Single parent homes are more and more common these days. And though the circumstances may vary, the reality is that solo parenting is often stressful, demanding, and hectic. Single parenthood comes with a unique set of emotional challenges that can feel overwhelming. Most single parents struggle with the same issues – from self-doubt and anxiety over money to the stress of making decisions alone. If you are a single parent, there are several things you can do to help minimize the stress in your life — and bring back the joy of parenting.
Challenge 1: Having no one to tag in.
Being on 24/7 means that there is no one to pass the baton to when you are having a bad parenting moment and this can quickly lead to burnout. It also leads to anxiety and stress over making all the decisions on your own. Whether it’s a toddler tantrum or a school decision, many single parents are the only ones completely invested in their children.
Solution: Set up a support system. All single parents need help — whether it’s someone to watch the kids while you run out to do errands or simply someone to talk to when you feel overwhelmed. While it’s tempting to try to handle everything alone, ask friends and family members for help. Try joining a single-parent support group in your area, or, if finances allow, hire a trusted sitter to help out with the kids or someone to assist with housework.
Also, try to schedule meals, chores, bedtimes, and other family functions at regular hours so that your child knows exactly what to expect each day. A consistent routine will help your child feel more secure and help you feel more organized.
Challenge 2: Self-doubt.
It is so hard to know if you’re doing a good job as a single parent. When you’re in a relationship, you have someone who agrees (or disagrees) with your methods and can help you see the value in your positive parenting moments and help you improve where you fall short. But as a single parent you have to do that alone, and it often leads to self-doubt.
Solution: Abolish the word “guilt” from your vocabulary. It’s extremely easy for single parents to feel guilty about the time they don’t have or the things they can’t do or provide for their children. But for your own sense of well-being, it’s better to focus on all the things you do accomplish on a daily basis and on all the things you do provide — and don’t forget about all the love, attention, and comfort you’re responsible for! If you ever question your day-to-day achievements, just make a list. At the end of the day, remind yourself that no one is perfect and that you are doing the best you can.
Challenge 3: Missing the kids when they’re with their other parent.
Loneliness is a constant challenge, and the hardest part can be getting used to being without the kids.
Solution: The solution is to plan out those times, so you don’t give yourself a chance to get into a funk. Reach out to friends and schedule nights out singing karaoke, going to dinner, walking around a museum, or checking out a movie that is too intense for when the kids are around. Basically do whatever things you may not be able to do when the kids are home.
Challenge 4: Stress and anxiety about money.
Without two incomes, many single parents are often economically vulnerable. Minimum wage keeps many single moms below the poverty level—even when they’re working full time! Across America, homeless shelters are the final refuge for many single parent families. Not surprisingly, poverty and economic hardship are linked to anxiety and depression.
Solution: Raising a family on one income, or relying on an ex-spouse for child support, can be one of the hardest aspects of parenting alone. That’s why it’s important to take steps to define your financial goals, because you can’t have a plan without goals. Start by making a budget to help you see where all your money is going and where it needs to go. See if there is anything you can cut out or reduce (such as cable or high interest credit cards). Think about any other sacrifices you can make such as daily coffee runs or finding a cheaper place to live.
Challenge 5: Ignoring the importance of self-care.
We are often expected to be a super parent when the other is not involved. After spending the day working full time, and then being on Mommy duty at home, it’s easy to forget about taking care of yourself. “Spa days” are a pipe dream for most lone parents, and finding time to exercise can seem impossible. Self-care enables men and women to cope with the challenges of single parenting, but most single parents put their own care last on their to-do list.
Solution: It is important to schedule time for yourself. Even if it’s something as simple as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or having a chat with a friend, setting aside a little personal time will give you a chance to refuel. Even if it is only fifteen minutes, take time out of the week to do something for yourself. Going for a walk or writing in a journal – something that allows you to reconnect with who you were before you became a parent.
Challenge 6: Sleep Deprivation.
Not surprisingly, single parents rarely get enough sleep. Why? Because they can get so much done when their kids are sleeping! Laundry, housekeeping, night shifts, studying, and other responsibilities often undermine the chance for a good night’s rest. Not only does poor sleep put people at an increased risk of suffering from depression and anxiety, but it can also increase their chances of developing immune deficiency and heart disease.
Solution: Turn off the TV, phone, and tablet at night. You may be guilty of getting the kids to bed and then watching shows, playing electronic games, or working until the wee hours of the morning. It may feel excruciating to turn all of this off and actually go to bed and it may take time to break the habit! But once you do, you may find that you are a lot more productive during the day and a lot more relaxed with your kids!
Challenge 7: Setting boundaries.
Many single parents have a hard time setting boundaries because they feel they have to do it all or feel guilty saying no.
Solution: Prioritize your boundaries. As a single parent, boundaries are essential to keep your family’s life stable and constant. We all need boundaries to safeguard us for a healthy lifestyle. Without boundaries, life can be one exhausting attempt to catch up. Boundaries respect who you are. Once in place they protect you by making expectations and responsibilities clear. This is especially important to set boundaries with your own kids. You may start to feel you are losing your identity if you don’t draw a line somewhere.
Challenge 8: Ongoing conflict with an ex.
Divorce and separation are hard enough, but continuing conflict with a child’s other parent can erode a single person’s mental health. Bullying, manipulation, withholding child support, and violating divorce agreements are among the many behaviors divorced parents tell us they face.
Solution: Manage conversations by staying on topic. We are not looking for perfect behavior here. Parents under the stress of money worries, legal concerns, stories of betrayal, and uncertainty about the future are going to make mistakes—even big mistakes. But there is so much at stake for their children, that it is worth stepping back and trying to handle conflict in an intelligent and civil way. Work at keeping your conversations on topic and don’t rehash history. If your ex-spouse insists on engaging in conversation over old issues, try and direct the conversation back to the topic at hand. If you are unable to do this, then excuse yourself from the conversation by walking away or hanging up the phone. Come back to the conversation in a few days and try again.
Challenge 9: Weak support networks.
When one becomes a single parent — whether by choice or circumstance — friends often drift away when you need them the most. Friends and family may choose sides, feel awkward, or be unable to relate to a single person’s new reality. Disconnection from community gives rise to feelings of alienation and hopelessness.
Solution: Ask for help. The first step is to let go of the pressure you’re putting on yourself to do it all on your own. Look at the families around you. Even many two-parent families who receive regular help from grandparents, aunts, and uncles. There is nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it. Needing help is not a sign of weakness or failure! Asking for help gets easier the more you do it. Start by asking for help in one small area. If you’re more comfortable, suggest trading tasks like child care and cooking with a friend or with people in your church.
Challenge 10: Stressed-out and anxious parents create stressed-out and anxious kids.
Depression and anxiety among elementary school students are rising. Nearly a third of high school students report feeling sad or hopeless. One in five school-age kids has a diagnosable mental disorder — 20 percent of our children!
Solution: You can’t help your children manage their stress until you can manage yours. If you think you’re hiding your worry and stress from your kids, think again. Whether you have a teen or a toddler, modeling healthy stress management is critical for the health of future generations. While we can’t eliminate all stress, there are many things we can do to become more resilient to the stress in our lives. At the core, you have to start with yourself.
What does it look like? It looks like five minutes of mindful breathing, or taking a moment to engage with your child. It’s using a mealtime to discuss a mistake that you learned from today, so your children begin to understand that life isn’t perfect, and that mistakes can lead to growth rather than stress. These are small shifts, yes, but they matter. And if you make them a habit you will not only change your response to modern stress, you’ll change your kids’ as well.