Single Moms: 9 Ways To Get The Extra Support You Need
Single moms have a lot of adjustments to make. You just can't be all things to all people. You make choices: a clean house or attention for the kids. You learn to do tasks around the house you never thought you could. You become a plumber, carpenter, and electrician. You may even find some distinct advantages to single parenthood. The meals are easier and less formal. You have less housework. And you can sneak in some time to read a book after the kids are in bed. But every once in a while the whole responsibility of raising the kids by yourself seems overwhelming. The chauffeuring, money problems, sheer lack of time and energy get to you. You try to act normal and upbeat for the kids. Then you sit down and the tears flow. Totaled. Depleted. No more to give.
The let downs are perfectly normal. You have a tremendous amount of responsibility. And it is good for you to let it all hang out at appropriate times. Tears are beneficial and healing. And, yes, Virginia, there are ways to get support for those inevitable times when you feel like the world is strangling you. The kind of support you need comes in two forms. You need emotional support to remind you that life can be satisfying and gratifying as a single mom. And you need physical support in terms of sharing tasks, obligations, or responsibility. You can get both. Here's how:
JOIN A SINGLE PARENT ORGANIZATION
Single parent groups offer advice, camaraderie, group activities, social events, and lots of emotional support. They offer solace during the pain and chaos of divorce or the grieving of a lost spouse. The oldest of these organizations is Parents Without Partners. Started in 1957, they have over 400 local chapters across the country. You can reach them at http://www.ParentsWithoutPartners.org.
There is also the Single Parents Association. They can be accessed at http://www.SingleParents.org/.
These groups tend to have a little different flavor depending on the local chapter, so be prepared to try them both.
REVISIT YOUR RELIGIOUS TIES
Religious groups vary in their openness to single parents. If your specific religious center makes you feel out of place or unwelcome, shop around. Try within your religious affiliation and also look at some of the more liberal religious groups around. Many churches have groups for singles and/or single parents. Find a house of worship where you feel valued—you deserve nothing less. The church and synagogue connection is also important for your children. It provides a place of acceptance, activities, and an abundance of good role models.
TAKE A COLLEGE COURSE
Look at a course at your local college. Whether it is for jobs skills or pure enjoyment, this is a good place to meet other single parents. Most colleges have a Women's Center which offers support, advice, resources, and a great place to have a cup of coffee and meet other neat women.
Now that you have gotten out of the house, discovered some networks that help, and met new people, there are still more sources of support closer to home.
Grandparents often mourn the inability to see their grandchildren after a divorce. They feel, and rightly so, that they are hurt by a divorce that was not of their doing. Even if your relationship with your ex is volatile or still tinged by hurt or anger, don't include the grandparents in this. If the grandparents are within a reasonable distance, resurrect or create visitation opportunities. This is good for the children who shouldn't suffer the loss of grandparents for the parents' actions, and it gives you some free time either to catch up or just let down. If you are a widow, your children need the additional support, and your in-laws need the grandchildren to help fill their sudden void.
Look with a new view towards other family members. Your sister—the ultimate career woman—might like to take your daughter for an afternoon of shopping. Just because she doesn't want to have her own children doesn't mean she wouldn't enjoy "borrowing" yours for a bit. Likewise your brother—the eternal bachelor—might enjoy taking your children to a baseball game or amusement park. Your brother-in- law or sister-in-law could also be resources. Because someone is not a parent doesn't mean they can't or don't want to take on some parenting for a few hours.
Family really means those who are there for you through all the good and bad times. It does not necessarily mean a blood relation. You, like many others, may create a new nontraditional family that includes the widower down the block who would enjoy fixing your son's bike, and having a helper in his workshop; or the retired teacher who still loves kids and misses the interaction. Family is what you make it. Don't limit yourself. There are helpers all around.
In addition to family and neighbors, there are more formalized programs to provide guidance for your children and take a load off your shoulders. Do you worry about appropriate role models for your son or daughter? Look up the Big Brothers Big Sisters of American organization http://www.bbbsa.org/ or other mentoring organizations and find out how to get a mentor for your child. This provides nurturance and support for your children and time and support for you.
NONTRADITIONAL LIVING ARRANGEMENTS
Nontraditional housing arrangements can be an alternative for some. If you feel constantly overwhelmed, exhausted by trying to be everywhere at once, or feel a real need to have another adult around, consider possible alternatives. Two single parents with children can live comfortably in one house. This saves financially for whoever provides the home, or saves for both if they are renters. It eases up on the constant need to be around at all times. It provides a division and reduction of household responsibilities. And, more important, support for those down times can be just a few feet away. Especially when the kids are small, this can be a viable and beneficial arrangement. Or if you have an extra room, think about renting it to a college student in exchange for baby-sitting or helping around the house. Don't limit yourself.
GET MORE CONTROL BY WORKING AT HOME
Explore ways to work at home so you will have more flexibility to meet your needs and the needs of your children. Barbara J. Winter, a single mom, put together a combination of seminars, a newsletter and finally a book that supported her family. The book, Making A Living Without A Job is an inspiring guide to creating work you enjoy in the environment you want. The book offers many options and case histories that may ignite an entrepreneurial venture for you. (See resource listing at the end of this guide for more information on working at home.)
Playing it a little safer, you might be able to negotiate to do your current job at home. Or you can take additional training and eventually make the transition to word processing, medical transcription, or paralegal work from home. Women in record numbers are opting to work at home, and there are better opportunities for home based workers than ever before. Dreams can come true for single parents too—it just might take a little longer.
At times life as a single parent is overwhelming. Your ex does something that drives you up the wall. Financial problems drain your energy. You simply miss the man that was so much a part of your life and is now gone forever. Then another disaster happens and you have had it. You find yourself sitting on the couch unable to move, perhaps resorting to a few too many glasses of wine. Your child asks for something and you lift your arm on the way to hitting him. It happens. You've lost it. Whether it is 6 AM or 6 PM, you need help and you need it now before you do something you will deeply regret. You can't wait three weeks for an appointment for counseling, or until Monday to talk to your therapist. Worse yet, your best friend is out of town for the weekend. It is a crisis and it's time to call one of the crisis hotlines. Crisis hotlines are usually listed in the front of your telephone book. Most areas have local child abuse, suicide prevention and domestic violence services. If you can't find these, here are some national resources:
Parent Help Line. 1-800-345-5044
ChildHelp Hotline. 1-800-422-4453
National Domestic Violence Hotline. 1-800-799-SAFE. Receives almost 10,000 calls a month. You are not alone.
You can be physically and mentally exhausted, and that one final event pushes you over your limits. What you need is to get on the phone with a caring person who will talk you through the crisis, and give you a plan of action. Use the hotlines available and don't risk taking your frustration out on your children.
Single parenting can be rough but it also can be an emotionally rich and satisfying lifestyle. Healthy single parent families tend to be closer, share more and communicate more openly. The single parent household can be a chaotic, creative, warm and wonderful place, but the load of physical, financial and emotional responsibilities can be daunting. There are resources to help. Some are formalized, others you will have to uncover and create, but you can get assistance from the many who would love to help. So reach out, and touch someone. Help is there.