One of the most difficult times as a single parent is feeling like no one around has ever walked in your shoes before. Your friends are either married and childless, married with children, or single and childless; and your employers and co-workers don’t really care (unless, of course, you’ve had to stay out of work because of a sick child) or can’t particularly relate. If there are, as statistics say, more than 11.4 million single parents out there in America, no doubt there are times when you’ve wondered where the hell they’re all hiding.
What’s it like to be a single parent? Well, it’s a mixed bag at times. On one hand, you’re the ultimate authority when it comes to raising your children; there’s no one to boss you about or say that you shouldn’t feed the kids this cereal or that brand of potato chips. As the custodial parent, you get all the love, but you also get all the whining and the stubbornness and the nightmares and the tears. You’re also expected to maintain your household on one income, but also stay home and care for your children when they’re ill. Non-custodial parents pay child support (or should I say, the ones who care about their children do) but then don’t get to see their kids nearly as often as they would like. Single parenthood is an oftentimes strange cocktail made up of frustration, loneliness, worry, and fear – but also very powerful feelings of love and devotion.
Here are some ideas you might want to consider when coping with feelings of isolation:
Try and find other single parents with whom to share experiences. Join a support group in your area, or get to know the parents of your children’s friends. Chances are very likely that there are more single parents around than you realize. Ask your pastor or congregation leader about starting a ministry for single parents, if one does not already exist. Sometimes we just need to feel as if someone, somewhere, is sharing our experience.
If housing costs are high in your area, consider sharing a home. Remember television’s "Kate & Allie"? Well, that wasn’t such a bad idea. A three-bedroom apartment or house might be totally out of the question for a one-income earner, but not for two single parents joining households. Consider advertising in your city’s newspaper, or post notices at your local college or university for single-parent roommates. You’ll not only be able to upgrade your standard of living, but you will get all the benefits of shared babysitting services.
Explain your situation to your employer. You don’t need to go deep down into your personal business, but let your supervisors and co-workers know that you’re a single parent and have additional responsibilities that other employees may not have. When I interview for a position, I make it crystal clear during the interview process that I am the sole emotional and financial support for my family, and thus the burden falls on me when kids get sick or daycare centers close early. A good employer will appreciate that you have brought these circumstances to light early on instead of saving the surprises for later, after you’ve been hired and expectations have been assigned.
Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help. Talk to your child’s teacher, pediatrician, coach, youth minister. Let them know that you care about your children’s well-being, and ask for their input – then listen. Most professionals who work with children appreciate parents who are concerned enough to request opinions and feedback, and they will respect you – not denigrate you – for doing so. No single parent is an island, or should remain so, and the best way to combat those feelings of isolation is to form a support network comprised of other single parents, sympathetic friends, and professionals involved in your children’s care. Use that network to remind you that you really aren’t alone, and that there are others who are able to help you – if you’re willing to ask.