Going it alone: Overcoming the challenges of single parenting

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Finding a healthy balance

Going it alone: Overcoming the challenges of single parenting
Embracing single parenting involves recognising challenges. (Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Family can be a big help for some, but it is also important to find support from other sources.

— Jessica Stebbins, family therapist

At times, it may seem like it takes a village to raise a child, but for single parents, that village often feels like a party of one. Single parenting poses challenges for even the most organised mum or dad, and without an extra hand, it can seem like a daunting task. A moment alone may seem like only a dream when you have the role of both mum and dad. According to Jessica Stebbins, a family therapist, it is crucial for single parents to focus on the positives in their lives and the joy that a child brings. “It is essential to accept that life changes with a baby and come to the conclusion that this is a positive thing,” Stebbins said. To that end, with resources and support systems in place, single parents can find the perfect balance while raising a healthy child.

Facing the challenges ahead

Whether you’re nurturing an infant or a teenager, going it alone can cause single parents to experience not only a loss of freedom, but also a lot of stress. A flood of feelings can be overwhelming if you’re not prepared.

“A single parent may feel increased stress due to having to find child care, work and care for her baby as well as feeling guilt for not spending the time that she would like to with the baby,” Stebbins said. “All of these factors could interfere with creating a bond with the baby or cause the mother to feel more guilt and put her at higher risk for postpartum blues or depression.”

Sleep deprivation can enhance the intensity of a single parent’s risk of depression or postpartum blues, says Carole Arsenault, author of “The Baby Nurse Bible.” The challenges are often “compounded in a single-parent situation because he or she often does not have the emotional or logistic support to smoothly get through midnight feedings and soothing sessions,” Arsenault said. As your child grows, the emotional toll of battling the terrible twos or teenage angst can also lead a single parent toward feelings of helplessness without the support he or she needs.

With only one source of income, financial strain often causes anxiety for single parents, too. While raising her children, Jennifer Maggio, single mother and author of “Overwhelmed: The Life of a Single Mom,” faced similar challenges. Beyond providing a stable home for her children, Maggio and many single parents are faced with the cost of child care, teenage activity fees and school supplies while going it alone.

“Not only does a single mother deal with the obvious challenges of motherhood that include learning to care for an infant, irregular sleep patterns and postnatal hormone adjustments, but the struggle is much deeper,” Maggio said. “She does not have the luxury of a spouse in whom she can share her concerns -- one who can offer those necessary words of encouragement and a listening ear.”

As children grow and get involved in sports, dance or music lessons, all requiring transportation from one activity to the next, Maggio says the balancing act can be demanding as a single parent. "It is necessary for every parent to learn balance to effectively manage this new stage of life, but with a single parent, it is critical."

Finding the support you need

Single parenting requires creative planning and crafty juggling to maintain a healthy household balance for both you and your child. “In order for any parent to be as effective as possible with their child, they need to have some time for themselves and relaxation,” Stebbins said. “Family can be a big help for some, but it is also important to find support from other sources.”

Try nurturing your mind and body with a healthy routine of exercise with your children. A daily walk in the stroller may help to soothe both of you and prepare you both for a much-needed nap. A 10-minute soak in a hot bath can do wonders for a single parent's peace of mind. Maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise will provide the energy level a single parent needs to go it alone.

Stebbins recommends finding fellowship from church members, mum groups, neighbours and single-parent support groups. Join groups where your child can mingle with other children, and consider a child swap with friends and neighbours to allow for some time out for yourself. Carpooling with other parents will also cut back on your time in the car, transporting your children to and from practices and rehearsals.

Asking for help is necessary when you feel stressed. Arsenault recommends tapping into online support groups or a local mom to talk through challenges of raising either a baby or a teenager. “It can work wonders for emotional support,” Arsenault said.

Dr. Savitri Dixon-Saxon, a single mother and counseler, says that it is crucial for single parents to establish a support network with others who understand the unique challenges of single parenting. "Single parents often feel increased vulnerability and think about 'what if something happens to me and I can't take care of my child,'" Dixon-Saxon said. A network of parents may provide you with the reassurance you need as well as the time to meet your needs and the patience to meet your child's needs. A support network can also get you and your children out and about with others for affordable day trips, group activities and meals in a supportive environment.

Above all, it is important for single parents of both babies and teenagers to embrace the blessings that come with single parenting and accept that you are one person, not a village, raising a child. “It’s important to learn to forgive yourself for all the things you want to do, but can’t,” Dixon-Saxon said. “Spend quality time with your child and let go of the idea of perfection. In the end, quality time is more important.”

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