Single parenting was, a generation ago, considered rare. However, it is no longer a unique situation where the parent is pitied or looked down upon. In fact, Pew Research reports that 18 million children younger than 18 are being raised by a single parent, with 15 million children being raised by a single mother.
The Census Bureau reports that this number represents nearly 1/3 of American children growing up in a single-parent household. The second-most common living arrangement in the US, after the traditional two married parents arrangement, is children living with a single mother, representing nearly 24% of US households.
While the social stigma around single parenting has largely been erased, the daily struggles of single parenting are still very real.
Solo parenting offers fewer supports for parent and child. It also reduces the opportunity to divide the additional responsibilities that come with parenting.
So how do you keep from being overwhelmed by the work? Follow these 7 suggestions to make everyday life a little easier.
1. Rely on others – build a team
Parenting is a team sport, as is evidenced across cultures and even across species. Every living thing seeks comfort and support from the “tribe” or the “pack or the “flock”, or whatever we call community within each group. Children let go of their mother’s legs to investigate the surroundings in a familiar religious setting, favorite park, or a friend’s house, knowing that the community will protect them, scold them, and teach them.
You can set this up for your own child. Meet people with similar situations at a religious center, daycare, and even on social media. Find ways to share resources, or utilize existing structures. Many neighborhoods have daycare centers that have existed for decades and provide not just care for your child, but a chance to meet other parents who will share rides, set playdates, and even recommend a trusted babysitter.
2. Gather resources – role models and guides
Often single parents worry about raising children of the opposite sex. Men worry about having to teach their daughter about menstruation, and women often express concern about how to help their sons can become men in our society.
For this reason, it is important to lean on existing organizations to meet people who can serve in that role. One man found a trusted co-worker to have the menstruation talk with his daughter, while another scheduled a visit with the pediatrician to show father and daughter the details.
Single women have long relied on local sports teams and groups like the Cub Scouts to provide activities, a sense of community, and role models for their sons.
3. Demonstrate your love without spoiling your child
It is not uncommon for a single parent to feel guilty about their situation, as if they are depriving their child of a necessary resource. There are effective ways to deal with this openly (see #5 and #6 below).
An ineffective way to deal with this is to try to purchase your child’s affection by indulging their requests, especially at holidays. Single parenting is not a competition with the other parent. Even if it was, the competition will not be won with ice cream and the latest most popular toy.
Instead, help your child understand the value of your being present with them every day, and set aside time just to be with each other (different from homework time, or housework time!)
4. Set and enforce limits, even (especially) when you are tired
Another outgrowth of single parent guilt is not enforcing limits. This does not mean insisting that your child follow strictly everything that you say. That can become an endless argument.
It does mean setting boundaries around bedtime, when and where they can eat in the house, coming when they are called from the playground, and other daily life routines.
This also means being deliberate with consequences – staying up too late does not merit losing a planned birthday party, for instance. It is important the rules and consequences are aligned.
5. Take care of yourself
Single parenting is exhausting. It is hard. Two parent households have natural breaks built in to the schedule, as one parent or the other takes on specific tasks.
Lean on your tribe to give you some time away, including even a weekend with your friends while your child stays with grandma. You don’t love your child less because you needed a break. In fact, your rested self is much better prepared to give your child what they need.
6. Talk to your child about separation / divorce
Your child deserves to have answers to the questions they are old enough to ask about your living situation. While it is not necessary to fully disclose the circumstances for divorce, it is important to explain it in words your child can understand.
Also, children often feel protective about their parents, and want to take responsibility. Your child needs to know that the divorce was not their fault, and that they cannot do anything to fix it, that is a matter between you and their other parent.
Some less-common single parenting situations, like those caused by death of a spouse or by intentional means, can be discussed more openly. While challenging in their own rights, these discussions are less likely to cause emotional complications for the child.
Single parents have lots of resources available to help them be successful. But sometimes it can be overwhelming. Speaking with an individual or family counselor can be helpful. Just sorting the issues out with a trained professional can help you identify new solutions and strategies, and create better results for you and your child.
Sakina Issa is a psychotherapist and a mental health expert who addresses mindfulness, self growth, and topics related to parenting and relationships. Read more of her insights, or schedule an appointment at her site SakinaIssa.com.