Being a single parent doesn’t have to mean you’re on your own as you raise your child. Looking for support doesn’t mean you’re not coping. And although it can sometimes be hard, asking for help is a smart thing to do for your family.
About help and support for single parents
People can give you support in three main ways – practical help to lighten the workload or sort out finances, emotional support to help you cope with parenting, and social support to give you a break.
Most parents – whether single parents or couples – need all three forms of support, and that’s normal.
People who can help single parents
Reaching out for support – and saying yes when it’s offered – can be hard sometimes. You might feel like you should be able to cope on your own, or that you’re being a nuisance. But people like to help out. And if you’re prepared to help them out in return, you don’t need to feel uncomfortable.
If you’re finding it hard to think of people who might be able to help, you could try these ideas:
Friends – support from friends might be less complicated and emotional than support from family.
Local people – you could try people from your child care centre, kindergarten or school, a local club or a support group.
Colleagues at work or people you meet studying or training – they can take your mind off parenting for a while and might also be able to help out sometimes.
Counsellors or other professionals – they can offer help and neutral advice without any emotional involvement.
Telephone hotlines or online counselling – this might be good if you need to spend a lot of the time at home or just need someone to listen once in a while.
Without the respite, I would not have been as calm a caregiver as I have managed to be. Isolation and young children is a bad mix for me. I went to a support group and we took turns minding each other’s kids. – Marnie, 30, single mother of two children
Ideas for finding support as a single parent
Here are some ways and places you can find support as a single parent.
Connections in your local area After your separation, you could try acting like you’ve only just arrived in your community. This can help you see the community with fresh eyes. Local papers, councils and libraries often have information about neighborhood houses, playgroups and toy libraries. Child and family health nurses can also be a valuable source of support and advice.
Other parents Children are a ticket to making new friends at first-time parent groups, playgroups, kindergartens, schools, or sporting and leisure centres. Try inviting people to afternoon tea, or just to go for a walk. When you talk to other parents, you might be surprised at the family changes they’ve been through themselves.
Local support and interest groups Support groups for single parents can be especially helpful for sharing ideas, feelings and experiences with other people in the same situation as you. You can also join book clubs, craft or sporting clubs, charity organizations or political groups.
Online forums, chat rooms and social networking sites Going online can help you connect with other single parents from Australia and around the world. Many single-parent groups have forums or chat rooms connected to their websites. You could also try social networking websites like Facebook.
Parents who get support use more positive parenting strategies, are better able to cope and are more consistent in parenting decisions than those who try to manage by themselves.
Finding the right support as a single parent
When you’re looking for support, it can help to start by imagining the kind of help and support you’d like. Sketch out the ideal scenario – then make a plan to achieve it.
It makes no difference whether you have a few close friends or connect with a large group of people. Both are equally good for your emotional health and wellbeing, as long as you feel you’re getting the support you need.
Your emotional wellbeing and self-esteem will benefit from having supportive, positive people in your family’s life. So surround yourself with people who have dreams, hopes and goals. And if there are critical, unhelpful or even hostile people in your life, it might be a good idea to put some distance between you and them.
If you’re spending more time caring for children now that you’re a single parent, it can be hard to stay in touch with friends who don’t have children. If friendships have got lost in the process of separation and divorce, try getting back in touch. Be honest and say you’re sorry you lost touch, but you’re keen to reconnect now.
If you find it hard to arrange child-free time, you could meet for coffee at a child-friendly café, or meet at the park so the children have something to do.
Sorting out your finances
Many people find managing money and budgets difficult, and it’s natural that you might feel worried about money as a single parent. As a single parent, you probably have three potential sources of income:
If you can get child support from your former partner, do so. You might need some help or someone to advocate for you. If there’s conflict, seek help – don’t try to do it on your own.
When you’ve worked out how much money you’ve got coming in, take the time to plan a monthly budget and ask for advice from people you can trust.
I used to take Jack in his stroller to the local market just before it closed on weekends. I would pick up massively discounted boxes of vegies and we lived on vego pasta and curries and rice for quite a few years. I had a very low-cost menu because I wanted to be able to afford some socialising. Looking back it was probably the healthiest diet we ever had.
– Ken, 45, single father of two children