Like Helen Skelton, I feel the guilt of being a divorced working mum

Like Helen Skelton, I live with the terrible guilt of being a divorced working mother, admits BEVERLEY TURNER who was also a Radio 5 presenter who split from a top sportsman

No one dreads the summer more than a divorced, working mother: as I write this, I’m worrying about 14-year-old Kiki getting the bus home before 8.30pm, 12-year-old Trixie returning from the park on her bike and my son, Croyde, 19, being eaten by a lion in Zimbabwe.

Even when life is ticking along okay, with three children and a full-time job in broadcasting, the wheels can – and frequently do – come off. It’s then you realise how little wiggle room there is to accommodate disruption.

When Croyde skidded off his bicycle and broke a collarbone earlier this year, it was sheer luck that I was nearby to pick him up off the pavement, lug his bike into the boot and sit with him in A&E.

So I felt a pang of understanding when Helen Skelton sacrificed her BBC Radio 5 Live Sunday morning show on the altar of motherhood earlier this month. ‘The juggle is real,’ the mum of three, who separated from England rugby league player Richie Myler more than a year ago, told listeners. ‘I’m not all right about it… But you know, needs must.’ 

I feel for her – as I, too, am divorced from a top sportsman, James Cracknell (albeit our split was complicated by his brain injury in 2010), and although my new partner is very supportive, the weight of responsibility for childcare – all while maintaining my own income and daily GB News TV and radio show – remains immense. It’s less a ‘juggle’ and more a blindfolded, high-wire, triple-somersault circus act.

Helen Skelton with her three children. Ms Skelton, 40, is a mother of three and has Ernie, eight, Louis, five, and 19-month-old daughter Elsie

Beverley Turner and family L-R. 19 year old Croyde; Beverley Turner, 49; her new boyfriend James Pritchett, 35; 12 year old Trixie, and 14 year old Kiki

You could hardly find a more vibrant, capable woman than 40-year-old Skelton, who wowed the Strictly Come Dancing audience on the same week that her ex-husband announced he was having a baby with his new partner. And yet her move does seem to confirm the depressing truth that, even in 2023, many mums still can’t ‘have it all’. While divorce can be liberating, it undeniably makes the juggle much harder. In the early stages of a split, as Helen has perhaps discovered, striving for the perfect balance is made extra difficult by feelings of guilt, exhaustion and resentment.

Right now, she is neck-deep in parenting, with two boys aged eight and six, and a 20-month-old daughter.

To accommodate a regular Sunday morning show, she’d probably have been reliant on coming to a working arrangement with her ex-husband. But her parting comment – ‘an eight-year-old with a [football] sideline needs me’ – leaves us to conclude she’s not been able to get this arrangement to work.

I understand her frustration. Complicated as they often are, it’s not the practical details that defeat us – friends and family can be found to taxi children here and there, after all – but the strong feeling you are letting your children down if they are once again left to play without their own special fan to watch them.

As much as it pains us broken working mothers to admit – and this comes into even sharper focus when you are a divorced working mother – a happy childhood is grounded in simple moments like catching a parent’s eye when you score a goal or chatting in the car on the way home from a match.

READ MORE: EXCLUSIVE Revealed: Helen Skelton’s acrimonious split from husband Richie Myler forced her to quit her Radio 5 Live show 

Mums know that without the safety nets of school or nursery and week-night childcare, it’s simply harder to make the whole act come together on a weekend. And if daddy can’t be there, you make damn sure that you can be there yourself.

For two years, I hosted a BBC Radio 5 Live Sunday morning show alongside my now GB News colleague Eamonn Holmes. My son was only two at the time, and I vividly remember the logistical challenge of having to rely on my mum overnight on Saturdays because my husband would also have to be out of the house by 6am for training.

Of course, at times it felt unfair that I was the one driving up and down the M6 to drop Croyde off with my parents, but Olympic gold medals don’t factor in babysitting needs, and that was the commitment I had made. I wasn’t a single mum at that stage, but the juggle on a Sunday often made me feel that I was.

