Bad Mum

Magazine

2 November 2017

The Single Mum Mansion – how it saved me from heartbreak.


No one sets out to get divorced or separate from the father/mother of their children. If only there was a box one could tick to stop it happening, but happen it does, every day. I bore three kids in quick succession and by the time my marriage dissolved into a sticky mess, I was left holding three children under five. It was a dark time, a private agonising dystopia fuelled by grief of the like I had never experienced before. Every day felt like someone had died as I forced myself to function for the sake of the children. No one else understood, how could they when they had a husband who was present, being part of a family and sharing your life? I felt like the only person to ever suffer this level of brokenness.



            However, as time dragged by and I poked my head above the parapet of small children trench warfare, I found a new world out there. There were other broken people too. A dear friend of mine, Vicki, was left holding a four-day old baby with the house being sold from under her feet in the worst recession London had seen for years. ‘We will have strength in numbers!’ I sang to her as her house finally came under offer months later. With nowhere else to go, only staying with me until she found somewhere else, she moved in to my spare attic room at the top of the house. And that’s when the fun began!

We swiftly settled into a routine of shared childcare, cooking, food shopping, wine drinking, parties, men bashing and adopted another single mum into our fold. Nicola and I had been acquaintances from a baby music group but never swapped numbers or even names, so when I bumped into her on the school run branded with the same mark of Cain as myself, ravaged by the heartbreak diet rendering us with lollipop heads and scrawny necks, I knew she needed to join in with the commune on day release.

Christmas would ordinarily be an emotional minefield for a recently single parent. The gap left by the missing other half is difficult to fill on a day traditionally geared towards families. But when you live in a commune with six children and three mums, that gap doesn’t feel as huge. Our first Christmas in the Single Mum Mansion (as we jokingly nicknamed it) was full of laughter, joy, wine, food, presents and a genuine feeling that things were going to be OK. As all three of us navigated through the divorce process, the paper work and lawyers’ meetings didn’t feel as daunting knowing we could ask each other questions, compare notes and not feel isolated in such an emotionally corrosive time.



During her two years in our house, Baby Daisy learned to walk and talk, to sleep through the night, eat finger food, wee on the potty and learn how to share with her commune brothers and sisters. As Daisy developed awareness of her surroundings in the only home she had ever known, so we all gradually moved forward, sometimes taking a few steps backwards when one of the ex-husbands got engaged, had a baby, got remarried, carelessly erasing us from their lives while we felt fleetingly stuck where they had dumped us. On those bleak days, we would remind each other we were still alive, that the feeling was temporary, and that we could go out and party hard on the synchronised kid-free weekends, blow the cob webs from our heads and sink enough Sambuca shots to capsize a ship.

Collectively dipping our toes in the dating pool after years of being institutionalized was like going on an Eighteen Thirties holiday to Magaluf when you really wanted to be on a Saga holiday in Tuscany. I had no problem with dating per se, but what I had no tolerance for was the ‘exciting’ time at the beginning when you were getting to know someone. I had small children that took up all of my energy, a book that I was attempting to complete before my agent lost patience with me and no time to consider anyone else’s needs. All the things I was looking for in a man were already available in the Single Mum Mansion – friendship; someone to share experiences with; someone to be in a family with; someone to hold my hair back when I’d drunk too much wine on my period; someone my kids felt comfortable with; someone who would fit into my life and me in theirs without a load of unnecessary drama. Sex was the only box the Single Mum Mansion couldn’t tick, but I was willing to let my libido take a back seat for a while; it would have to be someone extremely worthwhile to turn my head away from the commune.



The Single Mum Mansion wrapped up quite a few years ago after I unexpectedly met my new husband; I hadn’t really believed I would ever be ready for marriage again. He was special enough to go exclusive with, but he knew by marrying me, he was marrying Vicki and Nicola too as well as my three children. We may no longer live in each other’s’ pockets (just round the corner instead), but all three of us constantly reminisce about our time together, when married friends in not so happy marriages would look on enviously at us living how we wanted to, not answering to anyone (apart from the children – not more wine, Mummy!), co-parenting and supporting without judgement. Of course things weren’t perfect, we were very low a lot of the time, distraught some days, the children suffered broken hearts just like us and there are war wounds still visible even now. But what could have been a harsh solitary experience, was hugely buffeted by three of us united holding hands, weathering the storm and showing the children that female solidarity and friendship is something worth its weight in gold.


The Single Mums’ Mansion House book will be out in 2018.

Janet Hoggarth @janet_hoggarth_author 

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