Single Parent Support System
Single parents shouldn't go it alone. Plus: Philly area support groups
Single parents have important (and seemingly endless) responsibilities. And unless you have superpowers, the stress of doing it all yourself can leave you lonely and exhausted. But asking for assistance isn’t easy.
“It feels good to be on top of things, to be firing on all cylinders,” says Donna Genett, PhD, author of Help Your Kids Get It Done Right at Home and at School. You may thrive on the rush of adrenaline you get from a too-busy schedule, and being recognized for doing it all can be intensely gratifying. Furthermore, single parents often find that admitting they need support is difficult, in no small part because there continues to be a social stigma around parenting solo.
Even if you’ve got it all under control, doing it all yourself isn’t wise. Social support diminishes negative health effects of stress — including coronary disease and immune suppression — and boosts your sense of personal balance and well-being. You’ll have more energy and a more positive outlook if you develop a team of trusted helpers around you.
Kids also learn important lessons from their parents’ help-seeking behavior. When you share responsibilities with others, you model reciprocity, humbleness and gratitude, says family counselor Suzanne Harrington, MA. And you give kids exposure to other adult role models you respect. The helping community you create for your kids will likely inspire them to pitch in, too, which in turn boosts their competence and sense of accomplishment and belonging.
No I in “team”
So how do you start building a personal team? Follow these steps to reach out and reconnect with sources of support.
Identify needs. Start out by figuring out what concrete help would be most beneficial. Perhaps you need childcare so you can work, attend school or just relax. Maybe a nutritious home-cooked meal one night a week would lighten your load. The more specific the request, the better.
Brainstorm buddies. Develop a list of resources, including family, friends and community services. Don’t be afraid to put formal support avenues like counseling groups on your list. Individual or group therapy can help you heal after divorce and learn to thrive as a single parent.
Play to others’ strengths. Consider who is best at what and take preferences into account. If the kids’ grandparents get frazzled by babysitting, they might prefer to host a weekly family dinner. That’s OK. You want this to be a win-win.
Make it mutual. Figure out how you might reciprocate. Exchanges don’t have to be exact — you can swap babysitting for piano lessons, for example. And you don’t have to give back immediately; just pay it forward when you can. You’ll feel stronger and more connected when you give and accept help.
Help kids help you. Determine what kinds of contributions are age-appropriate for each child, Genett says. Your 6-year-old may be too young to vacuum, but she can set the table or sort the recycling. Older kids can take turns folding laundry or putting away groceries. Be sure to commend work that’s well done.
Be clear and optimistic. Avoid misunderstandings by explaining exactly what you want. If cleaning the bathroom means towels hung up neatly, bath toys picked up, toilet and tub scrubbed and floor mopped, say so. Specificity sets up success and increases the likelihood a potential helper will say “yes” to a request.
Praise progress. You may not get the results you want right away, but recognize others’ efforts anyway. When you’re sure they know how much you appreciate their help, explain how they could improve. Then say thanks again.
The pressure to be a single-parent superhero can be strong, and letting go isn’t easy. But stay the course. Everyone benefits from connections and support. Take pride in the caring (and superhelpful) community you’ve created for yourself and your kids.
Psychologist Heidi Smith Luedtke, PhD, is a mom of two and author of Detachment Parenting.