How to be a consistent single parent. Or not.

One of the things I struggle most with as a parent is consistency. When it comes to setting boundaries and laying down the law, I often find myself floundering. I can’t quite get my head around the idea that it is completely up to me, that I can just decide. Sometimes this power goes to my head and I find myself saying ‘no’ to the most innocent of requests. Catch me in a rebellious mood though and I will happily let Belle watch hours of TV in the nude (don’t ask), offer up toast and chocolate spread for dinner and quickly succumb to my children’s requests for that guiltiest of pleasures – garage tea.

For me, being a single mother makes consistent parenting even more of a challenge. I don’t have another sensible adult on hand to keep me grounded or to question why I think it is ok to let Belle watch 12 certificate films, but not ok for her to eat a bag of maltesers while she does it. (Funnily enough, the malteser website says you have to be 12 or over to enter – how weird is that – so maybe I’m not being so unreasonable after all!)

Of course I do have my mother. She is always happy to challenge me, often in front of the children, about my take on discipline. But however reasonable she may be, she is my mother, and my childish side kicks in, making it seem suddenly even more important that Belle eat all her peas before being allowed a pudding. Why? Because I am her mother and I say so. No other reason that ‘just because’.

Not wanting to sound too much like a Marks & Spencer advert, I have been trying lately to challenge myself, to think more carefully about what rules and routines are actually important and which are just me flexing my mummy muscles for the sake of it. The trouble is, that once I start questioning things, my pinball machine brain runs away with me. Will tidy bedrooms really make us happier?  Does it actually matter if Belle finishes her peas when ultimately we are all going to die anyway? You see my problem.

My sense of discipline also varies hugely depending on my own selfish needs and fluctuates with my mood. If I have a deadline looming, the Disney Channel suddenly becomes a much more attractive option. When I’m tired, I can easily convince myself that ordering vegetable supreme as a Domino’s pizza topping constituents several of our five-a-day.

Yesterday I had one of those days when my own preoccupations meant Belle was free to wander the house, watch back to back Hannah Montana and eat Weetos out of box. Now I know in my heart of hearts that Weetos do not a wholesome supper make, but I get sucked in by idea of them being ‘fortified with vitamins and iron’ and they are just so yummy.

Busy in the garden with my pressure washer – relocating the moss and mud from the patio onto the walls and my face – I ignored Belle’s plaintive cries for snacks. It was only when I realised it wasn’t actually late-afternoon at all, but nearly 8pm, that I thought I should probably come in and rustle up a healthy snack.

Unfortunately the fridge contained only Carlsberg and Jarlsberg (what are the chances??) so I turned instead to the emergency freezer drawer. 20 minutes later we were tucking into fish fingers and naan bread. By rights it should have been bedtime for Belle, but having neglected her for most of the afternoon I decide to let her stay up with me and watch Jonathan Creek. We are half way through before I wonder if it’s really suitable for a sensitive seven-year-old, but I put my hands over her eyes for the bit where the crazy secretary is having afternoon tea with the corpse of her former boss, so I think it’s ok.

When we finally get to bed Belle is overtired and a little traumtised and wants to come in my bed. I say no – kindly but firmly. Five minutes later she is back, but again I say no. In my head I decide that if she asks again I will say yes, so ten minutes later she is asleep next to me, thus rendering my initial resistance fairly pointless. What kind of rubbish parent develops a method of saying no twice, then yes on the third attempt? It doesn’t make a huge amount of sense.

But maybe it doesn’t need to. Maybe my fickleness is teaching my girls a valuable lesson about the inconsistencies of life and the importance of determination and persistance in getting what you want. Perhaps I am actually being a Very Good Mum, subtly showing them that life as an adult isn’t always fair or rational. Yes, that sounds plausible. Excellent. Now, Sunday lunch, Wheetos all round I think…

Photo credit: GavinLi



  1. 11 April, 2010 / 2:13 pm

    I know exactly what you mean. I had the same problem when I was on my own with the kids. With three of the blighters I was always outnumbered so it was fairly easy for them to get away with pretty much everything! I laughed at you ‘we’re all going to die anyway’ reasoning. It was a self-conscious ‘I’ve done that’ laugh! x

    • 11 April, 2010 / 2:26 pm

      Lol, I know it’s not a healthy way to think, but once I start analysing my motives I tend to get a bit carried away!

  2. 11 April, 2010 / 2:13 pm

    I am so with you on this one! I do often think -just once it wont hurt to eat crap and have Mcdonalds and stay up late etc. My daughter B is 7, I let her watch 12 films and you know what, I wouldnt be happy with her eating loads of maltesers while doing so either! As for 5 a day, well surely as long as my girls are being offered a balanced diet – surely eating some of it is better than npt eating at all? I’m glad I’m not the only one who struggles to juggle lifeas a single working mum!!

    • 11 April, 2010 / 2:28 pm

      Excellent – glad to hear we are consistent in our inconsistencies! It is hard on your own though without someone else to bounce ideas off and help make decisions isn’t it?

      • 12 April, 2010 / 9:23 pm

        It really is hard, I always said I admired single mum’s and then I became one. We do it because we have to and becasue our kids are our world, but that doesnt make it easy and it is racked with guilt too! At least we know we are not alone though! xx

  3. Emma
    11 April, 2010 / 2:49 pm

    I know exactly how you feel!! I quite often find myself saying no to Chick and then when I’ve had a couple of minutes to think about it I can see that I was being unreasonable or I change my mind because I can ;-) She also gets to watch a lot of back to back Hannah Montana or Mary Poppins when I’ve got work to catch up on!!!

