Coping with the Stress of Single Parenting
Being a mum is not only the proverbial hardest job you’ll ever love, as the slogan goes – it is also the hardest job you’ll ever do. Parenthood is tough, especially when you are on your own!
One-parent families are the fastest growing type of family in Australia, with over 20% of all families with a child aged 15 years or under being parented by a lone mother or father. Families with one parent have, on average, half the income of families with two parents, which puts increased financial pressure on both parents. More and more Australian parents are raising children alone. You might be alone because your partner died or because your relationship broke down. You might be grieving the loss of your partner, or sad because your dream of a happy two-parent family is gone, or you might be glad you’ll never have to spend much time with your partner again. You might be arguing with a former partner over how often they see the children, or how much they pay towards their upbringing. You might never speak to your former partner, or you might still be friends but hope for more. Whatever your situation, being single is bound to affect your experience of raising children.
Some of the common problems faced by single parents include:
- The children are more likely to misbehave for them – the day-to-day disciplinarian – than for the parent who lives outside the home.
- It can be hard work to be the only disciplinarian in the house – you may feel like you’re the ‘bad guy’ all the time.
- You may feel grieved if your child envies friends with two parents at home.
- New relationships may be difficult, particularly if your child is suspicious or jealous.
- A lonely parent may cling to their children for support and company, making it harder for the child to eventually leave home.
- The demands of income earning, child raising and housework mean the single parent may have little or no time for themselves.
- The single parent may feel socially isolated by friends who are still are in a two-parent family.
- Evenings and weekends, when the kids are in bed or staying with the other parent can be lonely times.
But it’s not just the parents who can suffer, the separation of the family unit obviously has both physical and psychological implications for the children, who are required to come to terms with and adjust to the new living arrangements.
Some of the common problems faced by children in single-parent households include:
- The need for ‘extra hands’ around the house may sometimes reduce the time a child can take part in typical children’s activities such as hanging out with friends or playing.
- If a child is used to having a near-equal say in the household, they may clash with teachers and other authority figures who expect unquestioning obedience.
- The child may not appreciate that their parent needs adult companionship at times.
- The child may feel torn between their two parents and feel they must ‘pick sides’ – this is especially the case if the parents are hostile towards one another.
- The child may feel angry and helpless in a situation that they have no control over and ‘act out’, exhibiting emotional and behavioural problems as they struggle to come to terms with the break-up of the family.
Other common issues facing separated or divorced families include:
- The single parent may (even if not deliberately) make the child feel guilty for having fun with their other parent.
- Some parents involve their children in their marital disputes, instead of discussing the issues in private.
- Some separated parents find it next to impossible not to fight at changeover time, which can place the child under stress.
- Some parents ask their child about what they did or who they saw during the visit (perhaps asking about their ex-partner’s new partner).
- The child may take some time – from a few hours to a few days – to settle down again after visiting their other parent.
In spite of the many challenges faced by single parents, there can be some really positive aspects to the situation. For example; a child from a single-parent home who is loved and supported has no more problems than a child from a two-parent home, and the relationship between child and parent can be particularly close. According to research, single-parent families are less likely to rely on traditional gender-specific roles than two-parent families. Single fathers are more likely to use positive parenting techniques than married fathers, and single parents tend to rely on positive problem-solving strategies rather than punishment or discipline when faced with difficult child behaviours. The consequences of this, is that the child is typically mature and responsible and the parent is typically self-reliant and confident.
In this blog I will give you some tips on how to help minimise the stress in your life and bring back the joys of parenting.
Raising a family on one income, or relying on an ex-spouse for child support, can be one of the hardest aspects of parenting alone. That’s why it’s important to take steps to budget your money. If you struggle to do this on your own, referring to an online budgeting tool, like ‘YNAB’ (You Need A Budget) can help. YNAB is a multi-platform personal budgeting program based on the envelope method. It was noted by Lifehacker in 2013 as the most popular personal finance software amongst its readers. Other ways to secure your finances might involve; learning about long-term investments, if you haven’t already done so, write a Will, plan for college and retirement, and, if possible, enhance your earning power by going back to school or getting additional job training.
All single parents need help — whether it’s someone to watch the kids while you run out to do errands or simply someone to talk to when you feel overwhelmed. While it’s tempting to try to handle everything alone, ask friends and family members for help. You could join a single-parent support group, such as ‘Northern Beaches Single Parents Facebook Group’, set up by Fin Mackenzie, Director at Green Door Health clinic. Or, if finances allow, hire a trusted sitter to help out with the kids or someone to assist with housework. Alternatively, if you are struggling emotionally and would like to talk to a professional, feel free to contact me for a Psychology appointment.
Try to schedule meals, chores, bedtimes, and other family functions at regular hours so that your child knows exactly what to expect each day. A consistent routine will help your child feel more secure and help you feel more organized.
Children thrive when they know which behaviours are expected of them and which rules they need to follow. If you are divorced or separated, work with your spouse to create and observe consistent rules and methods of discipline (there’s nothing more stressful than having one parent undermine the other). If your child has other caregivers, talk to them about how you expect your child to be disciplined.
Inevitably, questions will come up about the changes in your family, or about the absence of one parent. Answer your child’s questions in an open, honest, and age-appropriate way. Make sure that your child gets the help and support (s)he needs to deal with difficult emotions, whether it be from you, the school, friends or a professional.
With the absence of a partner, it’s sometimes tempting to rely too heavily on children for comfort, companionship, or sympathy. But children have neither the emotional capacity nor the life experience to act as substitute adult partners. If you find yourself depending on your kids too much, or expressing your frustrations to them too often, seek out adult friends and family members to talk to. Or seek counselling from an experienced Psychologist, such as myself.
It’s always easy for single parents to feel guilty about the time they don’t have or the things they can’t do or provide for their children. But for your own sense of well-being, it’s better to focus on all the things you do accomplish on a daily basis and on all the things you do provide — and don’t forget about all the love, attention, and comfort you’re responsible for! (If you ever question your day-to-day achievements, just make a list.) If you’re feeling guilty about a divorce or other disruption in your home life, think about joining a support group for other divorced parents. Focus on helping your child (and yourself) get the help you need.
Even though the piles of laundry and dirty dishes may beckon, set aside time each day to enjoy your kids. (After all, isn’t that what parenting is all about?) Spend quiet time playing, reading, going for a walk, or simply listening to music together. And most important, focus on the love between you and on your relationship as a family.
Likewise, it’s important to schedule time for yourself. Even if it’s something as simple as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or having a chat with a friend, setting aside a little personal time will give you a chance to refuel. They say “It takes a village to raise a child”, well if you are struggling to have some ‘me time’ utilise your village (support system) to give you some, guilt-free, child-free time to yourself!
Finally, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by all the responsibilities and demands of single parenthood. On top of that, you may be experiencing the pain of divorce or the death of a spouse. Despite all of your own feelings, though, it’s important to maintain a positive attitude, since your children are affected by your moods. The best way to deal with stress is to exercise regularly, maintain a proper diet, get enough rest, and seek balance in your life. If you’re feeling sad, it’s okay to share some of your sentiments with your children, but let them know that they are not the cause of the problems — and that good times lie ahead for all of you!
If you have found this blog article interesting and wish to learn more about the ‘Stress of Single Parenting’ then visit my website at; www.northernbeachespsychology.com.au where you can also find out about me, Nicola George (Chartered Psychologist), and the psychological services I provide.
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