When Mums are Dads

Rachael Scharrer, founder of online resource DivorceAnswered.com.au shares her experience with being a single and sole parent to two children and how she juggles playing both roles of mum and dad.

In 2015 alone, there were over 48,000 divorces and over 42,000 children affected(1), showing that divorced families and children of divorce are becoming more of the social norm. Meanwhile, the terminology of ‘single parent’ is being over used by people who should otherwise be called a divorced parent or co-parent (these parents face a different set of challenges). A single parent is someone who makes the decisions almost all of the time, if not exclusively, for the children. This parent also has the vast majority custody with the children – say, has the children 85-100% or 12-14 nights a fortnight.

My divorce was colourful. We had two young children together and a modest asset pool. It featured an ex-partner who was suffering from addictions, undiagnosed and untreated mental health and personality disorders, compulsive lying and anger management issues. My primary focus was on the safety and wellbeing of the children.

I didn’t become a single mother by choice. I can’t force the children’s father to seek treatment, to want to become a better person if not for the benefit of the children, then for themselves. The divorce process took much longer than necessary, five years to be precise, and it went through court. I found that in dealing with a person with personality and mental health concerns, I was not able to come to an amicable solution or agreement about parenting– especially when he thought he was fine and I had increasing concerns for the children’s safety and wellbeing. We were at polar ends of the ‘what is acceptable’ spectrum.

Single primary parents have to be ‘everything’ and all things for the children – mother, father, friend, educator, counsellor, provider, disciplinarian, entertainment, handyman, fun police, safety officer, cook/cleaner, gardener, taxi driver and so much more! The juggle of household chores, caring for children and providing financially while planning for the future, balancing quality time and maintaining strong connections can be incredibly stressful. The challenge is that single parents cannot share the responsibilities (emotional, financial and other) with another adult. When I need to bounce ideas or strategy on how to handle an interesting situation involving the children, I don’t turn to their father. Instead, I burden my wonderful family and the most amazing friends who keep me grounded yet elevated and emotionally supported. I know that I am so fortunate to be surrounded by friends and family – some single parents are isolated and feel so alone.

My children are happier and better off without their father in their lives. The marriage was so toxic that both children were displaying inappropriate behaviours for their ages. Separation was the best thing that happened and it was validated almost immediately when the children were happier, more settled and displayed a massive attitude improvement which proved that the end of the marriage was not only the best for each parent but also for the children.

In today’s age, the definition of a mother and father’s role is changing and interchangeable. Domestic responsibilities, child rearing and financial contributions are just a few of the duties that men and women, alike, are taking on board. To me, mothering and fathering is parenting – they are verbs not nouns. To be a parent means to act and behave in the manner of a caring, responsible and interested person to their child.

Since I am one person and the sole parent, I can’t possibly be everything all the time to the children. I constantly tell them that I love them, while equally stressing that my job as a mother is to ensure that they are happy, healthy and safe. They don’t need a best friend, they need a parent and that means that I need to be comfortable with saying ‘no’ and when I do say ‘no’ it doesn’t mean that I love my children any less.

For single parents, there’s no ‘good cop, bad cop’ role playing when the children are misbehaving. When I feel like things are escalating, my only option is to put myself into ‘mummy time out’ and remove myself from the children and the situation until I have calmed down.

Some single mums may find teaching their sons the life skills that are stereotypically reserved for fathers to teach difficult – like shaving, having conversations about adolescence and sex, personal cleanliness. Fortunately, Google and YouTube are a great support when tackling difficult conversations and help to close the gap between what children need and want to know and what their single parent can impart.

The courts and current research believes and supports a meaningful relationship with both parents. However, in much of the Family Court case law, that quantity of time should not come at the expense of quality.

I experienced a colourful divorce battling an ex with addictions, mental health concerns and domestic violence. What I considered acceptable behaviour was considered incredibly narrow compared to what the courts tolerate.

Sadly, the children have had to learn their life lessons earlier than other children. People say that “they will make up their own minds in their own time” referring to the children will decide on whether their father is a good person or not without needing to be influenced by me. It’s easy to get impatient, but it sadly happened relatively quickly. After 4 years of supervised contact and upset from their father, the children have finally worked out that their father isn’t the man that they want or deserve to have.

Boyfriends may come and go, but being able to offer a continuous permanent male figure was more important to me than a fleeting relationship. Stability in male figures and positive role models was the priority. Regardless of who may be in my life as a partner, the children will always be my priority and the man that comes along will have to be so incredibly special that he will want me to embrace having a man around my children on a regular basis.

I feel like I am one of the luckiest single parents around because I have my family in close proximity. My father and brother step up and involved in any and every way possible. They attend all of the Father’s Day celebrations, help around the house and savour quality time with the children. When I feel like I need some male support in parenting, they always have my back and talk with the children in the most loving, caring and compassionate way possible.

Furthermore, I have the best friends who have amazing husbands. My children gravitate towards fun, kind, gentle and interactive men. These men are fathers who listen, engage and interact with their own children as well as mine. They demonstrate what a healthy, respectful and loving relationship looks like between parents as well as what and how a father should behave towards their children.

I am ready for the questions from my children about what I did and why I did it. No doubt there will be many questions about why their father wasn’t an active participant in their lives. My response will be simple and honest: “I made the best decision that I could at the time with the information that I had available to me.” Until then, the understand that both of their parents decided that the current situation is what we both felt was in their best interests.

I embrace my divorce and am thankful that it happened. I am the person that I am today because of what I have been through and my children will learn that adversity can lead to wonderful opportunities. I feel that I did so much correctly in my divorce situation despite struggling to obtain the relevant information pertaining to my situation without paying for it. Using the lessons and challenges that I faced, DivorceAnswered.com.au was established and has gained momentum. Divorce Answered is designed for men and women offering tips and tricks so that you can navigate your separation and divorce with more ease and cost efficiency than I did. As our parents used to say “learn from the mistakes of others.” As such, Divorce Answered is created for you to learn from my mistakes, trials and lessons. There are a number of products designed exclusively for Divorce Answered (Separation Checklist, Separation Statement, Parenting Plan, Binding Child Support Agreement, E-books and more), which fill the gaps in the divorce process. These items are all unique saving you time, money and emotional energy as well as saving money while working alongside your lawyer.

Divorce Answered fills the gaps between information available and what your lawyer can provide so that you are resource rich and living life to the fullest!

(1) http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/3310.0


This is general advice only and is not provided as legal advice. If you have a legal issue, you should contact a lawyer and/or accountant before making a decision about what to do or applying to the Court. DivorceAnswered.com.au cannot provide legal advice. If you have an emergency situation, please contact Emergency '000'. © Divorce Pty Ltd