This is something I have been thinking about a lot lately, but I’ve yet to come up with an answer, or formulate an argument, so I am writing here as a way of exploring the issue and how I feel about. So I apologise in advance if the post gets a little fragmented – it’s me thinking out loud.

So my question really is how much emotional vulnerability is it ok to show in front of your children? As a single parent, a mother from the age of 17, I have become an expert at suppressing my emotions to always appear positive and in control. This comes I think not only from taking on responsibilities so young, but also from my relationship with my family.

I’m sure my mother will forgive me for saying that being a parent coincided with a difficult period in her life, a tearful period, in which emotional vulnerability featured highly. Because of this, I think I learnt to be sensitive about how I behaved and the things I said, not wanting to upset anyone or make anyone cry. I have taken this forward into my adult life and am still very anti-confrontation. If I can act in a way to minimise upsetting someone else then I will.

This of course comes at a price. I have always known this on a personal level – people see me as hugely positive and confident, difficult to upset, detached even. One long term boyfriend actually told me I was cold hearted. The danger with this is that people don’t worry about upsetting you. They think the positive exterior means I don’t worry about things, that I am a tough cookie. But this is not true. I am just an expert in the brave face, practised at making the best of things and seeming to shrug off criticism or rejection.

I have always known this sometimes hard exterior has an effect on my relationships with men, but recently I have begun to wonder how it affects my relationships with my children. Bee told me recently that I am annoyingly cheery, that she sees me cry so rarely that it scares her when I do. So how does this make her feel about me and, more importantly, about herself? Does she think I don’t care? Or will she think that letting down your guard, being prepared to open yourself up emotionally, and admitting to feeling sad sometimes are weaknesses?

I’m on my own as a parent. I don’t have anyone to offload negative feelings to on a day to day basis, and I am loathe to become the teary parent that my children are constantly afraid of upsetting. I am also very aware that it would be all too easy as a single mum to use an older child as an emotional crutch, and I really don’t want my children to feel in anyway responsible for me. But then maybe I should accept that family members do have a responsibility to look out for each other. This is hard for me though. My tough teenage mum shell doesn’t want to rely on anyone for anything. Dependence feels like a weakness. I need to be able to look after myself.

I am starting to wonder though if showing a bit more vulnerability sometimes and asking for help more often might actually endear me to people more. I’m sure it must be hard for friends and partners to feel useful and needed if I appear so capable. And maybe it would show Bee that actually it is quite normal to often feel lonely, bored, fed up and sad. We are all human after all, but perhaps I don’t show it as much as I could.

I’d be really interested to know what other people think about this. Do you cry in front of your children or do you believe in putting on a happy face at all times? Have the relationships in your childhood shaped the way you parent? How as a parent can you show vulnerability at the same time as being the person who provides security? Answers on a postcard please…

Photo credit: Cesar S

It was meant to be the perfect date, but it definitely did not go to plan! If you're looking for perfect date ideas, here's how NOT to do it.

This morning I wake up in a state of eager anticipation. I take a little more care than usual getting dressed – I put on a skirt and brush my hair and everything. Why such glamour you may ask. Well, Bee is visiting her Dad and Belle has been invited to a birthday party, so I have a rare Saturday morning to myself.

And so this morning I am going on the perfect date. (Not like this one.)

A date with myself. An illicit coffee shop rendezvous with the weekend papers.

I find the papers make a perfect date. They are interesting, able to talk about a wide range of topics, they make me laugh and most importantly the don’t judge when I dip my croissant in my coffee and drop soggy crumbs on my cardi.

Of course the time limit and the rarity of the opportunity combine to pile on the pressure – that urgent feeling of having to Make The Most Of it that most parents will appreciate. In a bid to really enjoy myself as much as possible I end up visiting three different cafes, trying to find the perfect retreat, before settling on one that really looked very much like all the other two.

My perfect date starts well, and I’m half way through the Guardian when my secluded corner starts to become rather crowded. I have bagged myself a comfy sofa, and am happy to have well behaved extras occupying the two chairs opposite. However, the longer I stay the more I find my space being overtaken.

