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Saturday, 16 May 2015

Single Parent Spotlight: Kirsty Darcy

The aim of these interviews is to show how AMAZING us working single parents are. 
I want to highlight how hard, but also how rewarding being a working single parent is, and to hear how other people in my position handle the tougher times, in the hopes I learn how to be the best parent I can be! 
I’m sick of seeing the bad press single parents get in the media, because some single parents have taken the choice to live off benefits, or even worse, have children in order to get benefits. We all seem to get tarred with the same negative brush!

My 23rd interviewee is 34-year-old Kirsty Darcy, a graphics designer from Leeds who has two sons aged 7 and 3.

How old were your children when you became a single parent, and how did this come about? 

18 months old and 5 years.  We were living in Germany as my (then) husband / my children’s father is in the army and we were posted overseas.  He had been unfaithful several times throughout our marriage and lied about hidden debts. When my youngest was born in Germany he was just 9 weeks old when my husband went to Afghanistan for 6 months. It was very tough! When he returned, I discovered he had been unfaithful out there and it felt like the biggest insult. I promised myself he was on his last chance.  6 months later it happened again and I left him and returned to the UK with the children.

What things have you found hardest as a single parent? 

At first it was hard because I had no income and had previously given up my career to allow my husband to pursue his career in the army, moving locations (and countries) every 2 years.  The children and I lived in a 1 bed flat for 13 months when we returned to the UK.  The guilt was a big thing to deal with as I felt like I had taken the children from a family unit and squeezed them into unsuitable living arrangements.  After 5 months I was lucky enough to get a job back in my original profession.  The hardest thing then was losing time with my children.  My mum looked after them for me as I worked full time (I’m very lucky to have her support) but I felt like she was raising them instead of me and I missed them.

What are the benefits to parenting alone, in your opinion?  

I choose how I parent and there is little conflict with choices that need to be made for them anymore. 

Have you faced any negative judgements/stereotypes for being a single parent? If so can you share with us what happened and how it made you feel? 

I haven’t had any direct negative judgements but I certainly feel ashamed of it sometimes – probably just me thinking people are making a judgement on me, rather than them actually doing or saying anything.  When we first came back to the UK as a single parent family, my eldest got a place in a very small primary school in a good location and I felt like the only single mum in the village.  It felt like they politely smiled at me across the playground but didn’t know what to say to me.  A few months down the line I became good friends with a few of them and realised the discomfort had probably been my imagining and shame.

What sort of relationship do you have with your ex, and how easy/difficult is it to maintain for your children?  

At first it was very difficult because however hard things were, he just said it was my choice and he didn’t help very much (he seemed to think any help he gave was for me, rather than understanding his children were living the situation with me). Once the divorce was completed, about a year later, things were much better as there was no animosity.  I have always encouraged him to see the children as often as he can and include him in any news from their lives and involve him in any decisions that need to be made.

Kirsty and her boys

How much contact does their father have? 

Due to him being located with the army 6 hours away, contact has not been as frequent as the children deserve.  He sees them every 2 or 3 weeks for a day and a half.  He does call them or facetimes with them every single day though.  He is coming out of the army later this year and I hope he will see them more regularly then and be in a position where he can take part in things like parents evening or watching sports day and school nativities etc.

How do your children cope with contact? 

My eldest is quite emotional about it and wishes he could see his dad every week, which is heartbreaking and makes me feel guilty.  My youngest doesn’t remember it being any different due to his age when we split but he frequently says he misses his dad.

Does he pay maintenance? If so, how did you come to an agreement on the amount? 

Yes, we used the online calculator from cmo and made a voluntary agreement.

What’s your job, and how many hours do you work per week? 

I am a PR Executive and work 8.30am – 5pm Monday to Friday.  There are lots of times when I need to travel for work and this takes me away for a few days.  It’s also a demanding job and I often have to bring work home to do in the evenings.

Who looks after your children when you’re working? How do you feel about the current childcare arrangements? 

