7 Single-Parent Support Systems
Create single parent support systems that can nurture both you and your children.
Even the most cherished kids can create challenges for parents who face a never-ending juggling act in caring and providing for their family. If those kids are being raised in a single-parent household, that juggling act is more daunting, overwhelming and lonely. Today, one in four American kids is being raised in a single-parent home.
You may be finding your way as a single mom or dad, but that doesn't mean you have to go it alone. Single parent advocate Stacie Martin, and psychologist Leah Klungness, Ph.D., weigh in with practical advice for creating and using the support systems available to you as a single parent.
"Every family is different, but if you are comfortable doing so, talk to your extended family in advance of your plans," suggests the Dallas-based Martin, a been-there, done-that single mom. "If you don't communicate with a degree of transparency about what you are going through, your family might not understand your actions, and be less likely to support you."
If you find yourself needing financial support from family members, don't let shame stand between you and getting the help you need, she adds. If you have family members you are comfortable reaching out to, work out a repayment schedule, or simply say thank you, and offer to be there if they ever need your support. After all, that's the way family works.
Friends ... Even the Married Ones
"Single parents feel isolated but truly, their issues aren't always that different from married parents," says Dr. Klungness, who stresses there is no one-size-fits-all support system. "Everyone needs help with scheduling sometimes. In order to get support, you have to offer support. Ask your friends to take your child for a sleepover if you have a hot date planned and then return the favor by taking their kids for a sleepover some other time."
Martin agrees with this strategy, urging parents to create fun events for their kids to look forward to during evenings when their parents have plans of their own.
Babysitters and Nannies
Single parents often do have more to cope with on a daily basis. "The 9-to-5 work day is a fallacy," says Klungness. "Set up your support systems ahead of time. ... Anticipate those needs and plan ahead to address them."
Hiring a nanny or babysitter, or relying on other child care supports, can provide peace of mind, as can an emergency backup plan. Make sure you have a plan in place for things like school breaks and teacher training days, which typically appear on the school's calendar at the beginning of the term.
Other Single Parents
Find or create a network of other single parents you can connect with in person or online. There are a number of websites and message boards specifically focused on single-parent issues. Look for single-parent playgroups in your neighborhood as well, so you can create a support system for your kids, while you're also making new friends.
Reaching out to other people who understand firsthand what you're going through can make all the difference, as well as supply information, wisdom and just as important, good times. Single parents can simply make life easier for each other, too. Klungness suggests getting cooking buddies and taking turns making double or triple batches to share with each other.
Communities of Faith
If you belong to a house of worship, this can provide a valuable framework for your family, as well as a routine and be a place of ongoing understanding and support. Getting involved can keep your family connected to a purpose greater than yourselves, while keeping you anchored to people in your community.
If this doesn't feel like a fit for you and your family, there are other ways of reaching out. Think about plugging into the local gardening and composting club, or find other cause-focused groups where you can gain a sense of purpose and belonging.
It helps to have allies in the workplace who understand your challenges and are there for you, either with a morning cup of coffee when you're running late, or a helping hand when you have to leave the office early for day care pickup. Work probably takes up a lot of your life, both physically and emotionally.
"Look at the older people in your community for help with emergency child care," says Klungness. "They typically have flexible schedules and would enjoy being around young children. In return, make sure to offer help with errands, or with tasks like snow shovelling or changing light bulbs."
Remember, the more support you create for yourself, the more support you will be creating for your children. All of you will benefit from having a sense of community and a wealth of people in your life. Take a deep breath and reach out. You can be assured that others will reach back.
Martin sums it up fittingly, "It really does take a village to raise a child."
Corey Whelan is a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn, N.Y. She herself is single mom, and her work can be found here.