So, I had someone ask me how to best support a single parent and I thought I’d jump on here and write it out as I’m sure every single one of us know a single parent. And we all know that these single parents have tough struggles and it’s hard to figure out how to best support them, correct? Honestly speaking, this was a hard one for me to type out because as tricky as it is to figure out how to offer help and support to those who need it, the ones who need it have a harder time asking. #foodforthought
I’ve had one of those tougher weeks, and really- for no given reason (aside from the fact that I’m just tired.) The kids have been home for 111 days straight and as the only parent, it’s a lot. They’re all bored of the pool and we can’t really go anywhere with Covid still lurking around and it’s really hard to maintain any sort of personal life when I have to take care of 5 kids. So, when my friend asked how to best support, I had to really think because the only thing tougher than these little breakdowns is actually asking for help.
I remember becoming a single parent after years of going back and forth. I lost a lot of respect from friends and family because of the yo-yo-ing I was doing to not only myself, but my kids and my ex-husband. I told everyone I was done with him and moving on but somehow kept finding my way back to him. The strings were hard to cut with this one and it ultimately took him disappearing into the streets for a life of drugs that I finally became comfortable with moving on. Turns out that I’m the kind of person who needs total absence to move on. So, when I eventually did move on, I didn’t have a lot of people by my side and was just expected to be happy and raise 5 kids all alone, without issues. After all, I got rid of my biggest stressor, right? And hey- they were right but I was still mourning the loss. I literally just stopped hearing from him out of the blue and it was ultimately like he died. But, there was no funeral. My parents happily took us in and have been unbelievably wonderful through the years and have offered tremendous support, but it’s been challenging.
I think the major support all parents need (not just single parents) is emotional support. I can’t even tell you the amount of days that my brain runs wild not knowing if I’m doing the right things for these kids or if I’m raising them properly. The thing is, single parents are *usually* making the big decisions by themselves and always second guessing their final decision. Answering their texts and phone calls is a wicked way to start because I guarantee they’re just looking for someone to talk to and bounce some ideas off of or just looking for some validation. It’s harder than you would think to solely make some decisions. And let them have their harder days. Let them cry. Let them vent and let them break down. It’s hard work being the only adult in their little family unit and the days and nights certainly get lonely. And can you blame them? After a hard day, isn’t it nice to come home to your spouse and allow their reassurance to take your pain away? Single parents don’t have that. They have their self-doubt, fear and racing mind to talk to. Start by answering them, even if it’s just to say hi. There’s a reason they’re reaching out.
Personal support is another biggie. Chances are that your friend gets no time to themselves and we all know how important it is to sometimes just lock yourself in a room for a minute to realign and gather yourself. If you notice a friend reaching their breaking point, there’s a chance they just need a minute to themselves and are simply too scared to ask for help. Being a single parent brings this heavy responsibility of trying to prove that they can absolutely take on the roles of both parents and will exhaust themselves to the point of tears. They’re also feeling a loss and are potentially still grieving, whether the loss is the physical absence of their spouse or the loss of something simple- such as free time. Some of these parents are the sole and full custodian of their children and have their kiddos 24/7/365. And hey- I get it. We all know that parenting is the toughest gig out there as we get zero breaks, even with both parents, but practice empathy when that friend is struggling. They don’t get to run to their room and collect their thoughts while the spouse runs bath time. There’s more beneath the surface and the anxiety of running a household on one income and trying to figure out how to be in 3 places at once is suffocating. I know I personally get overwhelmed about once a month and lose my patience on my kids. And not in an aggressive way, but I tone them out and sink into this mood where all I can think about is how I just want a break. It can last a couple days and I usually need to have a super good cry (and therapy session) to jump back into the driver’s seat. But if you find you have a little bit of extra time and can afford a couple hours in the afternoon, offer to watch those kids so that parent can take the time to workout or grocery shop alone. Guarantee you will make their entire week and they will return with a bounce in their step.
There’s some societal norm out there that makes it feel like you need to be double the parent when you’re on your own. You need to make sure that the time the kids spend with you has to be full of activity, both fun and educational. You need to make sure they eat more nutritiously than they would at any other home and you need to raise them as if there are two parents in the home. The pressure is outrageous because it’s almost impossible. It’s draining to put that sort of pressure on yourself day in and day out and do it with a smile on your face, at that! The single parents out there feel that and through that smile, there’s a desperate plea for someone to reach out and offer help. The financial stresses alone are enough to cause sleepless nights and the anxiety of the sole decision-making just adds to the hamster’s wheel that never seems to slow down. And all they need is that hug to know that they’re not alone. Chances are that they’ll never ask you for help, but just knowing that you empathize with how tough their struggle is, is the open door they need to push forward.
Just bear in mind that this single parent in your life has lost the life they dreamt of- whether if it was their choice or not. Although they are rebuilding into something pretty magical, they still have the down days we all do and have to face them alone. Parenting is a tough gig and isn’t meant for one person but some of us are forced into it. It’s difficult to see other families highlight reels on whatever social media platform and even harder to see couples getting away for little day dates or nights off because they need a break. I can’t even tell you the amount of coffee cups that I’ve cried into because I would do just about anything for a minute. I mean, these little pity parties typically only last a day or two but they are also the days where the minutes drag by and the nights never end.
And to be clear, we know we’re loved by their kids and family but some identities have been lost through the process and we’re trying to rebuild our characters to come out of the ashes. Self-worth is minimal in some and we’re trying to piece back together the best parts of ourselves, even though it can be super tricky to find because our attention isn’t on us. At the end of the day, we all need love and support. And as cliché as it sounds: the days when your friends are pushing you away the most are the days when they need you the most. But they’re scared to let you in and scared to let you see the reality of how their life isn’t picture-perfect or some scars from their past battles. After all, they’re single parents who CAN do this, who are strong enough to do this and possibly got themselves out of some dangerous situations. But keep reaching out, keep offering help and love them harder because we all need a little extra love right now.