Raising A Child Alone: How To Win At Single Parenting

By ReGain Editorial Team|Updated June 19, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Karen Devlin, LPC

Over the past five decades, there has been a huge shift in family structure in the United States. In the past, single-parent households were a rarity. Today, over 11 million parents are raising their children alone. While most of these parents are single mothers (over 8 million), over two million fathers have raised their children without a partner.

Although all types of parenting have difficult aspects, being a single parent has a unique set of stresses. These challenges, when addressed head-on, can build your parenting muscles and help you excel. By understanding the difficulties you are likely to face and thinking of solutions ahead of time, you can create a healthy family dynamic for yourself and your stepchildren.

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5 Stressors To Manage

Every family situation is different, but single-parent families often share similar struggles. I'm sure you're thinking, "Just five?" After all, parenting regardless of your relationship status isn't for the faint of heart. If you are a single parent, you've probably wrestled with at least one of the following challenges:

  1. Balancing home and work-life
  2. Making tough decisions
  3. Managing finances
  4. Creating quality time
  5. Finding time for self

Elizabeth, an elementary school teacher and single mother of three, says she's struggled with all these stressors at one point or another. "Being a mother is the most fulfilling part of my life," she gushed when speaking about the difficulties of being a single parent, "but it can be extremely challenging." "I didn't expect my marriage to fall apart, but when it did, I was left standing with the pieces and unsure how to move forward," Elizabeth shared. "But I've found over time that every time I face a challenge head-on and conquer it, my confidence as a mother increased."

You're probably thinking, "Good for her, but what does that have to do with me?" A lot! As single parents, we can learn a great deal from the successes (and trials of others). The next section of this article aims to elaborate on each of these parenting roadblocks and discuss avenues that Elizabeth and other parents are using to move forward.

#1 It's A Balancing Act

Unless you're a stay-at-home parent, work/school-home life balance is probably one of the greatest parenting struggles of your existence. Even two-parent households have a hard time figuring out things like who will pick the kids up from school, who will take off work and attend the kindergarten Christmas play, and who will tackle dinner for the fourth time this week.

For parents, the question isn't "who will?" but "how will I?" The struggle of balancing home and work life quickly becomes a one-person (or woman) juggling act. Thankfully, it doesn't have to be this way, at least not every day. Instead of adding more balls to your routine, you can:

  • Take some irons out of the fire. One of the main reasons we feel overwhelmed as single parents is because we take on too many projects. This was the case with Elizabeth. Because she enjoys volunteer work and giving back, she found herself constantly saying 'yes' to extra responsibilities. Eventually, she didn't even enjoy volunteering anymore because she resented being away from her children. By giving up most of her volunteering commitments, Elizabeth focused on the things that mattered the most while still helping others when she could.
  • Set boundaries (and a schedule). Many of us think of work and home life as separate, but you only have one truthfully. Every day, life throws us curve balls. Today our boss needs you to cover an extra shift; tomorrow your sister needs you to babysit again. Your plans to watch a movie with the kids and be in bed by 10 pm go out the window. One way to avoid extra stress caused by constant change is to set boundaries and schedule your days. For example, if you know that Thursdays are extremely busy for you, make it a rule that you won't take on anything extra on that day. Then say 'no' when someone throws a curve ball your way.
  • Share your boundaries. At first, it may feel wrong to say 'no' when someone asks you for help, to attend an event, or give up some of your free time. To avoid confusion or hurt feelings, share your plan for achieving balance with your friends, family, and even your employer ahead of time. By explaining to your boss and sister that Thursdays are all "booked up" because you need that extra time to make memories with your kids or rest, you will avoid conflict and misunderstandings. You'll also be putting your own needs first.

#2 Making Tough Decisions

Adults make around 35,000 decisions per day. Some of these choices are made on impulse, while others are based on logical thinking. Many of these decisions affect our children, and in single-parent homes, the tough calls are often made alone. Even without a partner to bounce ideas off and lean on for support, making sound decisions for your family is possible. This can be accomplished by embracing two Cs-confidence and consistency.

  • Confidence is essential when it comes to decisions making. One of the biggest single-parent stressors is that we tend to overthink things. We worry about troubles that may never come to pass, and by constantly questioning ourselves, we never rob ourselves of peace.

When faced with a tough call, take time to think about your options, write out the pros and cons, or call a friend. You can also try the 10-10-10 method. Ask yourself, "will I be happy with this decision ten days from now, ten months from now, and ten years from now?" Then, choose with confidence. Sometimes things won't work, but that's okay.

  • Along with confidence, consistency is a vital part of decision-making. Because many parents (including single ones) parent from guilt, we are often inconsistent in our decisions. One day we ban the children from eating in their rooms, and then the next day, we allow it because we feel bad about working late. We tell them no tv past 8 pm one night and then turn around and say "okay" the next night because we're busy cleaning the house.

