By: Hellen Hutchinson
The word “single parent” has come to represent many things. It’s the mother who recently separated from her husband and has primary custody of the child. It’s the father who is divorced and raising two kids alone. A single parent, in more formal terms, is an individual who is raising a child without the help of the other parent and solely meeting that child’s financial and emotional needs.
Many “single parents” don’t introduce themselves as single parents. It’s not a title that defines them. When I first separated from my husband in 2017, I remember I couldn’t even say the word aloud without feeling humiliated. I thought it symbolized my failure to keep my family united. I swore I would never refer to myself as anything other than the children’s mother. In time, I realized that there is nothing degrading about being a single parent. Single parents are brave. Single parents are selfless. Single parents will move mountains to ensure their children’s needs are met.
Below are several tips on how to survive being a single parent:
Joining a support group will help you to avoid what I endearingly refer to as the “hiding stage.” During this stage, newly single parents avoid all social situations and stay “hidden” in the safety of their homes in fear of having to re-establish social networks. Simply stated: it is not easy to make new friends as an adult. Adults are more set in their ways. Adults are less likely to participate in a suspended state of disbelief for the purpose of connecting with new people. Often in a divorce, when things are negotiated, in terms of “you can have this and I’ll take that,” so are people/friendships. Often one is left having to rebuild a social network. Joining a support group can be a great way to engage in activities that are new and with individuals who you won’t feel compelled to discuss your divorce with. Parents Without Partners is a nonprofit organization, providing support for single parents and their children, with many chapters around the United States. For more information go to this URL: http://www.parentswithoutpartners.org/.
My first few months as a “single parent” I spent hours looking through Facebook albums with a few box of tissues at hand. I don’t recommend that as a healthy outlet. I would create mental lists of our old life as a family versus our new life living without my husband/the children’s father and our dog, Bella. Again, not recommended. There is nothing positive that will come from comparing your old life to your new one. Your goal is to move forward and create a life with your children from a foundation of healthy new beginnings. And, it will not be easy because humans are wired to approach new situations using a mental map they created from past experiences. But, think of your new life as seen from the eyes of a new baby who is experiences something for the first time. Everything is new and can be exciting if you allow yourself to accept it from that perspective. The potential for great things to occur surrounds you and your family.
Chances are that once you enter the single parent stage you haven’t left a home environment where your spouse was filling your days with compliments and support. Separation from a spouse takes a toll on one’s confidence. It is your responsibility to get it back! First, demonstrate positive self-talk. OK – so, yes, I am advocating talking to yourself, but it’s for the purpose of being your own cheerleader. It may sound absurd to look yourself in the mirror and say “you can do this” or “you will have a great day today,” but you’d be amazed at how positive self-talk is just as effective as negative self-talk. Second, sleep! Being a single parent can mean taking on the responsibilities once shared by two people. A lack of sleep can result in a parent who is too tired to effectively parent. This can result in a child who is showing behavioral problems at home and/or in school. Third, seek mental health assistance. Gone are the days where people hid the fact that they saw a therapist 3 times a week. Now, we live in an age where people share their therapist’s contact information and compare their mental health medication. Seeing a therapist is an excellent outlet for discussing your life with someone who can be objective with his/her advice.
Humility is one of the greatest lessons I learned through the separation/in route to a divorce. First, accept that you are not a failure as a mother/ father or a spouse because your marriage was not successful. People change and circumstances may make a divorce the most viable option for your family. Second, being humble means asking for help. This used to be taboo in my world of “mother can do everything, anything, and even things she doesn’t know how to do.” Even the language thrown at you as a new mother supports the idea that you may have developed super powers when you entered motherhood. My friends would say “don’t worry. You’re a mother now. You can do anything!” The reality is that there will be times when you are limited by what you can do and asking for help makes sense. Finally, take advice. Listening to and accepting one’s advice does not mean you have no idea what you’re doing. It means you are enlightened enough to know that raising children is not easy and using your resources is smart parenting.
Look for the funny.
I can’t tell you how many times finding the humor in a situation has saved me from losing my mind. Search for the humor in a situation where your first reaction is to panic. Laughing does wonders to boost your health such as: releases endorphins, helps your body fight disease (by increasing antibodies that fight infection), relaxes your muscles, decreases your stress level, and increases blood flow to your heart. And, it feels good!
I am by no means telling you to overlook the severity that could be present in a situation, but be conscious of when you may be reacting from an emotional place rather than a logical one. In the world of mental health, the term is “reframing.” This means to view a situation from a different angle. For example, one may see losing one’s job as a “problem” while another could reframe the experience as an “opportunity” to find a more suitable job.
Whichever tip you chose to apply to your life or not, the fact is that being a single parent is a challenge. And, unfortunately, the word “challenge” has, over the years, been viewed as a potential for failure. But, here is where you can apply a “reframe.” Think of a challenge as an opportunity to discover new things about yourself – an opportunity for growth.