Being a single parent was the last thing I imagined when I gave birth to my daughter in 2013, yet just over a year later that is exactly where I found myself. And let’s face it, few of us set off on a journey towards creating a new family with our sights on single parenthood, so it can be quite a shock to the system when it does present itself. Yet despite the trials, both emotional and practical, there are a few very interesting things that I have discovered along the way both about myself, and about how to tackle this new phase successfully. And more, I have begun to carve out a life that is aligned with my true needs, driven by inspiration and fuller than I dreamed it could be before.
I’m not saying life isn’t intense at times nor without its challenges, but it’s also more open, joyful and in harmony with my own rhythm. As both a therapist and single parent, I offer these stepping stones towards creating the life that you want today:
Let Go of the Guilt
The burden of guilt is something most parents will freely confess comes with the territory from the moment their little miracles come into this world. Single parents are extra susceptible to feeling guilty that they are not providing adequately for their child, because not only are there now fewer resources to do so (time, money, energy etc.), but there is also that added layer of “I couldn’t provide my child with the happy cohesive family unit I promised…” hovering overhead. My advice is the same for all parents: that the guilt itself, no matter how ‘true’ it may feel , is ultimately not serving you. It pillages your energy and puts a negative, distasteful, sometimes even powerless spin on things – and that’s not a position that strengthens you as a parent. So the first thing I’m going to say about being a single parent is that it’s important to give yourself permission to just let go of the guilt; instead, channel what resources you do have in a more enjoyable and constructive way with your child.
You Get to Have a Life
While resources may be thinner – even temporarily – than they were before, it’s important to remember that practising good self-care is still a priority. You cannot look after another human being consistently and for the long haul if you are not first and foremost taking care of your own well-being. Remembering that it is ok to hire a babysitter and go out to a yoga class, or spend time with friends has been key in helping me maintain balance and keep my well full. Make sure you are doing good things for you, and embrace those things fully (and guilt-free!) while doing them. This not only makes caring for your child more enjoyable and sustainable in the long-term, but it also sets a great example of how to practise their own self-care in the future.
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Stability & Security is Key
According to John Bowlby, the pioneering psychologist and researcher on child development studies, a secure base is essential for a child’s growth and wellbeing. While the parental unit itself may have changed, this doesn’t mean stability and security have to be compromised. Establishing a routine, introducing other familiar and dependable caregivers, friends and a stable home can all help to establish this secure platform. Ultimately, I found that the biggest source of stability for my daughter is really myself being present, consistent and authentic with her; having this trumps a lot of the other potentially destabilising factors that are thrown our way. Again, this doesn’t mean having to spend 24 hours a day with her, it comes down to how I am with her when I am. Focus on the quality of the time spent rather than frequency.
Good Role Models are a Bonus
A lot of single parents I’ve spoken to have all, at one time or other, admitted feeling a responsibility to find a replacement for the parent that they have separated from for their child/children. This could be in the form of another partner to co-parent with, or just by having access to good adult role models. Again, while this is important and can be enriching, it’s also good to remember that it’s not a deal breaker. Your child/children still have you to create the stability and security they need in their life and this really is enough.
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Reach for Help when you need it
Being a single parent, just like being any parent, can be overwhelming at times. Without the extra set of hands, scheduling in work, household jobs, social activities for the kids and yourself can all become very tricky. The perceived stigma of being a single parent can prevent many from reaching out to the community for support. Luckily I’ve been blessed with a great support network of family and friends who often remind me that I don’t have to do everything by myself and that help is there if and when I reach for it. At times I’ve had to fight my own fears around vulnerability or rejection to reach out and ask – but it’s surprising how often people are willing to lend a hand and help if you simply ask. Single parents may often find comfort reaching out to other single parents who have gone through similar experiences. Professional counselling support is another option to consider if you find yourself needing more objective guidance and care.
Crisis is Opportunity
From the separation to relocation, and all the other changes that come with the transition to single parenthood, it’s easy for this time to feel like a pretty intense crisis. Adjustment can be challenging and resources may often feel like they are worn very thin. I believe very strongly, though, that every challenge can really be channelled into a profound opportunity for self-growth, expansion and creating the life you want. Crisis forces us to simplify and gives us the space to re-invent our lives if we choose to. Every day since I became a single parent, I’ve asked myself how I can make this day a good day – for my daughter and also myself. I look for things that uplift, energise and continue to inspire me, and let go of whatever drains or doesn’t serve me. I believe this time is making me more resilient and creative and pushing me beyond my previous limits into a life where I am a fuller expression of my true self. I think if you just start with that – the simple act of trying to make each day fulfilling and joyful for you and your child in whatever way that means. This new chapter won’t be about the crisis, but rather the new life that you are actively creating for yourself and your child in the present.