Helen Skelton who has broadcast her final show for BBC Radio 5 Live ‘for now’ in a bid to spend more time with her children

BEVERLEY TURNER: As much as it pains us broken working mothers to admit — and this comes into even sharper focus when you are a divorced working mother — a happy childhood is grounded in simple moments like catching a parent’s eye when you score a goal or chatting in the car on the way home from a match

Indeed, I was often so tired and confused, I felt I was failing at being a good mum and at being a decent radio presenter. Embarrassingly, I once burst into tears at a post-show meeting and got a gentle ticking off from Eamonn about needing to focus on my job and toughen up. It may sound harsh, but he was right and he did me a massive favour that day.

I can confirm that this feeling of failure never really goes away – all working mums must learn to live with this inner conflict, but it feels just that bit worse if you are on your own. Today, with elderly parents and three teenagers, when people ask how things are I reply: ‘Nobody is in hospital and nobody has been arrested, so that’s a good day.’

And yet the truth is, my thoughts are almost always focused on my three children. Are single dads similarly consumed by a constant low level fretfulness about their kids? Do they know at all times where they are and how they’re feeling, as women do?

And, of course, like Helen, I also carry the quiet millstone of knowing that the plan to raise my children in a home with their biological father didn’t pan out. No matter how happy we post-divorce mums might be with our new normal, that sense of having failed to preserve the ‘perfect’ family life for our kids lingers.

(I did recently mention this nagging sense of being sorry about it to the 14-year-old, who threw me a withering teenage glance and said: ‘Don’t be crazy. I’ve got two dogs at daddy’s. You would never have let us get a dog.’ And she’s right.)

Married women often talk jealously of the silver lining to divorce – the me-time we get when the kids are with the ex. But it can be overrated.

I felt a pang of understanding when Helen Skelton sacrificed her BBC Radio 5 Live Sunday morning show on the altar of motherhood earlier this month. ‘The juggle is real,’ the mum of three, who separated from England rugby league player Richie Myler (pictured together) more than a year ago, told listeners

This summer, with the kids either at holiday camps or spending time with their dad, I vowed I would get some ‘balance’ back. The mythical me-time would at last kick-in, and I, too, would be a perfect insta-mum, who enjoys at-home visits from beauty therapists while sipping Picpoul de Pinet and devouring heavyweight political biographies.

And, yet, the reality is that most of the time without the kids is consumed by boring tasks you’ve not had time to get done when they are around because the parenting and working is so relentless.

When James arrived in the first week of the holidays to take the kids to Amsterdam for four nights, I waved them off in my apron, before turning on my heels and spending two 12-hour-days cleaning out their end-of-term bedrooms. I filled boxes with charity shop clothes; bin bags with half-used exercise books, smashed eye-shadow pallets and dusty odd socks.

I then took two decades’ worth of bedding that I had accumulated from the airing cupboard and laid it all out on the lawn, ruthlessly culling it into matching sets only.

My new partner arrived and looked on fascinated. He gently asked if I fancied a walk to the pub in the sunshine, but I was intoxicated by the sense of not being interrupted by shouts of ‘Mummy!’, and continued to de-clutter like a maniac.

READ MORE: The great showbiz mum exodus: Helen Skelton quits her R5Live show saying it’s too much of a ‘juggle’ as a single parent – and she’s not the only woman to admit she’s had to put family over fame 

I apologised later for having an empty house and sorting out the bed sheets rather than tumbling in them. ‘I’m happy if you’re happy,’ he replied, ‘and I’ve rarely seen you as happy as when you’d sorted out that airing cupboard.’ Of course, when we did eventually slow down and contemplate the quiet house, I missed the kids and wanted them home.

After 19 years of parenting, I have concluded it’s the voice inside our heads endlessly repeating the to-do list that finally grinds mothers down to the point at which we give up fabulous jobs.

