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Adjusting to Being a Single Parent

Becoming a single parent is a big adjustment.  It can be challenging to raise a child as a single mother or father, but also rewarding.  You are likely to have many questions as you adjust to becoming a single parent.  How can you manage on one income?  Where can you find help and support when you need it?  If you have a child with special needs, your day be filled with additional challenges.  How can you create a positive environment for your child(ren) while taking care of your own needs?

As you look for answers, remember that you are not alone.  More than 1 in 4 households in the U.S. are headed by a single mother or father.  This article has tips on how to thrive, not just survive, in your role as a single parent – something you never expected but a critically important job you now must do.

How you may feel about being a single parent

You may be grieving for your loss as you plan for a different type of life for your child(ren) than you had expected.  Early in widowhood, grief can be overwhelming, and you may find it difficult to think straight let alone properly care for minor children.  You will feel complex emotions that include shock, anger, guilt, loneliness, and fears for you or your family’s future.  For example, you may be mourning your loss while at the same time feeling angry that you are now managing children on your own.  All these mixed emotions are normal and very common.  Fortunately, they are likely to become less intense as you adjust to your new circumstances.  In the meantime, try to be patient with yourself.  Keep in mind that even in households with two adults, many parents at times feel lonely or overwhelmed or wonder how they will cope with all the stress.

Here are ten tips on making the adjustment easier:

  1. Ask for help.  Don’t try to be a superhero and do it all yourself. Let friends, relatives, and others know what would make your life easier.  Ask them for help with specific tasks, such as picking up or dropping off your children at school or appointments, helping at home, or running errands.  We are so reluctant to ask for help until we collapse; it’s far healthier to ask for it earlier than later.  You will not be perceived as weak or incompetent. You are being a good parent by being resourceful and allowing others to give you a much-needed break.
  2. Try to make time for yourself every day.  Before anything else can be done, you must be caring for your own needs adequately. Only when you are feeling well-rested and healthy can you be at your best for your children.  Try to make time each day for activities that leave you feeling refreshed and re-energized.  Spending as little as 15 or 20 minutes reading a magazine, listening to your favorite music, or taking a quiet walk can make a big difference.  After the kids are tucked in for the night, focus on “me time.”  Your children depend on you, and it’s up to you to make sure that you are well-equipped and ready to take on that responsibility.
  3. Create a routine. Routines are crucial for young children because knowing what to expect gives them a semblance of control.  This is even more important when in a single parent home.  If the child has multiple caretakers, life can seem extremely chaotic and unpredictable.  Establish a routine and schedule for your child as much as possible.  This can include bedtime, before/after school, chores, mealtimes, and even a weekend routine.  Routines are also important for you, as they help you stay focused on the things you need to accomplish each day and will prevent you from missing appointments or forgetting to swing by the store for groceries.
  4. Join forces with other single parents.  Support groups give you a chance to be with people who understand what you are going through and who can offer ideas, support, and advice. You can find groups for single parents through national organizations with local chapters, such as Parents without Partners (parentsiwthoutpartners.org) or through community groups or places of worship.  There are also numerous online communities that can offer support and advice, through Facebook or sites like Single Mom Nation.  You might even find a support group right in your own neighborhood; consider downloading the Nextdoor app to connect with your neighbors.
  5. Build a community for support and fun.  Spread the word on social media, Nextdoor, or post a flyer at your child’s school. In addition to finding support with other single parents, also build a community comprised of families of all different types.  Rather than focus solely on the single parent aspect of your identity, look for parents and kids who share other things in common.  Join a playgroup, get plugged in at a church, or get to know the parents of the kids involved in the same extracurricular activities.  Having a community of a variety of people and families will bring diversity and excitement into your and your kids’ lives.
  6. Stay positive and build your confidence.  Things may be tough, but they don’t usually last forever, right? Stay positive.  Your kids will be able to detect even the smallest shift in your attitude.  When the responsibilities of parenthood are overwhelming, stay focused on the positive things in your life, such as your friends and family.  This will produce a much more stable home environment.  Maintain your sense of humor and don’t be afraid to be silly.  Look towards the future and the great things that are still to come for you and your family.  Remember that children can do well in many kinds of single-parent families and try to avoid comparing yours to others.  Also note, experts agree that children from single-parent homes can grow up to be as happy and well-adjusted as those from two-parent families.
  7. Move beyond the guilt and talk about your feelings. In a single parent home, it is impossible to act as both parents, regardless of how hard you try.  Let go of the things that you cannot do as a single parent, and instead, think of the great things you ARE able to provide for your children.  Don’t get bogged down by guilt or regret.  There is no sense in wishing things were different; they are what they are.  Take control of your life and be the best parent you can by being present and engaged with them on a daily basis.  Don’t be afraid to share these feelings; sometimes all you need is for someone to listen to help make you feel better.
  8. Treat kids like kids. In the absence of a partner, it can be tempting to rely on your children for comfort, companionship, or sympathy.  But your kids are not equipped to play this role for you.  There are many details within an adult relationship that children are not able to understand or process, and it will only cause confusion and resentment.  Do not take out your anger on your kids.  Separate your emotional needs from your role as a parent.  If you find yourself depending on your kids too much, look for adult friends or family members that you can talk to about your issues.
  9. Plan ahead for emergencies. As a single parent, a backup plan or two is a must in emergency situations.  Make a list of people you know you can call in a moment’s notice.  There will be times in which you need help, and it’s important to know ahead of time who you can rely on.  Look into if your area offers emergency babysitting services or a drop-in daycare.  Knowing who will be able to care for your child in the event of an emergency can relieve one potential source of anxiety in stressful situations.
  10. Consider counseling if you are going through a difficult time.  Adjusting to single parenthood can be hard, no doubt about it! You may find it helpful to speak with a mental health professional.  Your health care provider can give you a referral.  If you are employed, check with your manager or human resources (HR) department if you aren’t sure what programs are available.  You might be surprised at the resources your employer may be able to offer you. This is a time when there should be no embarrassment or shame in asking for help and support.  Do what you need to do to take care of your wonderful – and resilient – children.

Being a single parent is a challenging responsibility to take on.  Without the help of a partner to fall back on, single parents have a lot more to take on.  However, studies show that growing up in a single-parent home does not have a negative effect on achievement in school.  As long as the family is a stable and safe environment, kids are able to excel and do well in life.  You’ve suffered the worst loss possible, but so have your children and they need you more than ever.  Follow these tips to take care of yourself and be the best parent possible for your children.