Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.Søren Kierkegaard
I’m not sure when I first realised that I no longer loved my husband. It may have been last summer when I first articulated the phrase to my boss and the words that had been swirling round in my mind came tumbling out on to the desk in front of me and clattered like smashing crockery.
I’d known it in my heart for a long time, but it took a long time for my brain to catch up. The human psyche is strange like that. You can know something in your soul but not recognise it cognitively for sometime.
I’d spent years being slowly ground down by living with someone who had slowly over the years left me feeling like squashed cabbage leaf, in the words of My Fair Lady’s Eliza Doolittle. And the thing about feeling like a squashed cabbage leaf is that all of your decisions are based upon that low self-worth cabbagey vantage point. The same goes for food, you comfort eat and then wear big, baggy clothes to disguise your now, overweight cabbagey-ness. Then you don’t like to leave the house because of how you look.
It’s a well-known adage that life is lived forwards but understood backwards, and so it has been with me. I came to be here because of taking the decision to attend a children’s centre on a local estate near to where I lived when my son was born nearly seven years ago. The children’s centre was in a very deprived area of my town. Having worked in journalism and teaching all of my working life I’d inadvertently ended up mixing with a very select group of reasonably educated middle-class people. Attending the children’s centre gave me the opportunity to mix with folk who had not had the opportunities I’d had and it was a game-changer for me.
Instead of reading high-minded political arguments online and in books that left me feeling frustrated, here I was dealing with people, who, on an everyday basis, were facing life at the sharp end of politics. I learned so much about parenting and dealing with a baby from these amazing women, and without them I’d have struggled to survive those early exhausting days of first-time mum parenting.
This experience led me on to take part in two local politically charged campaigns that both ultimately failed but put enough fire in my belly to start the resurrection of my self worth, and so when my son started school I started volunteering for a local gardening charity, culminating in me taking a job there four days a week six months later.
Like a butterfly emerging from a cacoon I was suddenly reborn, invigorated by working in the outdoors with a divergent group of people. It was like I’d joined the levellers and I loved it! Working there ignited my soul and my self-worth and before long what started off as slowly burning embers became like a raging fire, impossible to put out and leaving me with a difficult decision. Do I extinguish or fan the flames.
I came home to my husband one hot day last July and the sense of feeling trapped and suffocated was so profound that I screamed and cried inconsolably for hours; a primal scream that culminated in me screaming the words ‘I don’t love you anymore’ and once said they could not be unsaid. Our marriage couldn’t be put right. It took nearly six months for me to move out, in that time we tried and failed to make it work.
So far, so not very unusual. What I did do was take the decision to let my husband stay in our family home and keep most of what was in it. We also agreed that we would co-parent our son in an amicable split residency agreement, where he stays with his dad three days a week and me four days. For much of my son’s life he’d had a pretty distant dad, I chose to give him the opportunity to be a full-on parent and stocked the odds as much in his favour as possible. And eight months in, despite the fact it hasn’t been easy I haven’t regretted that decision. Our son is thriving at school, and his home lives are happier and less filled with tension. He has much more fun in his life. He has two parents who work together and put 100% of their energies into one-to-one time with their son.
Here we arrive at the title of this blog. The title of part-time mummy is in no way to suggest that I actually see myself as part-time – I don’t stop loving or caring about my son in the days I don’t see him. But I know that he is being loved, looked after and cared for by his dad, and that leaves me with days to fill when I’m not in a traditional sense a hands-on parent. This has been a challenge at times, and no always an easy one, but I hope that in improving my own sense of self worth, my son will benefit and become a more resilient person as a result. I also hope that this blog will help others who are also negotiating post-split waters and co-parenting in a brave new world.