In Helen’s case, the volume clearly got too loud to tolerate.

Often, too, it will mix frequencies. ‘Mum, you’re not listening,’ my kids will say as I zone out over dinner contemplating an interview I’ll be doing the next morning with a particularly tricky MP.

And in the studio, ten minutes before going live on air, I regularly tell my producer, ‘I’m so sorry, I know I was looking at you but I didn’t hear a word you just said’, because my mind has gone into a spin remembering that I didn’t confirm a kid’s dentist appointment/haircut/ teacher-parent meeting. Even the most hands-on divorced dads rarely know which days of the week require sports-kit, permission slips or water bottles. With the best will in the world, it’s just not practical to divide such minutiae without things falling through the cracks and, at that point, it’s the children who suffer.

It pains me that this old-fashioned division of labour has barely changed. It’s baked into schools, where mum remains the first point of call when a child is ill, and in workplaces where double standards mean that men are hailed as heroes for taking time off for sports day, but mothers are viewed as not taking their jobs seriously. Ask any single mum why she carries the extra load and she’ll often say, ‘It’s easier to do it myself than take time explaining what needs doing’. And so the cycle continues.

The person who remains at the bottom of the priority list is me. I’m not looking for pity. It’s just a fact of life for a divorced working mum.

Ex: The television presenter, 39, announced her split from England and Leeds Rhinos rugby league star Richie, 33, in April last year

If it’s any consolation to Helen, it does get easier as they get older. I have always had a flexible childcare arrangement with my ex due to the unpredictable nature of his freelance working life. At times, this has caused us both disappointment: me, because I needed more support, and him, because he didn’t see the kids as much as he would like. Throw in miscommunication and the inevitable changes of plan, which arise with kids due to illness or forgotten double-bookings, and it has been a rocky path.

But when teens start to prioritise time with friends over family, that side of things does become more convenient, and parents suddenly find themselves sliding into new roles as driver, banker and emotional punchbag. The beauty of parenting teens as divorcees is that neither mum nor dad can feel hurt by the off-spring preferring one over the other – they just prefer anyone to their parents!

Helen’s children are still tiny, and I do wonder whether life is even trickier because her ex-husband has a new baby. It must be easy to become competitive and resentful when you know that fatherly duties are split between two families. I just have to factor in the needs of two much-loved French bulldogs.

My boss is lovely and has done everything practically possible to support my exit from the house before the kids leave for school, but they can’t ease my guilt at not being there to wave them off and do last-minute checks. That’s just a compromise I have to accept.

Helen’s Instagram depicts a busy life of fun TV shows; girls’ holidays and supportive wrap-around family care. No doubt, the darker, sadder moments do happen, but she’s smart enough to keep them away from the camera.

It has now been revealed that her acrimonious split from husband Richie Myler (pictured together in 2012) was behind the decision

If she’s looking to date, I do not envy her that challenge. As a divorcee, I can’t imagine anything worse than managing children’s emotions, plus my own and the needs of a string of blokes.

By some twist of fate, the universe gifted me the ideal man through a friend who suggested he might be able to advise me on a house renovation. And instead of a gnarled builder, there stood a hot man 14 years my junior.

Yes, it sounds like the start of a bad porn movie, but it’s really been a fairy tale, and I couldn’t do this current job and raise three young people without dropping more spinning plates than I already do if it were not for his calm support. When Helen meets another partner, as she surely will, my top tip is not to move him in full-time. My partner spends a few nights per week at his house in Oxfordshire, allowing us to ‘miss each other’ rather than nag about whose turn it is to cook. I’m convinced this is the secret to a post-divorce relationship with children.

There will be more great jobs for Helen Skelton. But I don’t think it will ever stop being impossible for divorced working mums to ‘have it all’ with a clear conscience, especially if the ex can’t find his way to that touchline.

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