A small boy plonks himself down in one of the chairs and helps himself to my sports section. Fine. I don’t like sport anyway. His Dad joins him in the second chair. Still manageable. But then the boy’s grandparents arrive and suddenly things are not so fine. I am forced to take my feet off the sofa so Grandma can sit down. I toy with moving but want to stand my ground – I was here first after all. And so long as I ignore Grandma’s shuffling and awkward glances I can still pretend I’m on my own. Just about.

But then it all gets a bit much. I am already starting to feel a little overwhelmed when another couple plus child appear – apparently friends of the family. “What’s going on here then?” says Dad number two.

“Just a little family outing,” says Grandma.

“Who’s that then?” asks Dad two, nodding his head in my direction.

“I’ve no idea!” exclaims Grandma loudly, as though I have just attached myself to them and they are humouring me.

“I am sat right here!” I want to yell, but of course I don’t. Instead I keep my head buried in the paper, hoping they will feel uncomfortable and drink up quick. No such luck though. Dad two plus family are invited to join them. There are now seven of them and me and everyone knows one’s company but eight’s a crowd. I do my best to stick it out but my presence at the crowded table now feels vaguely ridiculous.

It’s not long before I give up, make my excuses and push my way out through the family party. Hmph. Not exactly the romantic coffee for one I had planned. Still, I got as far as the Review section of the paper, which is further than I normally get before about Wednesday, so I probably should be grateful…

Being a parent is all about making sacrifices right? A might be happy giving up on a personal life, or my independence, but there is one thing I am NOT giving up. Read this post and discover the parenting sacrifice you really don't want to make.

Being a parent is all about making sacrifices, I understand that. My role as a mother defines so many aspects of my life – where I live, how I work and how I socialise. And as a single mother, my children also impact on my ability to form new, serious relationships. (At least that’s what I hope the issue is). It can be sad sometimes to see potential partners pass you by, but it is ultimately a sacrifice I am prepared to make.

I totally accept the restrictions of early motherhood. It is the choice you make when you become a parent after all and, as many teenagers, although not mine thank God, are fond of saying, they didn’t ask to be born. There are some areas of family life though where I don’t feel I should compromise or where I seem to revert to a childish competitiveness, not flattering in a parent. Board games for example. I know you are supposed to let young children win, or at least give them a chance, but I just can’t. I know it is The Wrong Attitude, but I don’t see the point in playing if you’re not playing to win. I used to try to hold back, but I couldn’t do it. I argue with myself that I am teaching them some kind of valuable life lesson, but deep down I know I am just being mean.

Another good example happened this morning. I had made the effort to get up 20 minutes earlier than usual, to try and avoid the stress of needing to leave for school, but having a child only half way through a bowl of porridge. My teen though had apparently got up 20 minutes later than usual, and was in rather a flap. “I don’t have time to wash the bread knife,” she announced loudly as she charged into my room at 8.15am, “so I can’t have any lunch today. Now have you seen my scarf?”

After watching her spend a good five minutes looking for the clearly crucial scarf, and with much stomping and sighing along the way, I glanced up to see her about to leave with my waterproof coat. “Hey!” I cried. “What are you doing?”

“I can’t find my coat,” she said, looking at me with palpable disdain.

“Well you can’t take mine,” I said. “I have to walk to school too you know.”

“Great! So what am I supposed to do then?” she shrieked.

“Why don’t you wear your other coat and a hat?” I offered.

“A HAT?” she spat back, as though I had deliberately made up the word just to annoy her. “I don’t have a hat.”

I know this to be a lie, and made moves to find one for her, but by this point she was too cross to reason with. “Don’t bother,” she said, “I’ll just get soaked.” Reinforcing her point, she took her school bag out of the waterproof one I had put it in, and stepped out into the pouring rain.

Sacrifice my career and love life? Sure. Just don’t ask me to give up my coat.