Flynn Sarler And Carol with

Dearest Flynn

I am so sorry. Sorry that he’s gone from your life, sorry that you are hurting, sorry that history has repeated itself. It was so many long years ago that I found myself alone with you, my lovely little girl, and without a clue what the future might hold. And now, here you are, alone with your own lovely little girl and, I wouldn’t be surprised, scared half to death by what insuperable problems may lie ahead. The advance publicity does not help. The ignorant conservative view of the single mother is that we are all ne’er-do-well Vicky Pollards; the patronising liberal view is that we are all victims. And you really do not want to be either, do you? So perhaps I may ofer you a sneak preview of my own and let you into a secret shared by my similarly placed friends: you may yet discover, as most of us have, that the pros of single motherhood can far outweigh the cons. Single motherhood is often more fun, more satisfying and astonishingly, you probably think now actually easier. You will, of course, be poorer than you would otherwise have been. My friend Sue snifs that she didn’t miss a man (especially that man!), but she did miss a man’s wallet. Men earn more than we do especially when we are mothers and, regrettably, rare is the ex whose generosity runs beyond the absolute minimum extracted by court or State.

In my case, as you know, this amounted to nothing at all: your father scarpered to the other side of the world, after which there was nary so much as the cost of a Winter coat for your four-year-old back. Still, we managed. I was self-employed, which gave you a head start in learning feast from famine. Younger than most children, for whom finance is a matter for parental whispers, you knew what can’t afordmeant and, to your credit, you accepted it. Remember how you used to open my purse and say, Mum, we have not got any money shall I go to the cash point?And I’d reply, Well, okay, but only a tenner this weekand there was no argument. Remember, too, when my boat briefly came in in the form of a gaily wrapped Christmas gift that was a surprise ticket for New Year in New York? Just us, and 13(!) popcorn-spattered, new-release movies in as many days. Find me a man who’d call that a holiday! Less exotic days were always open to spontaneity. All those Saturdays when we’d take the bus to the Jewish deli to buy a big bag of gefilte fish, then walk around Camden Market chomping away on them. We called that lunch. My friend Jane recalls Sunday mornings with her two children in her bed, where they’d talk and laugh for merry hours while licking ice lollies. They called that breakfast.

Both of our exes would have called those mealsdisgraceful. It is not children who expect meat and two veg on a table at coordinated times, it is men family men who were brought up to expect it. Only when free of the expectations of family men many of them quite reasonable expectations do you become aware of how much efort goes into meeting them. A man will likely think that, when he comes home, you should listen to the woes of his day; a man who is not coming home, by contrast, leaves you free for extra homework, extra cuddles or extra Strictly. Whatever you and your little girl need most. Family men expect, as they rightly should, a say in the raising of their children. But if your child is still up and hyper at midnight, while Daddy is insisting that children go to bed when they are ready and you think she should have gone down at 7.30, you are living in perpetually exhausting diplomatic negotiations. By yourself, you will make mistakes millions, if I’m any model but at least they are your mistakes to make and mend.

Other people have fewer expectations, too: it may not be right, but allowances are made for single mothers that are not made for the good wife and mother, who is meant to keep a clean house, a groomed family and knock up dinner for 12. To this day, you have not forgiven me for the morning I rushed you of to primary school without knickers; the school, however, understood our haphazard life and just found it funny. As for the practicalities, once you have accepted that you are doing absolutely everything, you realise it is, oddly, less stressful than cross-checking diaries, agreeing that he’ll pick up from the childminder today and then worrying all day whether he’ll remember. Although it is still all quite recent, I notice already a new confidence in your relationship with your daughter. She was always a mummy’s girl, but now that you are not the peace-keeper, now that she cannot play of you and Daddy against each other and now that neither of you is competing for attention there are no gooseberries in twosomes I see the first shoots of the special closeness unique to single mothers and their children. (But be warned: you will never like her boyfriends and she won’t like yours. Resentment of intruders works both ways; remember how you boasted that you could see of any boyfriend of mine and did?) Yes, you say, but what about my daughter needing men in her life? Don’t worry too much. For a while, she may miss Daddy at home, just as you missed yours, but she will see him every few weeks.

Security comes in many shapes. Without a daddy trying to fulfil every male function, you can pick and mix. We spent time with men who were boisterous, men who were creative and men who were wise. Even your father would admit that he did not possess all of these qualities in equal measure. I know that you did not bring your situation upon yourself. I know that, at the moment, you are not much in the mood for being cheered. But give it time and you will see: raising a child alone is a completely diferent job from running a traditional family. It’s more fulfilling, it is less arduous and, as Spring topples into Summer, I’m betting that you find your glass is more than half-full of sunshine, after all.

JUST MUM AND ME AND I WOULDN’T CHANGE A THING’

She grew up without a father around, but Flynn Sarler’s childhood was a joy. Now, she’s hoping for a household just as happy for her own little girl As opposed to what? That’s what I wonder when people ask what it was like growing up in a singleparent family (and they do). No one would dream of asking my best friend what it was like being raised by her mother, father and live-in grandmother. Yet neither of us had anything with which to compare. Put simply, it was wonderful. There was me, Mum and the universe, interspersed with the occasional cat, dog, fish, even a bird that lasted a weekend (think cat). From my earliest years we talked about everything and anything: what to eat each night (it wasn’t just shoved on the table), the news (no matter how dull), what to do in our spare time (bake bread or go to a market). Conversation in the house was between the two of us or there was no conversation and we both loved to gab. We globe-trotted as Mum fulfilled assignments in her second job writing travel brochures. Most of her spare time was spent on me I didn’t have to compete with a sibling or husband. We became friends faster and firmer than most of my friends did with their parents (not that there was confusion as to who was boss). Naturally, there were negatives: watching her struggle financially and emotionally was never fun; a nine-year-old cannot be a shoulder to cry on for an adult, no matter how close (not that I was expected to be one). The constant fear that if anything happened I would be all alone made me clingy (a few of her boyfriends can testify to that). But all I hope for my little girl is that when she looks back on her childhood, it is with the same big smile I do.
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