5 Things You Need To Hear If You’re A Single Parent

The feelings that come with being a parent can be challenging at the best of times. You may be navigating external pressures – perhaps from society, or even your own family – about what a “good” mom or dad is supposed to look like, and constantly feeling that you’re coming up short. You might be deeply ambivalent about being a parent in the first place, and struggling to manage the guilt and resentment that sits right alongside your love for your children. Or you feel so right in your parenting role that you want to devote more time to being home, but can’t because of financial or other practical pressures.

Take all this, and add into it divorce, separation, or having chosen to be a single parent. Navigating co-parenting dynamics, juggling a packed schedule single-handedly, having to manage the doubts and fears about school, behavior, health without necessarily having another person on hand to share those challenges. It’s a lot to manage. I wanted to share 5 things that might help to anchor you in those turbulent seas.

1. The guilt is inevitable, but you don’t need to be ruled by it

In talking with clients and friends about their unique and varied single parenting journeys, most named the guilt they feel and how it impacts their parenting experience. Often underneath the guilt is an enormous amount of fear, and love. You want your child to thrive, and you’re likely fighting off stories and messages associated with the impact of a “broken home”, or even your own experience of divorce (see point 2). Just because our society does not fully represent healthy single-parenting and co-parenting family models, does not mean you or your family is broken. Just because the kinds of support you may need to make your family model work require a bit more hunting out and are often not systemically supported, does not mean you need to feel guilty about being overwhelmed or not having enough support. Whether your current parenting set up was or is chosen, grief-laden, forced by circumstances, or some of all of the above, you deserve to thrive. The base of this is finding ways to manage the guilt rather than it taking control of you. Sharing your feelings with others is a great start, as isolation is a petri-dish for guilt and shame.

2. Having to do so much alone can activate your own inner child

Becoming a parent in any kind of family structure can activate a lot of our own childhood needs and feelings, but the specific set-up of being a single parent can act like a rocket booster for those wounds. If you had to handle more than you were ready for as a child – taking care of a sick or needy parent, taking care of yourself emotionally or physically because your parents were absent in any way – that little one inside might be feeling terrified that you are once again alone and handling more than feels manageable. This is a good time to seek out extra support for that part of you – schedule some therapy time, work in some inner child practices, talk to a trusted friend about what is being evoked.

3. You deserve to have time for yourself, even when you feel like you don’t have enough for your child

Stepping back and taking care of yourself when you are stretched beyond your capacity can be one of the most challenging things, so consider this your permission slip to create some extra space in your life. If you are co-parenting and sharing custody, this can be especially hard when you’ve had time away from your children and are coming back together. This can be a time when that inevitable guilt is at its peak, and you may be feeling pressure to compensate for the time you’ve been apart. Just as you want to sustain a routine for your children to help them feel grounded and safe, building regular time for self-care both when you are with your children and away from them is critical to your own balance and wellbeing. And you’ll ultimately be a better parent for it. It may help to have something regularly scheduled, so you’re not having to fight through the feelings every time you need a bit more for yourself, and so everyone knows and expects that it’s a part of your life.

4. Your community wants to help you, and they may not know how

Perhaps you are already comfortable with asking those around you for support – if so, great. But if like many of us you tend towards self-sufficiency and find it harder to share your most vulnerable needs and places, then your needs as a single parent can be an opportunity to stretch your window of tolerance for asking for help. Oftentimes those around you simply don’t know what it is that would be helpful, and shrink away because of that, just as can happen in the aftermath of any big loss. It might help to think of this as a practice, and start with one specific thing that feels tolerable. For example, you might have an arrangement with a friend to look after each other’s children once a week. Or you might have a friend who loves to cook, and would love nothing more than to make extra to bring to you every now and again. This is one of those Brené Brown moments where your first step of vulnerability is likely to create intimacy and community beyond the initial need.

5. You can be doing everything right, and still have a bad day/week/month

Maybe we all need to hear this, but I think there’s something specific to the single-parenting set-up where things going wrong can feed into our core doubts and insecurities about the path we’re on. Your child has a tough week, and it’s as though all your sense of self as a parent comes crashing down, and the pit of doubt about whether you can do this alone sucks you right into its core. Or you find yourself missing and grieving some aspect of your past relationship, and feel confused and scared about your choices. This is a place where mindfulness and self-compassion practices can really support you in discerning what you are feeling, and what you might need, so you can respond rather than react from a place of fear. I always recommend Tara Brach’s work to single parents, because I think she has such a great sense of how to talk about kindness to ourselves under duress.

I hope these words have in some way helped you to feel seen in a role that is often invisible. I know how hard you are likely working, and how much it is to manage the combination of the practicalities and emotions of single parenting. I run a therapy group for female-identified single parents in my practice as well as working individually with single parents, and with co-parenting partnerships. Please reach out if you are interested in working together or learning more about what I offer.

Andrea Baxter Drugan is a Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist in Berkeley. She practices an integrative, attachment-based approach to psychotherapy. For more information please visit www.andreabaxtertherapy.com
Contact : andreabaxtertherapy@gmail.com
Andrea Drugan AMFT 107176
Center for Mindful Psychotherapy Supervised by Devona Snook MFC 46970

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