My name is Gemma Clark I live in Norfolk and am a Projects and Planning Officer in Local Government. I live with my 5-year-old daughter Luna.
I’ve been a single parent for just over 2 years.
My work life balance is something I try hard to improve. I work during school hours Monday to Thursday. Friday I have off but it’s my housework day so I do my food shopping and some cleaning whilst Luna is at school. I try to make sure that the time I have with Luna is time where I can play with her and spend some quality time rather than frantically rushing around doing chores. It’s hard to keep on top of everything but I don’t watch a huge amount of television in the evenings so once Luna is asleep I might do a bit of work on the computer, housework or ironing.
I’m a bit of an introvert anyway but the pandemic has really shrunk my world down further. Working from home does have its advantages, including flexibility, less travel and being able to work around Luna better. However, going to the office and seeing my colleagues was like a social event for me and was good for my well-being. I have struggled with the isolation although I am in a bubble with my mum. Once this is over I really will make more of an effort to see friends and family and make that distinction between work and my personal life, which at the moment is quite blurred.
My secret to getting everyone ready in the morning is being organised. I get school bags packed the night before. Luna has school dinners so I don’t need to worry about packed lunches. I get up about an hour earlier than Luna and get myself ready, (coffee is mandatory!), then after getting her breakfast and drinks sorted she gets dressed whilst watching CBeebies and then brushes her teeth. Sometimes we walk to school as it’s good exercise and sometimes I drive depending on the weather, but its always a rush out the door!
My support network consists of my ex-husband, who has Luna one day and night on the weekend and sometimes one night in the week after school. In the school holidays we try to split her time between us, which enables me to work when she’s with him.
My mum is retired and I sometimes ask her to help out if I’m going out for an evening with friends for example and my brother and his family live round the corner too so again he steps in if I’m stuck. I’m quite an independent person and don’t like asking people for help as I don’t want to burden people but maybe I need to work on that perception as we all need help now and again and shouldn’t feel ashamed about admitting that.
The bit I still find hardest over two years later is when Luna has just been picked up by her dad. I worry about her leaving me, I feel guilt that because of me she has to split her time between her mummy and daddy, but I also feel some relief that I can get a bit of breathing space to look after me or just be able to get things done more easily. The quietness really hits you the minute the door closes and you’re on your own, particularly over the weekend when you’re wondering what to do. I find the best thing to do is just get busy and not wallow in negative thoughts, so I will start my chores or go into town or see family and friends or just put a podcast or some music on. Anything to get me out of my head and stop the negative thoughts spiralling.
My me-time consists of a very important early morning routine which has literally completely changed my mindset and mood everyday since I started it about two months ago. I was in a crappy place mentally, struggling with what’s going on with the virus, work, worry of parenting etc. I watched a really great YouTube video by Natalia Benson about the importance of a regular morning routine and I am really reaping the benefits. I get up at 6am – I don’t hit snooze, I’m straight out of bed. I drink a full glass of water to rehydrate and I have made it a habit to never check my phone or look at social media first thing as that can really dictate your mood for the rest of the day (especially being so negative at the moment).
I get on my yoga mat and lie down and do some breath work, just slowly and consciously breathing and counting. I count 10 blessings in my head and then I visualise three things that I want in my life. This normally takes about five minutes, then I do some yoga stretches which takes about 10 minutes depending on how I’m feeling. So it only takes me 15 to 20 minutes max and I’ve found that it really puts me in a more positive, centred place in the morning and for the rest of the day.
In the evenings I like to read and sometimes I do a HIIT workout on YouTube. I always listen to a guided meditation or sleep hypnosis session with my earplugs on when I go to bed. At the moment I’m listening to one about self-love which is helping me with some self confidence issues I have.
If I could change one thing to make life easier it would be to not beat myself up so much about getting everything done. I put a tremendous amount of unnecessary stress on myself to have the house looking lovely, and all the chores done, but actually it really makes little difference. The most important things are that Luna and I are happy and healthy, everything else is secondary.
One thing I love about being a single parent is being able to be me. I can have the house how I want it. I can buy clothes that I like and not have to compromise what’s important to me to please someone else all the time.
Dinner times at our house are early as Luna is always famished when she gets back from school, so once we get home she watches television, plays or does craft and I get tea on. Usually we eat around 4:30pm. I don’t mind eating earlier too as it makes the bedtime routine less rushed and I get more of an evening.
Once Luna has had her tea I get her bath ready. Sometimes her daddy FaceTimes her when she’s in the bath or just after. She has a little play and then gets her pyjamas on and brushes her teeth. She enjoys me reading to her so I read about four books and she’s usually asleep by 8pm but sometimes it takes her a while so I sit with her in bed until she’s asleep.
My best single parenting hack is writing everything down in a notebook. I have lists for my monthly budget and expenditure, lists of jobs I need to do, clothes I would like, things I need to get for Luna, items for the house, Christmas present lists… you name it I have a list for it! It’s so good to get all the stuff going round my head onto paper so when I think of something I write it down straight away. It helps me keep organised, which is key to single parenting and helps me feel in control.