My mum.  I feel grateful for her support and thankful my children are in the care of someone who loves them very much.  However, I envy the time my mum gets with them as she sees them more than I do.

How old were your children when you first went back to work? How easy was it to adjust back into work? Two and Five.  It was very difficult emotionally – I cried a lot in the first few weeks!  It was also tough juggling work and home – figuring out how to fit in the food shopping, laundry etc.  The result is: we eat too late (around 7pm) and the precious weekend time I get with my children is largely spent in the supermarket, washing, cleaning and ironing.  I feel like I am always rushing and chasing my tail.  I am also always tired.

Have you ever felt guilt by working? If so, why? 

All the time.  A few months after starting work, I was hurriedly trying to feed the kids and get them to bed (I didn’t get home until 6pm and then cooked a meal, which sometimes took an hour to get my youngest to eat and therefore bathtime and bedtime was later than I liked).  I gave them jaffa cakes for dessert (guilt moment number 1!) and then heard my 2 year old count 1-2-3 for the first time.  I called my mum to announce he could count and she told me he had been doing that for weeks.  I realised I was missing milestones.  On another more recent occasion, we were in our local supermarket at the checkout when my youngest started waving at a family I didn’t know and they were waving back.  He went over and was speaking to all of them.  Afterwards he told me it was his friend Joe from nursery.  When I asked my mum about his friend I had never heard of before, she was surprised I didn’t recognise his parents because it turns out they are my neighbours!  I feel very detached from life!

What’s your view on Child /Working Tax Credits, and the cost of childcare? 

The cost of childcare is crippling and if it wasn’t for my mum, I would struggle enormously.  Tax Credits helped me a lot when I was first a single mother and wasn’t working but after working for 16 months now – and always keeping them informed of my salary without being asked – they told me a few months before xmas that an error had been made in the calculations and they immediately stopped my payments, which I had already budgeted for.  It put a lot of worry and pressure on me.  They have still to let me know how much I need to repay (due to their error) and I have no idea how I will afford it.

What is your work/home/social life like? Have you managed to find a good balance? If so, how?

No!  I don’t feel like I see my children during the week as I come home, cook, wash up, bath them and put them to bed.  Monday to Friday is like groundhog day.  I work really hard and I’m over-stretched at work but can’t afford a job change / reduced hours.  Weekends with my children never seem fair / fun-enough for them because I need to get chores done that I can’t do during the week.  In contrast, when their dad has them for a weekend, he doesn’t need to make sure there is food to feed them for the following week or that their school uniform is clean and ironed so his time with them is quality time with fun activities and trips out.  I feel like they have a better time with him.  My social life is not as good as I wish it were as I’m so busy and tired during the week that time flies by without contact with friends.  Most of my friends are married and / or don’t live near me so the social opportunities are not as often.

Are you dating again? If so, how long did it take before you were ready to date again? 

I have dated since I became a single mum.  I started 10 months after separating.  I am single now and not looking to date.  I was with a partner for a year and my children loved him and his kids.  When we split up, I was very upset and so were my children.  I feel responsible for letting that happen to them.

What tips do you have for other single parents wanting to meet someone?  

Bring them into your children’s lives very gradually after a long time of dating (which I know is hard when you’re the primary carer and may not get much child-free time!).  If your children are old enough, talk to them about meeting someone else and how they feel.  I have a few male friends that are single dads and we get together sometimes with our kids.  Recently I realised my eldest thought they were all boyfriends!

What would your top 3 tips be to a newbie single parent? 

  1. You’ll probably never feel like you’ve got it all right but remind yourself how strong you are and that other people looking in think you are amazing and one day your children will understand you worked hard for them
  2. Kids want time, not things. Don’t beat yourself up at xmas if the tree isn’t as full as their friends’ trees and give yourself time when you can (online food shopping helps sometimes!)
  3. Keep talking – to your family, your friends, the kids’ dad and your children

If you want to be interviewed for the next Single Parent Spotlight, contact me on the tab at the top of the page!

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