The basics of single parenting

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by Crystal Ellefsen

Crystal Ellefsen lives in San Diego with her husband and kids, where she writes, works, explores, thinks, drinks coffee, writes, makes videos, paints, doodles, sings, and writes some more.

singlemom

In my daily life I have to continually refocus my efforts on the essentials. It’s an ongoing process of learning the difference between what I should do and what I can do.

My friends, family and therapist have to remind me of this often. I tend to think that I should be able to accomplish and stay on top of an unreasonable amount of projects and responsibilities.

The theme on Simple Mom this month is “back to the basics.” I’m no expert, but when I think about the basics of single parenting, I think of two things: community and self-care. As always, I realize these can apply beyond the realm single parenting, but that’s my focus here.

Community for Single Parents

In the community department, I am blessed beyond belief. It blows my mind. I didn’t always have such incredible people around me and I don’t take it for granted. No generosity goes unnoticed and unappreciated by me.

When I moved and started a new job last fall, a family from my church surprised me by bringing over groceries and homemade frozen meals I could heat up as needed. Even now, I bring my laundry and do a load at a friend’s house when I come over for our mother’s group. It may seem small, but for me, the significance is huge.

Of course the value of community goes beyond babysitting and practical help. We all need friends and emotional support. It’s healthy. It’s beautiful. Let yourself crave it. Seek it out til you’ve got it.

1) Accept you can’t do this alone.

This is easier said than done, I know. But, accept that you can’t do it alone. And also, that it’s okay that you can’t do it alone. Parents in all kinds of circumstances need help and support. Let me say it again, it is okay that you can’t do it alone. (I think that second time was for me…)

2) Cultivate relationships with trust.

One of the biggest challenges for me in terms of parenting in general and single parenting in particular was learning to receive and ask for help. I was used to being the one who helped others but didn’t need other people to be there for me.

It was a necessary adjustment. The big shift came when I knew I could trust the friends in my life to say ‘no’ if they were unable to help. Cultivating this level of trust changed everything. I knew I could ask for help and that they didn’t resent my request.

They had offered help. They meant it. They would communicate with me honestly and I didn’t have to be afraid of being too needy.

It’s imperative to cultivate relationships where you can trust they mean it when they offer help and you can trust that they will say no if they can’t help you out joyfully. You need people in your life whom you can freely ask for help and who will set the boundaries they need. This is so important for both of you.

3) Communicate with the people in your life.

Communicate appreciation of practical help. Express gratitude for time spent just sharing about struggles and challenges. Ask for feedback about the best way to communicate ways you need help.

For example, would a request for babysitting be better two weeks ahead of time via email and not by text? Or maybe another friend is totally fine with last minute requests.

Maybe your friend is in a season where they don’t have free time now, but that doesn’t mean they don’t ever want to be there for you in the future.

Talk about it. Don’t make assumptions. Let it be out in the open. This also helps build and maintain trust and depth with your community.

momatcoffeeshopPhoto by juliejordanscott

Self-care for Single Parents

In the community department, I may excel… But in the self-care department, I get an F. I didn’t get a hair cut for almost a year. I once went 48 hours consuming only coffee and cookies. It’s huge progress that I now work out twice a month.

I don’t have any cool bullet points or numbered steps to tell you how to get all your ducks in a row. I’m the trenches trying to figure it out, too. But, the point is that I’m making progress. So, high five to me. And high five to you, if you too are taking baby steps toward healthy self-care.

Self-care includes the obvious like nutrition, exercise, and hygiene. But it also includes your social, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual needs.

Single parents can make good martyrs. Let’s change that. If you’re a single parent, you probably know what areas of self-care you’re neglecting. And, I get it. It’s hard. There’s so much to do and you’ll probably never get to it all. That’s reality. I don’t like it. But people keep telling me it’s true.

So, don’t try to work on every area at once. Pick one thing you can work on today, or this month.

If you’re a single parent, your margin of “free time” is likely minimal to nonexistent. So, think of one thing you can make a step forward in. Maybe that’s spending 20 minutes journaling. Maybe that’s setting up a therapy or counseling appointment. Maybe it’s asking a friend to babysit so you can do something fun on the weekend one evening. Maybe it’s eating a salad instead of only cookies.

Just do something to take care of yourself today.

How have you experienced the benefits of community and self-care as a parent? And what can you do today to make even tiny progress in these areas?

