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Flying solo: My week as a single mum made me realise just how hard it is

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Jillian Bolger

Jillian Bolger

Jillian Bolger

THIRTY-SIX hours into my week as a single parent and I'm just about keeping my head above water. I'm not exactly expecting a medal for my performance, but it certainly seems noteworthy.

I'm not exactly expecting a medal for my performance, but it certainly seems noteworthy. You see, I'm used to having my other half around, especially at the weekends, to help with this parenting lark. But as he's off snowboarding for the week I get to fly solo with my three kids.

I'm guessing the trick is to stay one step ahead of myself the whole time.

In an effort to set new standards of efficiency (which I'm optimistically hoping to follow all week) the washing machine is all loaded, ready to go on in the morning.

BREAKFAST

And I prepped the fruit and veg snacks for Monday's school lunches on Sunday evening. (I hate pre-made sandwiches, so they'll just have to wait until breakfast time.)

On an ordinary two-parent week this is the kind of organisation I can only dream of.

My husband usually goes to the gym at the crack of dawn and gets home around 7.40am.

So, while I'm used to getting the kids up and dressed on my own I rely on the fact that I'll have a second-in-command to assist with the fiddly jobs – the ones that drive me mad.

We're talking teeth cleaning, hair brushing (one child has a cow's lick any self-respecting cockatoo would be proud of), shoe tying, coat buttoning and hat locating.

These mundane tasks depend heavily on cooperative children. Throw a stroppy kid into the mix and it can send the whole routine crashing down around your ears. And make you curse a lot. And make you late.

I know I'll be fine this week, but, in order to make life as simple as possible, I've temporarily downgraded my cooking ambitions.

I may be used to juggling dinners with work and childcare pick-ups, but this week I'm allowing myself a little slack.

For one, I have let frozen pizzas darken the door of my freezer. It's hardly a crime, but, as a food writer and restaurant reviewer, I generally aspire to more nutritious sustenance.

Time-consuming staples like shepherd's pie and spaghetti bolognese (yes – it takes ages when you make it from scratch) are off this week's menu.

SILLINESS

On the days I work I'll be doling out pizza, sausages and burgers. In the interest of full disclosure I shall be making my own burgers – some things have to remain sacred.

Single parents reading this are probably rolling their eyes at my silliness.

According to the 2011 census, one in four families with children are one-parent families.

That means that 215,000 parents are cooking, shopping, dropping off, collecting, supervising homework and being a parent all by themselves.

Flying solo this week is a bit of a reality check. I'll cope just fine with my shortage of free time, my nights in and seemingly endless list of jobs, but what of all the single parents out there for whom this is a constant?

I can't help but wonder how they get much downtime. Are they always chasing their tails, collapsing exhausted after the kids' bedtime?

Do they spend their lives trying to stay one step ahead of themselves? And if they're too tired, or sick, how do they muddle through?

Ireland has the highest number of single parent families in the EU. That's a lot of busy parents out there making sacrifices and deserving a lot of praise. I for one, salute you.


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