Child of a village
Tracey Hawthorne is grateful for her 'family of choice" who've helped raise her kids.
One of my friends said a wonderful thing to me the other night: ‘Thanks for sharing your kids with us.’

It was a far cry from what some Neanderthal nitwit told me 18 years ago when I struck out on my own with two children under the age of 2: ‘Now you’ll never find another man.’

That was utter tosh but, quite aside my romantic status, what I found instead was so much more worthwhile.

In the absence of a functional family-of-origin of my own, or of an on-site father for my children, I found an alternative family: my friends. And because it is a simple fact that divorcees seldom socialise happily with smug-marrieds, most of my friends are single. And, for various reasons, most of them are also childless.

And so, from a very early age, my children have been co-parented by a close-knit ‘family of choice’. This communal effort ranged from their turning up to lend a hand at bath time and dinner time (the dreaded ‘suicide hour’) when the kids were little, through attending plays and prize-givings with me when they were tweens, to helping with transport when the kids grew older and their social and school schedules became more complicated.

Most valuable, however, has been my friends’ input now that my children are older teens. Single parents often have a hard row to hoe at this vital and vulnerable stage of their children’s lives, because there’s no other parental figure to share the load. You can’t play ‘good cop, bad cop’ because you’re the only cop; you can’t fob off a difficult request with ‘Go ask your father’ because he isn’t there; and for the same reason you can’t duck an uncomfortable issue, hoping that the other parent will take up the slack.

With my teens, all the usual fraught issues have come up, from experimentation with alcohol and cigarettes, to unsuitable (or otherwise) friends and boyfriends, and from what subjects to choose for university to what kind of freedoms being 18 confers – and everything in between. And here’s where my friends have so marvellously stepped into the breach.

When a valued family friend tells my teens, ‘I think your mother’s right on this one,’ they’re much more willing to accept an unpopular decision; similarly, when a much-loved confidant/e quietly tells me, ‘You might be being a little unreasonable here,’ I’m all ears.

Of course, the final decision is always mine – I am very definitely where the buck stops. But getting a range of opinions and inputs from a pool of concerned people from a wide variety of backgrounds has often helped me find perspective where, perhaps, a debate boiled down to ‘mom says/dad says’ might not have.

There’s an old African saying that goes, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ My ‘village’ has done just that. And I’m so grateful to my friends for having shared my children with me.

Have your friends helped you raise your kids?

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