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Comments

  1. I know that first while of going through being a single mother is tough it’s hard and lonely and someday you just don’t know how your going to do it or carry on. But it does get easier and you will find your way. Out of the last 15 year for about 10 of those i have been a single mother. I have 5 kids ages(15,6,5,and 5 month old twins) When i found out that i had was having twins and was once again single i have to be honest i was devastated, i had no clue how i was going to do it and was just scared that i couldn’t. And when the twins came i was surprised how well i was coping. I found the first time being a single mother with my first was much more harsh and then i realized i had already figured out how to be alone and be a great parent before. Just because it had been 5 years since i was doesn’t mean i forgot all those hard lessons i learned. I think the biggest thing for me was to learn how to stay organized. pre making meals having a meal plan even the way i clean is all gear toward organization and time efficiency. The less time i have to spend looking for that shoe or slaving over a hot stove or whatever needs to be done gives me that much more time with the kids. And the more time i get to devote to the kids makes me feel better about taking the time to devote to myself. Don’t get me wrong some days everything falls off the track and i want to pull my hair out but there are far less of those than there was in the beginning. I have gotten to a place where i am happy and content.

    • Thanks for sharing, Jackie! I can’t imagine having twins on my own! Way to go being organized and putting your attention on the kids. Sounds like you definitely have great wisdom and perspective. Thanks again.

  2. Thank you for sharing this post. I am not a single mother myself, I know women who are, and it is a challenge. But, even if you are single, you are never alone! It is amazing how gracious and willing people can be to help if you ask them.

    Kate

  3. Great points, Crystal. I agree that it’s sometimes hard to ask for help as a single parent. We tend to overcompensate and believe we have to work harder or better than two-parent households.
    Children need time away from parents, too. I like to say I’m giving my son the gift of a break :).

    Your site reads wonderfully from my mobile, btw.

    • Linda, that’s a great perspective. It is definitely good for all involved to have variety and breaks. :)

  4. After having my first child, I tried to imagine parenting by myself. It seems like it would be the hardest job ever. Bless you for persevering and for helping others along the way! Love your tips as they are applicable to everyone, regardless of parenting circumstances.

  5. As a single mom, I found that the hardest part in the early years was making a priority of taking care of myself. I too got an F in this department for a long, long time. I eventually found that I really could find time to get to the gym and a group of us started to do girls nights out to the movies. Those few things became lifesavers for me and things that I really looked forward to doing.

  6. This is an awesome post that all of us need to read. I’m not a single mother but it tells me I need to do more for the ones that I do know. God calls us to help others and how better than to help a single mother and their children. Thank you for this reminder. My hat is off to you because I know how hard it is to raise young ones with a spouse and I can’t imagine doing it on my own. You are an amazing inspiration! High Five!

  7. I don’t really have anything to add; I just want to say thank you for a great post. I spent almost 7 years as a part-time single mom, with my husband working a job that required him to spend at least every other week out of state. I think you’re right on target: community and self-care are crucial. I love what you say about learning the difference between “what I should do and what I can do.” Things got a lot better for me and my daughter once I realized how unrealistic my expectations and to-do lists were and deliberately kept things simple when my husband was away. It also really helped us to switch churches to a congregation that had other young families in our neighborhood. I became much less isolated and got some essential help, especially at times when DD was sick (she has chronic health problems), and it became easier for DH to build friendships during his limited time in town.

  8. Wow. This hit home, hard. I am a single Mom. I moved to a new city 2 years ago. I have a LOT of trust issues and I tend to be afraid of women. Like, all women. Therefore finding reliable friends to call a community—hasn’t happened. I wonder if it’s rude to email a person I really like, and ask, “So, I really like you. I know our kids are friends and we chit chat at school. We should have coffee. I want to be there for you, and maybe you can be there for me.”
    Corny? Creepy? Or a baby step?

    • @Hilary, I don’t know if it’s ok that I jump in and comment here or not… :)
      But I just wanted to say that I struggle to make friends as well. Maybe I’m a social misfit, I don’t know! But if someone emailed me in transparent honesty, I would embrace the opportunity for friendship. In fact, an email like that would mean more than a million little chit chat moments here and there all put together. Maybe we need more of friendships that start like that….and less of the surface-level variety.

    • Baby steps! Do it, Hillary! I would bet that you won’t regret it at all. And if the first person you approach isn’t receptive, don’t give up! It is worth it. It is worth it. It may seem a little awkward at first, but most likely you’re not the only one who wants to have a more meaningful friendship! I totally understand the challenge to trust people, fear of being judged and rejected. But, I promise you won’t regret it. If you do at first, let me know, I’ll send chocolate.

  9. I’m definitely getting so much better at this. Asking for help is the key. For me, it’s just hard sometimes to admit that I need help. Even if it’s just someone to listen.

    • Needing someone to listen is just as valid as needing some child-care help. It’s so worth it, once you let yourself not be self-sufficient. Thanks for sharing, Jessica.

