Surviving and Thriving in Single Parenthood
Stress-free single parenting?
I know, surely an oxymoron. There are approx. 1.8 million single parents in the Uk. Nine in ten single-parent families are headed up by a woman. That was an equally shocking yet a predictable fact to uncover. There are more of us than ever before…
Parents are divorced, widowed, separated and others are single parents by choice. Family is no longer the cookie-cutter definition it once was many moons ago. Whilst it is the most empowering and rewarding job you can do, it is also highly demanding and hectic.
I am now in year 2 of my journey navigating this world of going it alone and some days I feel I have come so far, others I feel like I am failing at every turn. Such is the nature of parenthood! Yes, we often talk of the survival mode of single-parent life, but there are days we manage way more than that and often we don’t even realise it!
SO, what can we do to lighten the load and find a balance, take the edge off the pressure…not solely surviving but really thriving?!…
Support, Support, Support
Being a single parent means being everything to your children, 24/7. There is no one coming to ease and share that load with you at the end of a long day. That’s a LOT. It can be overwhelming emotionally and physically. Having no one by your side during the highs and lows-even to talk to and share in the daily decision making, can be so isolating. You will find yourself becoming more confident and independent over time and the extra responsibility will ultimately shape you as a person.
However, having a support network is vital. Your friends and family who stick around through it all are invaluable and although your circle may get smaller Initially, you will find out who will be alongside you for the long haul…and if you are not naturally someone who asks for help, that will get easier over time too. Having a support network is key to keeping your mental health in check. If you find you need additional support outwith family and friends, there are also some amazing charities out there offering advice such as Gingerbread.
Finding other single parents that just “get it” is a lifesaver too. Frolo is a new app providing a safe and exciting community of like-minded single parents in your local area. The aim is to connect us and reduce the isolation and loneliness many of us feel every day. It launches in September and is revolutionary in its mission to create a tribe of single parents who can relate to each other on multiple levels with no judgement.
Check your Finances
Budget. Set yourself a monthly budget and plan ahead. Whether you are solely financially responsible or receiving a maintenance contribution (which let’s face it, is nowhere near what it should be) it is a big responsibility to be the sole provider for your children day-to-day and ensure they have everything they need.
If you are a working mum, then childcare costs can also escalate and yet another pressure is added. Managing your finances can be one of the toughest parts of solo parenting. Living month to month is one thing, planning for the future is another. All of us want to give our children the best we can and costs mount up but keeping a strict monthly budget and saving anything left (if anything!), no matter how small, being savvy with our spending and planning in advance is really the very best we can do. There are some really good apps out there such as YOLT to help us keep track of our spending and these enable you to get to grips with possibilities of cost-cutting.
Cashback sites, Voucher Schemes, waiting for discount codes for the school uniform, second-hand shopping and Rewards cards are all small savings, but they do add up. It can be stressful, but it can also positively impact your relationship with ££ and back you into a corner and push you into prioritising where your money goes. Oh and reminding yourself that children don’t need lots of money spent on them to have a good and happy life, they get all they need from you!
Remembering to look after YOU
Some of us get days off, some of us don’t. You can lose yourself (much like most mothers often do) in the throws of parenting alone. It is very easy to fall into the trap of not looking after yourself and your own needs.
We are often expected to “Boss it” all. when there is only one parent on the scene, it is often assumed we have some inner super ability to just cope and keep going. I can’t count the number of times that-well meaning-people comment on what an amazing job I’m doing and whilst I’m so appreciative of the positive vibes, you often want to scream that you are barely surviving and no superwoman lives within. If you don’t have the every other weekend set up or other support to give you time to yourself, it can be so difficult to stay on top of your own self-care.
Making a little time, no matter how small to do something for you every week, whether its reading a good book, having that long promised bath to yourself or just an hour to chill out and just be, without being on high alert all the time..is so important. Taking care of our mental health is also so vital. Going through a separation at the same time as parenting alone is one of the hardest and most grueling of challenges.
Dealing with grief, loss and uncertainty whilst raising your child is no mean feat. If therapy is your thing and you can find a way, I highly recommend talking it out. You will save yourself from a lot of pain down the line. Hiding the emotions and keeping it together all day for your children is exhausting and takes its toll, processing it in your own time with someone trained to help you through it can alleviate a lot of the strain. A happy, balanced Mama is what your children need after all!
One of the first single mums I talked to when I was newly adjusting, ingrained into me the importance of having a stable routine to get you through. Children thrive in routine, it creates stability and structure and us single parents need it to survive. It also helps you all adjust to possible changes if there’s been a separation.
Kids will really crave that sense of security and you are teaching them life skills too. Whether it’s a solid Bedtime routine to end the day or a morning tradition that gets you off to the best start possible and out the door on time. Think of routine as your new BFF (if they weren’t already) supporting you through the chaos that the path of Single parent life often takes you on.
Making Time for Your Children
In stark contrast to the above, whilst structure is so important, it is amazing how easily you get caught up in the mundane day to day and almost forget about the fun element of parenthood. Making time to do something together, to build and develop your relationship is so important. You can often feel like you are filling the role of Bad Cop if you are the residential parent- constantly enforcing boundaries and disciplining on the daily.
Your children will always know how hard you worked and how loved they are, but scheduling some time to make memories together is crucial for both of you. Uninterrupted happy family time with your littles will let them know how valued they are.. It can often seem there is an endless to do list you can never catch up on as a single parent and it’s relentless. Inevitably children pick up on this and having that one on one time is a great way to keep developing that bond.
We often dance around the kitchen in between whatever else is going on that day. It’s only a few minutes here or there, but for those moments we are happy and focused on one another and in the present. No bills. No washing. No prepping. JUST US.
Throw out the Mum Guilt
I promise you if you do this you will instantly have some weight lifted off your shoulders. It is all too easy to get caught in a cycle of guilt, whether that be about what you do in the time without your children, what you CAN’T do for them, how your family situation isn’t what you had dreamed of for them, not being able to financially provide as you would have liked, being the “bad guy” if you are the parent with residency..the list goes on. STOP. Instead Let it go and REFOCUS your attention.
Think of everything you do for them, every single day. Think of the strength you have found to carry on even when it seemed impossible. Think of the role you are playing in providing stability for your child. YOU have achieved all of it. Although possibly time consuming, it is lovely to find a way to document your journey together, whether it be a photobook, a jar containing notes all of your adventures throughout the year, a journal….
Sometimes I scroll through my phone and look back at photos of the previous year and the memories come flooding back. It is amazing how much you achieve every day, how many hurdles you conquer and yet how easy it is to be down on yourself for the same dinner three nights in a row (no judgement please!) Documenting it all and reminding yourself is a great way to give yourself a visual pep talk..a gentle nudge to the positive and a way to let go of the guilt.
Remember, 1.8 million of us are in this with you (did someone say Madonna?) But of course you are more than just a statistic. The balancing act becomes more manageable with time, you will be amazed how many plates you can spin all at once.
You may even transform into the eternal optimist, knowing you can conquer any curveball thrown your way…That’s a pretty amazing accomplishment. And your children will be fine, more than that, they will be raised with grit and determination and you can’t ask for a better role model than that.