Marie Claire Australia

KELLY EXETER Mother to a son and daughter (aged 12 and eight)


Kelly Exeter was married to her soulmate, Anthony, for 14 years. Their life was on a trajectory of familial bliss when a freak road accident in January 2019 took her husband’s life, turning her world instantly upside down. Kelly was left to raise their two kids, aged five and nine at the time, on her own.

“It was a solid two years before the reality sunk in that this was going to be my life forever. That Ant wasn’t ever coming back,” she says. “I felt like we were still coparentin­g at first. Every decision I made, I knew exactly what he would have thought. But as the kids grow older, I’m less certain. Those are the confrontin­g moments where I realise that as much as I’d like to still think we’re raising them together, it’s really all on me now.”

Kelly describes reverting to a state of “numbness” in order to cope with her family’s sudden change in circumstan­ces, conscious of shielding her kids from own profound grief.

“If I let myself fall into despair, that’s not good for the kids, who look to me to set the tone for how to proceed,” she says. “There was no choice but to hold it together and set an example for them for how we were going to approach life in the face of this terrible event. If there is one thing that’s kept me going, it’s holding us all to a standard of behaviour that

Ant would be proud of. That’s been a guiding principle for me.”

The other big transforma­tion

Kelly has had to make is vto get comfortabl­e with accepting help in managing the “relentless­ness” of solo parenting.

“As someone who’s usually the helper, it’s been a big adjustment to be the one needing help. I struggle with that on an identity level. But I’ve absolutely had to lean heavily on friends, family and paid help to manage the logistics. I find the emotional load of holding myself together all the time while also being available to tend to my kids’ significan­t emotional needs a tough one to execute. I know I’m doing a good job, but it takes a huge toll and I’m constantly having to conserve my energy to cope.”

While she’s still coming to terms with being a single mother, Kelly admits she’s “hugely proud” of the way her kids are turning out. She’s proud of herself too for her part in that. But her greatest transforma­tion is in finding herself again, the woman she’s becoming after life changed course.

“I’m still trying to figure out who I am now that I’m not part of Team Kel and Ant. I thought I had a strong self-identity that transcende­d our relationsh­ip. But a huge part of my identity was built on the foundation­s of my husband’s love and support. And while I still feel I have those things on a spiritual level, it’s not the same as having them in real life.”


This is an edited extract from The Single Mother’s Social Club (Murdoch Books, $32.99), by Jacinta Tynan.

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 ?? ?? LEFT Kelly Exeter with children Jaden, 12, and Mia, eight. BELOW With late husband and father Anthony Exeter.
LEFT Kelly Exeter with children Jaden, 12, and Mia, eight. BELOW With late husband and father Anthony Exeter.

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