A look at the challenges single parents face and where they can turn for support
Whether you’re a single mom or a single dad, being a solo parent isn’t an easy job. It can be overwhelming to be in charge and on call, responsible for meals, homework, shopping, appointments and everything else. Raising children on a single income can also be a huge stressor. And it often seems like there’s never enough time to get everything done.
Single moms often struggle with self-worth, says Stacie Poythress, president and founder of Single Parent Advocate, a nonprofit that provides training and support for families. “Moms I work with have a hard time with feelings of failure or not feeling good enough; they are more likely to compare their family to others and feel that theirs is somehow ‘broken.’”
She advises moms to surround themselves with positive people and deliberately choose their perspective, focusing on the good qualities in themselves, their families and their lives rather than comparing their situation to others. “Make a list of all the things you ARE instead of the things you’re not. All types of families can be whole, complete and fulfilled,” she says.
Moms also must take good care of themselves so they can take good care of their families. “Single mothers are the most financially challenged group in the U.S. and often are working so hard that they put their own care last on their to-do list,” says Marika Lindholm, founder of Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere (ESME). “But it can be done by getting creative, being proactive and — most importantly — coming together.”
Look for low-cost, efficient ways to work out, like an online program to do when the kids are in bed, and consider a meal co-op with other moms to share cooking duties and to save time. Get to bed at a reasonable hour; you’ll probably get just as much done because you’re more efficient when you’re well-rested.
Single dads often encounter a lack of outside support considering men’s traditional reluctance to ask for help. “You know the old saying about how men don’t like to ask for directions?” asks best-selling author, speaker and fatherhood expert Armin Brott. “There’s a sense of ‘I don’t want anyone to know I don’t know how to do this.’ But nobody knows how to do it, and the sooner you can admit that, the better chance you’ll have of actually being able to do it well.”
Dads can also feel uncomfortable in traditionally ‘mom-dominated’ places. “School is sometimes seen as a ‘mom’s place,’ and dads can feel like they don’t belong or even like they’re viewed with suspicion at times,” says Eric Snow, executive director of WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) an educational initiative of the National Center for Fathering. “Get involved anyway. Know your children’s teachers; get on their email lists. Join the PTA and volunteer at events. We want dads to feel comfortable being included as a nurturing presence, because the only way to change those perceptions is to show up.”
Despite the seemingly superhuman effort it can sometimes take, raising kids solo also comes with unique rewards, including the qualities it can instill in your children.
Whether you’re a single mother or father, daily life can feel like walking a tightrope. Instead of toughing it out alone, build a network of other single parents to help with everyday logistics like carpooling or babysitting so you can talk with others dealing with similar struggles. Online groups can serve as a much-needed outlet available wherever you are. And you should never feel afraid to seek counseling for yourself or your family if you’re struggling.
Despite the seemingly superhuman effort, raising kids solo also comes with many rewards, including unique qualities it can instill in your children. “Kids of single parents can often be more resilient,” says Lindholm. “They can have more financial savvy because they’ve watched their parent make difficult choices, and they can be more independent because they’ve had to step up and be more helpful.”
The struggles, effort and devotion are worth it. “Dads I work with tell me it’s a life-changing thing and they would never go back,” Brott says. “You realize how important you are when you have a chance to be with your kids and mentor, teach and guide them, and there’s a tremendous sense of pride you get knowing you’ve raised a good kid.”