Parenting is the most important and difficult job in the world. While parenting with a partner isn’t easy, and co-parenting from separate households has its challenges, the parent who is going it alone is contending with a very different set of issues. The single parent may feel isolated, less financially stable, and often exhausted – physically and emotionally – as he or she tries to raise children, hold down a job, shop, prepare meals, and take care of the house with little or no support. The solo parent often worries about who will take care of her children if something happens to her. Sometimes, children worry about this as well, causing clinginess, anxiety, and issues with separation from the parent.
Single parents may be tempted to overcompensate and sacrifice their own well-being to give children material things. By necessity, single parents might allow their children more freedom at an earlier age, and they sometimes are judged harshly for those decisions. Conversely, they may be hesitant to set limits and boundaries as they want their children to be happy at any cost. Boundaries and limits, however, are exactly what children need to grow up happy, healthy, and well-functioning. It is not uncommon for a solo parent to treat a child as a partner – sharing a bed, taking a child to adult activities, and making the parent/child relationship the main social outlet. But children need friends from within their peer group, and parents need the stimulation and pleasure of adult companionship.
So what are my tips for solo parents? The most important step a solo parent can take is to create a support system for herself and her kids. This support system can serve as an extended family, helping the parent and children feel less isolated and alone. I suggest parents cast a wide net when looking to create this support system, as not all of us are fortunate to live near members of our immediate families. It’s important for the support group to include people of the opposite gender from the parent – people who can act as role models, stepping in when the parent feels at a loss as to how to handle particular situations.
Look for support people in a variety of places. The neighborhood, schools, and extracurricular activities are often fertile ground for connecting and establishing bonds. Volunteering with a local nonprofit is also another way to meet people.
Solo parents may need to be assertive as they reach out to those they would like to draw into their circle. Confidence is important, and it has been my experience that non-solos are looking to connect just as much as single parents. People seem to want to make room in their lives for nice people. Approach new interactions with an upbeat attitude, and try to avoid complaining.
Finding other solo parents can be a great way to engage, as well as share childcare, other resources, and life lessons. If circumstances are right, you might also have some luck connecting with family members on the absent parent’s side.
In Richmond, there are support groups for just about everyone. One organization for single mothers is called Fresh Start. At whatsnextfreshstart.org, you’ll find a schedule of networking events and services for solo moms. Of particular interest is the guest speaker series with informative topics to empower single mothers, which meets once a month at Richmond-area churches. This is a fun and dynamic group.
Creating a support system may require some initial effort, but it is effort well spent. Ultimately, the support benefits children as well as adults.