    • 12 April, 2010 / 6:10 am

      It’s weird isn’t it? Sometimes it’s just a reflex ‘no’ and then you think ‘hang on, why actually did I say no?’ and you feel a bit silly!

  4. 11 April, 2010 / 2:51 pm

    Allowing 12 rated movies but limiting choccy sounds like wise parenting to me. A little violence / innuendo won’t harm anyone, but getting into the habit of eating too much junk will!

    Considering you’re already limiting junk food, the occasional pizza definitely won’t do any harm :)

    • 12 April, 2010 / 6:11 am

      Pizza is very wholesome in my mind. Carbs (base), protein (cheese) and veg (topping). A very balanced meal :-)

  5. 11 April, 2010 / 2:57 pm

    It’s probably healthy not to get too carried away with imposing rules and consistency on kids. I might be a lot more self-disciplined now, as an adult, if I weren’t unconsciously (or may now consciously, since I’m saying this!) rebelling against having to do everything the “right” way at the “right” time as a kid!

  6. 11 April, 2010 / 3:02 pm

    And lack of consistency and discipline can work the other way, too. I once knew a woman who made pottery and lived in a remote house in the woods with a man who did odd jobs and smoked marijuana a lot. Their son (well, actually his son, from a previous marriage) thought his parents’ laid-back and totally unambitious lifestyle was “dumb,” and wanted to make lots of money and drive a fancy car when he grew up!

    • 12 April, 2010 / 6:12 am

      It’s a hard balance to strike isn’t it? I think whichever you go your kids are going to look for something to rebel against!

  7. suburbanmummyuk
    11 April, 2010 / 6:35 pm

    Gawd I do this and I’m not single! I have to do stuff you know like cook dinner and housework. So if they eat two penguins in a row and watch peppa pig on replay I don’t care as long as I get to cook dinner alone!

    I know they don’t mind :D
    Kids adapt and then when they are older they can look back and understand why mummy did XYZ hopefully!

    • 12 April, 2010 / 6:13 am

      My weird mind had an image of them gnawing on actual penguins like wild animals, abandoned to fend for themselves…

      • suburbanmummyuk
        12 April, 2010 / 6:30 am

        Glad to know it’s not only me with the crazy thoughts.

        • 12 April, 2010 / 9:54 am

          lol, I am queen of crazy thoughts :-)

  8. 11 April, 2010 / 6:36 pm

    I don’ know a thing about parenting, but I loved today’s blog. You are such a great writer, I wonder how many other readers you have, who aren’t parents?

    I can’t wait for the next one.

    • 12 April, 2010 / 1:16 am

      I’m one of those “non-parent” readers!

    • 12 April, 2010 / 6:14 am

      Thank you Brian – I love getting comments from you :-)

  9. 11 April, 2010 / 6:55 pm

    God that post sounds like I could have written it! It reads exactly as to what I’m like! I back down for everything. No matter what “routine” or “plan” I come up with it lasts all of a day or two before I’m back to my old spontaneious ways!

    • 12 April, 2010 / 6:15 am

      Sounds much like my ‘plans’ to eat well, cut out chocolate, get fit, not leave clothes on my bedroom floor etc etc – except they don’t normally last as long as a day or two!

  10. Sharon
    12 April, 2010 / 9:05 am

    I was laughing out loud at this post Jo and could so relate to it.

    Keep writing as I love reading your blog :o)

    • 12 April, 2010 / 9:56 am

      Thank you Sharon – glad it made you smile!

  11. Sally Guyer
    13 April, 2010 / 2:46 am

    As a single mum myself, I think you do brilliantly Jo. I love how you find an upbeat twist to end on – sometimes I don’t manage that. For me, one of the hardest things about parenting alone is relentlessly beating yourself up for failing to live up to your own high ideals . . . . .

    Keep writing – you’re doing a great job!

    • 13 April, 2010 / 6:03 am

      Thanks Sally! I am a firm believer in always finding the silver lining, or at least the dark humour in a situation. Of course sometimes that doesn’t go down well – my mum and I were distinctly frowned at by the registrar for daring to laugh while registering my gran’s death… but that’s another story!

  12. 13 April, 2010 / 1:40 pm

    No I think it is important to be consistent on discipline the problem is it is pretty much impossible for me. Although my husband is consistent so I feel like that cancels my lack of skills in this area out. For example he doesn’t seem too happy that the kids watched Cabaret the other day. I said it was just for the songs I forwarded the bits about the threesomes and nazi brutality! But I don’t think he bought it.

    • 16 April, 2010 / 6:35 pm

      lol, I’m sure a bit of nazi brutality never did anyone any harm. And what’s not to love about threesomes? All fine…

  13. 24 June, 2010 / 9:00 pm

    Hi, I popped over from Gappy’s Bad Mummy Moments Carnival and yes like a non-single mother I do this too. I have fed the girls all sorts of crap just to keep them busy/out of my hair for long moments!!
    Lazy parents rule -BNMx

    • 25 June, 2010 / 6:09 am

      Hoorah for lazy parents! Did I mention in the post that Belle’s first taste of real food when she was a baby was nutella?? Probably best keep that to myself. Bad, bad mummy.

  14. 25 June, 2010 / 12:41 pm

    Yeah! Consistency is a challenge. But I find explaining “why” something’s a no does help. Maybe not with consistency. But in terms of parenting in general.

    Also, no harm in your children learning you’re not superhuman. Will spare you a lot of trouble in the teenage years if they know it at seven. (Fingers crossed.)


    • 26 June, 2010 / 7:49 pm

      You’re right, it does help I think if you can back up a ‘no’ with an explanation – not always easy though, especially if the ‘no’ is just out of laziness :-)

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