It's all right to make allowances now and then, but most family decision-making should be consistent from one day to the next. Setting dos and don'ts for your household can take some of the mundane decisions off your shoulders because the children already know the rules.

#3 Managing Finances

There are hundreds of websites and programs that offer money management advice for single parents. Still, the truth is, there is no one 'plan' that can alleviate the day-to-day difficulty of managing a family's finances alone. As the head of the household (and sometimes only an adult in the home), you must be diligent in the way you handle financial matters. It's not an easy task, but the following tips can make it more manageable.

  • Budget your monthly expenses. Budgets may seem like a thing of the past since many people live paycheck to paycheck, but you really should be setting monthly spending and saving amounts. By establishing a budget, you can assess your debts, start to save, and adjust your plan as new expenses come up. Many helpful (and free) programs/apps can help you set up a budget electronically if pen and paper seem intimidating.
  • Set some financial goals. After setting a monthly budget, you should also write down some financial goals for your family. A budget is where you are now, while these goals represent where you want to be. Would you like to save $1000 by Christmas? Write it down! Do you want to spend less money eating out? Jot that down as well. Writing down your financial goals helps you because it makes you over 40% more likely to accomplish your objectives.
  • Become a penny pincher. You might not increase your income, but you can be frugal with what you have. Some easy ideas include meal planning for the week, washing your car yourself, and dumping the gym membership you never use. A quick google search can provide you with tons of ideas on how to save money. This list is a good place for wannabe penny pinchers to begin.

#4 Creating Quality Time

When not working, you find most parents in the same place: with their kids. So, how could it be that so many parents struggle to find quality time with their kids? To answer that question, we must take a hard look at what quality time is. Quality time is being together in the same space while also giving each other undivided attention. Working on your laptop while the kids watch a movie in the same room doesn't equal quality time. Neither does mindlessly scrolling on your cell phone while your kids try to tell you about their day. Quality time must be both dedicated and intentional.

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Dedicating time to spend with your children together and individually is especially important since many people have quality time as their "love language." Children who fall into this category don't need you to tell them you love them or buy them expensive gifts; they need you to be there. To meet these needs, you can:

  • Do what they like. Play their games, take them to the park, eat snow cones, and embrace your inner child. Because we are adults, we tend to forget how exciting and fun these simple things are for a child. You can even get creative and plan family nights based on their interests. If you have a child that loves to play dress-up, a princess tea party might be a hit. A boy who likes building things might enjoy a Lego scavenger hunt.
  • Fill a fishbowl. If you have a large family, it might be hard to cater to everyone's interests. One way to choose quality time activities 'fair' is to create an "activity fishbowl" by having family members place their ideas for family fun inside a container. Draw from the bowl randomly when you're looking for something fun to do with the kids, and doesn't refill the bowl until every slip has been drawn. This way, everyone's needs get met while also learning to compromise.
  • Make family affairs phone-free. Nothing kills quality time like cell phones. By making a "no phones during family time" rule, you take away the temptation to check out mentally. By staying present in the moment, you'll be able to make real memories with your kids and connect with them on a deeper level.

#5 Making Time For Self

If you've ever listened to a flight attendant give safety instructions on an airplane, you've probably heard them say to put your oxygen mask on before trying to assist someone else with theirs. As single parents, we often forget about ourselves. We take on the world's problems and take a bullet for our family members, but we don't take the time to practice self-care. This is a costly mistake. It simply isn't possible to be the best parent you can if you aren't your best self. To figure out where you rank on the self-care scale, ask yourself the following questions:

Am I …

  • Staying hydrated?
  • Making myself a meal that I love?
  • Spending time outdoors or doing things I enjoy?
  • Enjoying thirty minutes of alone time without distractions?
  • Napping when I need to?
  • Saying no when I'm overwhelmed?
  • Practicing relaxation techniques?

If you answered no to one or more of these questions, you might not be taking care of yourself properly. Not only can this affect you physically, but it can also lead to emotional and mental strain, including anxiety and depression. One of the best ways you can commit to self-care is by talking to a professional that can help you streamline the process. This is not to say that making time for yourself isn't something you can't do alone, but having someone to support you through the process can be very empowering.

Fortunately, this can be accomplished in the comfort of your own home. You no longer need to travel across town to get professional support since programs like ReGain can help you strengthen your relationships (with your family and yourself) through over the Internet counseling sessions.

Even if you decide not to pursue counseling, it's important to remember that your time is valuable. Finding ways to maintain balance while tackling life's challenges and making tough calls will allow you to be the best person and the best parent that you can be.

“Denae has a strong background in child psychology. We came to her because we're figuring out how to navigate our first year with a newborn together. She understands couples dynamics, personality styles and is very knowledgeable on secure attachment and how to raise a child to feel seen, understood, safe and heard. I Highly recommend this counselor.”

 

“Dr Bown has made significant impact in our lives and She is always giving honest advice and we feel she genuinely cares about our family. She is a valued treasure that we are grateful for in our lives :)”

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