Thriving, Striving, & Surviving in Single Parenthood

This article is based on scientific evidence and clinical experience, written by a licensed professional and fact-checked by experts.

Posted: May 21, 2024

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

When God Says To Care For Yourself by Melissa Abello

No sleep, no sex, no breaks, no solitude. The single parent may find themselves thinking “How can I be craving alone time but feel so desperately alone at the same time?” For most of us, single parenthood is not the life we have planned. Children are a blessing, and we can remind ourselves of that everyday. And at the same time we may be thinking, “So how come my chest feels like it’s caving in when I realize that my child is revving up to have, yet another, meltdown?” How can we meet our needs for solitude and connection when being a single parent leaves us with so little margin?

Alone and Never Alone

One of the many challenges we may face as single parents is the tension between feeling lonely, and never actually getting to be alone! Loneliness can look a lot of different ways. It could be a sense that there is too much to do and no one to help do it, a longing to share joyful experiences with someone special, or a desire to share our struggles with another human being who understands. It can also be the sense that we need to tap out, but there is no one else to put in the ring. Loneliness is common to all of us at one time or another, but a single parent may experience this more acutely and more often.

Meeting our needs for connection can be a struggle. Stress can feel like a constant companion, one that really brings down the dinner date with our girlfriends. Dating is a risk and often feels like a sacrifice we aren’t willing to make. Hiring a babysitter often comes with feelings of guilt or money stress. And the singles group at church doesn’t provide childcare because all single people are childless, right?

Meanwhile, the demands of parenthood are a constant. When a single parent is not at work, generally, they are with their child. Solitude becomes a myth, or a time held sacred at four in the morning or ten o’clock at night, before or after the chaos of the day. These are the times that we can catch our breath and be alone. We might strive to wake up early or stay up late to make the most of the quiet time that we have available. But, we better not do both or we will be an exhausted basket case in just a few days!

What Do We Do About This?

How do we manage that sense of wanting connection and support from others, but also wanting to finally just be alone already! Trigger warning- it’s self-care. You know, those practices that you desperately need to do, but really feel like you don’t have enough time to do? And, that’s valid. Time is not something that a single parent has an abundance of. Still, not having enough time can often be about our priorities. So, here are a couple of tips that may help motivate you to prioritize this.

  • Self-Care Can Be Brief

Here is the good news, self-care doesn’t always need to take a lot of time. Maybe you would rather spend an afternoon orchestrating an epic outdoor run where you can see rivers, lakes, mountains, or all of the above, but 30 minutes on the treadmill while your children are painting with water colors will get the job done. Even more time efficient, sometimes self-care simply means asking ourselves what we are feeling in the moment with curiosity instead of judgement, making a nutritious choice for lunch (or eating lunch at all), making an appointment with a supportive friend that we can look forward to, or looking out the window for long enough to enjoy the view and get centered again. We can learn to recognize these brief but powerful opportunities to take care of ourselves, which brings me to the next tip.

  • Procrastination is Unhelpful

Don’t procrastinate when it comes to self-care! Ask yourself, “what do I need right now?” Maybe it’s a glass of water, a deep breath, or 20 minutes to snuggle your little one and doze off while they watch a cartoon. Whatever it is, if it takes less than 2-minutes, do it right now. If it takes less than 20 minutes, put it on your calendar today. If it takes less than 60 minutes, put it on your calendar this week. We need to create a rhythm of self-care throughout our lives that we can continue to build on. And let’s let go of the thought that caring for ourselves is selfish. Here’s why-

  • What is Good for You, is Good for Your Children

We need to know that self-care doesn’t mean sacrificing our child’s wellbeing. In fact, it may be the opposite. In her study on healthy single parent families, Shirley Hanson found that good health outcomes in parents meant that their children also enjoyed the same1. Our children’s health is closely linked to our own. Perhaps, this is terrifying and motivating all at the same time! But this is part of God’s beautiful design for us, that what is truly good for us is also good for our children. We can love others, as we love ourselves, caring for ourselves and our children and modeling to them what that looks like.

  • Connecting Can Be Self-Care

The last tip is that we don’t always have to have solitude to do self-care. Diana Fosha discusses the concept of undoing aloneness in her forward to the book, It’s Not Always Depression. In her words, undoing aloneness means “being with” a person who has proven trustworthy in the sense that we feel safe and known when we are with them2. As single parents, we want to find these people. These are the people who can reflect the love in God’s heart for us. Maybe this is a new concept to some and self-care simply means opening our heart to this idea. Or maybe we already have a person in mind who provides this for us.  Either way, it is good to be clear that we may feel the desire to be alone, but sometimes what we actually need is connection.

Put It Into Practice

Here’s the encouragement, start to notice your own ways of being lonely but wanting to be alone. Ask yourself, “what do I need right now?” Weave this question into your day. Do small things immediately to build some momentum in this arena. Your children will thank you. It can also help so much to talk with a counselor who can help you to navigate this time of singleness in your parenting journey. It is a wonder what a difference it can make to spend time with someone who will listen skillfully to your heart. Proverbs 20:5 says “Counsel in a person’s heart is deep water, but a person of understanding draws it out.” I know that I, or any one of our fabulous counselors at MCO, would love to draw the counsel of your heart out together. Remember, you might feel lonely at times, but you don’t have to be in it alone.

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This article is based on scientific evidence and clinical experience, written by a licensed professional and fact-checked by experts.

About the Author
Megan Hughes

Megan Hughes LMSW, holds a Masters degree in Social Work from Boise State University. She is a Licensed Master’s Social Worker holding her license in Idaho.

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