When I got divorced, another single mom took me under her wing. She told me, “Moms always find a way to make things work. We have to stick together to make our own opportunities.” She was completely right, but there has never been a more difficult time to make our own opportunities than in 2020.
Non-traditional families face unique challenges, whether they are single/sole parents, divorced co-parents, or somewhere in between. One thing that unites them is their strong sense of community building. Single parents are both lifelines to transitioning families and people who lean into “the village” to help raise their children. Single parents need community support. If they don’t already have it, they create it. Our children’s’ schools are certainly a main pillar of that support. When things changed this past spring, our supporting pillars all began to crumble.
Right now, the expectation for one person to juggle multiple kids’ distance education schedules as well as their fluctuating social and emotional needs, general housekeeping and cooking (you know kids at home want snacks all day), shifting and managing their career (if they are lucky enough to still have a job), and trying to squeeze in a minute alone in the bathroom is overwhelming, to say the least. Some single parents have found others to band together with, but many are struggling alone to keep their heads above water.
This pandemic has proven to be a mental health crisis for partnered parents, but the reality for single parents is much grimmer and, for the most part, unseen. Many single parents are experiencing crippling anxiety around meeting their family’s basic needs. It is a challenge for a single parent to even get to the grocery store, let alone maintain a job to pay for that food.
This pandemic has proven to be a mental health crisis for partnered parents, but the reality for single parents is much grimmer and, for the most part, unseen.
Added to the stress of meeting their family’s basic needs is the management of multiple distance learning Zoom schedules and daily navigation of technology problems. There is hardly a way to address a parent’s emotional well being when they are simultaneously focused on making their rent payment and untangling their child’s headphone cords every day (seriously, how does a 4-year-old tie such tight knots?).
If a single parent is fortunate enough to have some foundation of food and housing security, self-care is still not easy to come by. With most community resources closed—school, the gym, playdates, and even playgrounds—many single parents’ sources of emotional well being have been stripped away. It’s no wonder that anxiety has skyrocketed since single parents rely on that workout, therapy session, or a quick trip to a cafe for a small self-care moment.
A mental shift that has helped me adjust is releasing my former sources of self-care and embracing some new and accessible forms of family care:
- I may not be able to go to the gym, but I can appreciate a quick bike ride with my two kids after all of our morning meetings.
- I can pause my workday to have a lunch picnic on our porch or a mid-afternoon massage train with my 4 and 7-year-old.
- I can’t have an uninterrupted phone call with my therapist, but I can do a five-minute meditation before falling asleep or practice a moment of silence and gratitude as I turn off the kids’ iPads for the day.
How to Support a Single Parent Right Now
One shift that has helped my anxiety is feeling seen and validated in this struggle—if you know a single parent, now is a fantastic time to offer support:
- Delivering a meal or care package could completely turn the day around for a single parent.
- Many single parents rely on friends for emotional connection too, maybe you can’t meet for coffee like you used to, but starting a text exchange or leaving a voicemail can help fill an emotional cup that has been completely drained.
- If your kids are in the same virtual class, invite their child over for distance learning in your home environment or even outside in the yard—probably all the kids would find a big emotional boost. If that feels uncomfortable, consider initiating a book or puzzle exchange between your kids. They will love the sense of connection and the novelty of a new book or activity.
Moms always find a way to make things work. We have to stick together to make our own opportunities. Community support and “the village” might not be the same as before, but we must rebuild it. And if you feel like you’re drowning alone—reach out.