Sure, we all hear about the great single parent juggle. The not-getting-to-school pick-up on time because that deadline loomed or that meeting just went a bit longer than normal. The ‘oops’ I forgot it was dress-up day.

But there is something that has become much more prevalent and makes me feel a touch more inadequate as a single parent.

And I’m not talking about being a parent who isn’t home every afternoon. Or that I don’t cook trays of muffins. We’re over that. That’s been discussed a zillon times.

This is about that I have, like so many others, unconventional family lives and that, quite honestly can make me feel really awkward and plainly incompetent.

When perceived ‘normal’ families talk about what they get up to each day, night, weekend, holiday, all as a big happy family, it has actually made me feel physically sick and incompetent.

The way I provide for my son (as his dad does too) isn’t the usual way we hear that so many other families do.
There is not sitting around at home with dad, mum, the kids and the pets, having a laugh, watching a movie together and cooking up a storm in the kitchen.

Sometimes, to be honest, I find this incredibly difficult and quite frankly, just soul-destroying.

I hear of family units talking about their ‘perfect’ lives – twirling off on a holiday somewhere, going camping, taking a caravan down the coast somewhere or really amping it up and going on a big trip somewhere exciting.

I shouldn’t feel like this. I mean ‘us’ single parents as a ‘we’ shouldn’t compare our lives to other family lives.

But I do. I just sometimes think, am I totally hopeless and stuffed this whole parenting thing up altogether?
I hear some mums talk about a big weekend with a zillion cousins, aunts, sisters, nieces or nephews and think, boy, that has never been me.

Sure, I have had a few women roll their eyes and make little digs because we, like many other ‘shared’ parents, have week-on, week-off arrangements.

I once walked into a room and caught the end of a conversation of, okay, I have to say it, stay-at-home mums: ‘Well, what would Melissa know? She’s not a real mother because she’s not with her son every day,’ one said. I quickly turned around, ran to the loo and burst into tears and made a quick excuse to leave.

I would love to say I actually don’t give a stuff about what anyone thinks. But deep down, I do.

At this point, the beautiful and strong teenage boy we are bringing up has a resilience, maturity and empathy that we could not have ever dreamed of. He ‘gets’ the fact that mum has to work, which often has me working unconventional and not, 9 to 5 hours. He gets the fact that Dad HAS to work too.

So when we add all of that up, he knows that when he is at school the structure he has there is something that neither of us could probably provide if he arrived home at 3.30pm.

Having been brought up in public-housing myself and having certainly not come from any kind of moneyed background, both his Dad and I have saved and saved to make him a Monday to Friday weekly boarder.

This will hopefully continue until year 12, but that is always in lap of the bank balance gods.

The relationships our son has forged with fellow school buddies and that extraordinary structure he has, the one where he knows his homework is done at a certain time, dinner is eaten at a certain time and bedtime is also at a certain time, doesn’t worry him in the slightest.

I know this choice and decision is not be for everyone – boy, I’ve seen heard those raises eyebrows – but most importantly, for our son, it works for him. And he is the only person we need to worry about.

You know what, it is just ‘our’ life. Not conventional. Not ‘normal’.

Yes, it often makes me feel inadequate that why would I even make an entire tray of muffins when there’s only me. Or just my son and I at home to eat them. But we laugh. We love. And we’re just roll with all the punches.

I love a piece once written by Ariana Huffington: ‘Vacationing With my Ex’ – about herself and her ex-husband celebrating a 12th anniversary: “That’s how long we’ve been divorced,” she said, “one year longer than we were married.”

Huffington went on to say that “just like marriage, divorce isn’t easy either, and ours has been no exception. But even though we no longer had a marriage to keep us together, we had something even more powerful — our daughters. And, spurred by our mutual devotion to them, we have made a huge effort to work through all the difficulties and be friends.”

The foursome, as a family, make sure they spend Christmas Day and both of their girls’ birthdays together as a family every year. And she admits that, with a lot of hard work, ‘we’ve grown closer and closer.’

They have managed one vacation to Greece all together, since being a ‘split’ family, and I just loved the feeling her words and sentiment gave me.

I just love that yes, we can all, somehow, oddly and only very, very occasionally can create a quintessential family unit. And she admitted not even letting each others pet peeves get in the way when they were on their family vacay.

Ok, it’s not a for-everyone situation, as so many splits are more bitter that buoyant, but boy, what a a damn clever idea.
It actually made me smile and realise that there are a hell of a lot of us single parents out there, just giving it our absolute best shot.

And that’s all that matters. Minus the muffins.

This piece of Melissa’s was first published on whimn.com.au