The worst thing - by far and away - has been dealing with schools on my own. Which is the last thing I would have expected because I loved the whole school experience and was a bit of a hit with the teachers being compliant, hard-working and always near the top academically (we'll draw a veil over the sports stuff...).
But my boys are both dyslexic and dyspraxic and have poor organisational skills - they're a challenge. And now I know what the school experience is like for pupils who don't fit the mould. Because they both needed extra help, we paid for independent schools until they went to sixth form college. So I was keen to point out - before we agreed they take the money - what they were getting and to have it understood it meant ongoing and long term understanding, patience and help. Now you'd think that - at £5k per term - you'd get that, wouldn't you? Not a bit of it.
While I would be doing 'gym brain' courses and teaching them myself and doing computer teaching programmes with them, the rest of my time was taken up trying to shield them from the undermining negativity and even punishments they were given for what in effect amounted to their specific learning difficulties. It was a constant war, magnified by the fact it was one woman with two kids with problems.
One particularly vitriolic teacher who welcomed the first year prep students in and was known as The Dragon told me that she was telling the head either my youngest son went or she did. I sat weeping and distraught and explained his dad had just buggered off abroad and all his friends were here like a family and he was lovely and would turn out okay if she gave him another chance and just helped a bit rather than criticised. And she relented. She said: 'Well you might be right. There was another single mother here who had two boys with 'learning difficulties' and no-one had a good word to say about her either - but the boys did turn out fine. Maybe it'll be the same with you...' It was with a certain amount of schadenfreude that I learned later she'd gone mad and had ended up being sectioned...
The eldest boy was meanwhile at a well known public school (little short of £6k a term) and towards the end, when he was doing GCSEs, we got weekly negative reports saying how lazy and disorganised he was. 'Take no notice at all,' I'd tell him. 'They're just covering their backs and if you take it on board it will undermine you, just get on and do your best.' He's now studying philosophy at London University, aiming for a first.
It is lonely being a single parent in many ways and I think that - if your ex doesn't link with you to deal with schools - this is the area in which you can feel most vulnerable and alone because you can't opt out. If you do, you let your children down. But it is wearing. It certainly stressed me so much my health gave up. And it isn't just fighting for them getting the right academic help and understanding - whether they have learning difficulties or not - it's the social thing. 'I used to feel so sorry for you always having to do the social things on your own when everyone else was in a couple,' my eldest said to me.
Now that I only have one left at school and he will be doing his A levels in five months time or whatever it is, I feel much more relaxed about it. The teachers no longer have their power to threaten the nightmare scenario of the boys being chucked out. So I now treat them as I would anyone else who was bullying me. And I get mad as hell that they think they're in such a position of power that they feel they can act in ways that wouldn't be accepted for a minute outside the closed world of school.
Yesterday I got a letter saying his attendance wasn't 100% and - if it wasn't improved - then we would be charged money. A computer generated attendance sheet accompanied it as 'proof' and I was told the found it 'a cause for concern'. Well, what a load of rubbish. I know for a fact the teachers aren't that good about marking who's there and isn't and he's often had to get forms to fill in later to say he was there, or show proof he was because he has the notes. But they clearly don't rectify the original registration. So that's hardly evidence. Oddly, I think having self-repped in two sets of litigation for periodical payments with the help of Wikivorce has helped me to develop a much tougher attitude all round. I approach things more forensically and I take a lot less rubbish.
I just wrote telling them I'd expect proper evidence and meanwhile I found their poor communication 'a cause for concern'. And moreover, I didn't want to be constantly bothered by them: just after surgery on my shattered wrist I was subjected to two separate phone calls having a go at me about something to do with my son. Enough! The worm has turned! I won't let anyone else bully me and I'd not going to allow them. Sometimes being a single parent is hard. And sometimes that very fact helps you to really grow up so you're really you - and not so compliant any more.
For more ways to develop as a stand-alone woman visit my website: www.lindafranklin.co.uk (c) Copyright Linda Franklin 2010