  10. I’m sharing this post for three reasons:
    1. It’s such an encouraging message to know that other single parents struggle with the same issues.
    2. Like Bonnie said, it’s helpful for married parents to see different specific, practical ways they can serve their single friends.
    3. All parents can use the reminder to take care of ourselves. It’s amazing what a little time (And a haircut) can do to your emotional stability!
    Thanks Crystal, for being so open and honest.

  11. Even though I’m married, I feel like a single parent 99.9% of the time because my husband works so much. Thanks for sharing tips and reminding me how important it is to have friends and a support system.

  12. I am a single foster mother. In some ways that is great – I don’t have the emotional journey of a failed relationship to deal with, but in raising the three boys who are in my long term care (and all the other kids I have cared for), I know just how hard it is to have to do EVERYTHING! However, I do consider myself to be incredibly fortunate to be able to take on this role.
    Most kids in foster care need a lot of help – they are not in foster care for nothing! So I deal with a lot of issues around attachment, emotional regulation, identity, challenging behaviours etc. but one of my boys also has a number of disabilities. I not only juggle the needs of our little family unit, but I co-parent with a bureaucracy (child protection) – not exactly the loving, reciprocating co-parent you would hope to have in your children’s life :).
    So, yeah, single parenting is complex and demanding and draining – but I just LOVE being a mum to these kids. I love helping find a meaningful place in the world and understanding and accepting difference. How lucky am I to be a sleep deprived, kid wrangling, toilet training, paint & crayon wearing, chief cook & bottle washer to these little darlings? Very!

  13. I’m a single mum of three boys. I’m also their foster carer. It can most definitely get crazy here when my oldest, who has autism & a couple of other issues, gets all fired up and the younger boys react and it all spirals. It’s tough to be the bottom line all the time. There is no one to hand over to, no one to share all those very special moments as your kids change and grow. I’m coming up to 7 years of sleep deprivation, 4 years since I had to resign from my job because of my eldest child’s special needs. This is not the life I thought I’d be living BUT I am so thankful for these (and the many other) children I get to love and care for. I get to be their mother! What an amazing gift. So yes, I’m running around after toddlers in my early 50’s, I’m toilet training, going to playgroup, hanging out with other amazing, beautiful young mothers and I love it. Self-care consists of trying to go to bed before 10 at least one night a week (hard!), spending time with good friends, blogging (such great cheap therapy!), hiring a babysitter on a semi-regular basis and going on regular family holidays.

  14. I am glad to hear that you know how to ask for help. I was a single mother for most of my 3 girls lives. One thing that I never learned to do was ‘ask for help’ I figure that I got myself into this mess, I had to work through it. It was hard, but I did make it through. They are all responsible adults now and we enjoy each other. Sometimes through I worry that we are to close to each other.
    Asking for help is very important. I remember when i just wished I had a couple of hours to myself on a weekend.
    You are doing wonder and thanks for sharing the word that asking for HELP is ok.

    Debbie

  15. I’m a single mom and I identify with your whole post. Thanks for your transparency and willingness to share. I’ll be sharing this myself. :)

  16. This is not my first time here, even though I have never posted I feel the need to share a bit.
    I’m in my thirties, and I have tow boys and two girls. I became a single mom when my younger dd was only 5 months old; the other dd was 3, and the boys were just 5 and 8 y/o. I was devastated and scared. I didn’t know how I would handle everything by myself, until I realized that I was already handling almost everything by myself as the kids father was really never home. I feel the need to share this bit because at one point in my life I felt very scared and I want moms out there who are struggling to know that it can be done. The most essential thing is to realize that you are not the first one, as harsh as it sounds, once I realized other women had endured what I was trying to grasp, I decided that I wasn’t going to let myself get more scared my just thinking about the what if I can’t do it? and I began to take an attitude of day by day. With this in mind, as I really didn’t have many friends or family, I purposely begun to make routine my best friend, including entertainment. Now, my kids are 8, 11, 13 and 16 and I keep us all busy, I take them out a lot to playgrounds, movies. When money was tight, I took them to the library and used the computers there for free. I taught my kids to have one chore per day, as they grew up more and we all help each other. I learned to pick battles and let go of what wasn’t absolutely necessary to biker/ worry about. I learned to simplify our lives by having only what we need and learned to be content in the moment we had. At the end of the day, I would always rejoice in knowing I was being the best I could be each day, and I would be thankful for having my kids, even though it was hard work to do it all alone. I also learned that sometimes, life seems unfair, but he reality is that we get the best end of the deal, as we are the ones who get to watch our little seeds into beautiful flowers and we get those hugs and kisses every day. I rejoice in that every day. time flies, so remember, everything passes and changes. Savor every stage.

  17. Thanks for your post!! I’ve been a single mom all of my son’s life (6 years) and I have to constantly remind myself that I have to take care of ME. How can I be a good mom if I neglect myself?

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