Why is it so hard to be a single parent?Being a single parent doesn’t always mean you aren’t co-parenting, but it can mean that as the majority care giver you have the bulk of the financial and practical parenting responsibilities. The financial side of single parenting is exhausting in itself and may mean you are working extra hard in order to fulfil your financial obligations and to give your child/children all the things they need. Pile onto this the physical strain of parenting such as domestic work, helping with homework, taking children to appointments and extracurricular activities, and it soon becomes apparent how burnout can occur.
Single parenting and mental healthThere are many ways we can become a single parent: by choice, through separation, or from the death of a partner. Each situation presents individual emotional and practical stress, and all can lead to deteriorating mental health. The sudden change in circumstances can be stressful for you and your children and even if you were prepared to parent alone, it’s rarely easy. Single parents, especially single mothers, are still often stigmatised in society, which can result in feelings of guilt and anxiety.
Single parenting and physical healthAccording a piece of research discussed on the NHS website, there may be a connection between single motherhood and ill health later in life. Commenting on the research conducted in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 2015, the NHS website suggests:
“Health status in later life is likely to be linked to a complex number of interrelated factors. Being a single mum may be one, social networks might be another.”
With this in mind, take care to not only ensure your children attend checkups, but make sure you keep on top of your own physical health and medical appointments too.
Taking care of yourself can include:
- Eating a healthier diet to avoid feeling sluggish and to promote energy
- Doing regular exercise to maintain health and energy
- Asking your GP for a full medical so you can tackle any underlying health issues
- Keeping on top of your oral health by attending routine dental checkups
Avoid burnout by seeking supportThere aren’t many people that like to admit they need help, but as a single parent it is important to seek support from friends and family if possible. Speak with trusted family members about how you feel and see if they could look after your children for even just a few hours on a regular basis. Utilise your friendships with parents of children at your child’s school and organise sleepovers where parents take turns in hosting each other’s children. This kind of arrangement can give you an entire night to yourself, allowing you to relax, or socialise if that is what you need. Playdates at parks or play centres are fantastic for allowing you to socialise with adults and to relax (a little) as the kids go and play with their peers.
Support for parents of children with complex needsBeing a single parent of a child with additional needs has its own set of considerations. However, there is assistance available for parents of children with complex needs such as day centres and respite care. Your local council will be able to provide the contact details of centres and carers specifically designed to support the needs of your child. You will also find there are numerous charities providing support for parents of children with complex needs such as Autism, Down’s Syndrome, and additional physical needs.
Reject the guiltSingle parents often feel guilty for taking time to themselves but if you want to avoid exhaustion, then you will need to reject those feelings of guilt and know that you are entitled to some time to yourself. If this means allowing your kids to watch more TV or play computer games for a little longer, then so be it. While they occupy themselves, exercise, read, facetime with friends or simply take a nap (if your children are old enough to self-supervise). Try to set aside time each day for a little alone time and extend that time once a week for you to enjoy your favourite activities or to catch up with friends.
Organise your time with the childrenAlthough the best laid plans can often go awry, organising a specific activity to enjoy with the children can help to alleviate the guilt of having 'me time'. Let your children know that there will be specific family time, be it mealtimes, film night, or board games night, and try to stick to these arrangements as much as possible. Knowing that you will be spending quality time with your kids allows you to enjoy that precious time to yourself even more.
Start each day anewSome days are just completely horrible. You’ll feel like the worst parent ever and may even be driven to tears as you feel like you have failed as a parent. Stop, breathe and start again. Learn from the mistakes of the previous day and forgive yourself if you’ve been a bit more shouty than normal. Parenting, be it as a single mother or father, or as part of a couple, is going to be filled with days where it feels like everything has gone wrong. Try not to carry that guilt into the next day and begin the day with a positive mindset. If appropriate, speak with your children about how their behaviour or your actions played out the previous day and talk about what your expectations are going forward. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge when you do something wrong too – apologising as a parent will show your children the importance of saying sorry and acknowledging when you’re wrong.
For more information about support for single parents in your area, visit One Parent Families Scotland, a charity specifically for single parents. You may also find the website of the charity Gingerbread, who operate in England and Wales, helpful.