyone. I never once mentioned it to Sukh either because I didn’t want my fears to overshadow his feelings of excitement and adventure. He was also worried about leaving the kids and I, but not because he didn’t think I could do it alone.That’s the one thing about Sukh. He’s always shown confidence in me and believes I can do something even if I doubt myself. He was worried about our safety more than anything. Would I remember to switch off the cooker? Would I remember to set the alarm or lock the front door behind me? Or would I hold the kids’ hands? Make sure they were in my line of sight each moment we were out and about?A lot of that stuff comes naturally and as parents we just do it without thinking but it’s different when you’re the one going away. I do the same thing when I’m going away. It’s natural to worry but when you’re actually doing it yourself, you don’t have to remind yourself of these things because you do them anyway. I always hold the kids’ hands when they’re crossing the road. I make sure I double-check everything when I leave the house.
I’m a really strong person – mentally and physically – and I can take on a challenge and overcome it at the best of times. I’m also not one to wallow in self-pity for long. If something is worrying or bothering me, once I’ve mulled it over in my mind and spoken to friends and family about my feelings I’m able to just refocus, pull myself together and get on with the job.So it was strange that on this occasion I didn’t mention anything to anyone. This time I was a little apprehensive of night times especially. I knew once Shalini and Shivam went to bed it was my sole responsibility to keep them safe. I would be the only one checking on them in the night to make sure they were still breathing. To a non-parent, it might seem strange or laughable but most parents will understand what I mean. We have this obsession with making sure we can see and hear the kids physically taking breaths.
When the time came to wave Sukh off, everyone was as emotional as we had expected. Sukh felt a little guilty that he would be leaving Shalini at a difficult time but he knew she was in good hands.With him gone, the house was quiet. The first few days went by quite fast and I enjoyed having a little ‘me’ time once the kids had gone to bed. I was able to catch up on films and TV I had missed, read, write and even indulge in the odd cream cake which when Sukh is around is strictly a no-no!There were some struggles too especially when the kids just didn’t do as they were told. That happened quite a lot with Shivam during this time. He was six and as a lot of parents of six-year-olds will know, they can be testing! When he and Shalini would argue and fight – as siblings do – it would test my patience no end. Normally it would take a lot to break me but I guess because now I was on my own, I would get angry or upset fairly quickly.On any normal day, if one of the kids had a tantrum on my watch, it was easy to talk to Sukh and tell him all about it and vice versa. If one had had enough, the other would step in and release the pressure. But with Sukh thousands of miles away and in a different time zone, calls were few and far between.
I also didn’t want to burden him with the squabbles at home. He was busy, he was working long hours and the last thing he needed was to be told about a situation he couldn’t do anything about. It wouldn’t be fair on any of us. Although after years together, he could detect something was wrong. In his phone calls with the kids, he would always remind them about their behaviour and ask them to be good for mummy.
After a week of being at home with me, Shivam asked to go to a local football camp, which ran during school hours every weekday. This was a great idea and a relief all round. He was outdoors, getting fresh air and exercise and doing something he loved while I was able to focus on Shalini during the day.
We would pick him up at three o’clock and he would be glad to see us. We would then have a lovely afternoon doing an activity or going out somewhere. The three of us ould then cook a nice meal at home or eat out. It meant the time we were spending together was more relaxed and we actually had more fun.Of course I had offers of support from extended family if I needed it but we became so busy over the summer, I didn’t really have the need to call on them.
I had thought the time would drag while Sukh was away, that I would run out of things to do to entertain the kids, that the stress of being a single parent for five weeks would drive me insane. But everything was OK and we actually had a really good time. So when it was time for Daddy to come home, we had lots to tell him about our summer.Sukh went again this February for four weeks, to South Korea for the Winter Olympics. I must admit this time felt a lot longer than in the summer of 2016. This time the kids had school. The weekends were busy too with various clubs and activities. It meant I didn’t get that valuable lie-in and I didn’t have any time off.
I was juggling full-time work, school runs, homework and all the things us parents do. I really admire single parents who do this on a daily basis because it’s not easy at all. But I refuse to ever give up or give in. I soldiered on until Sukh was back and promised to take a couple of days for myself to just unwind.
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