The ups and downs of single parenting

Family therapist Lorraine Sievers shares some wisdom for those who are parenting alone.

You may be a single parent as the result of a carefully considered plan, or it may be an experience that you never wanted or expected. Parenting on your own can be frightening and challenging, but single parents can build a home that is secure and loving – a place where all can thrive and learn. There is no such thing as a perfect parent – mistakes and discouragement are inevitable.

If parents do the best they can, making mistakes but learning from them, and loving their children all along the way, they will head in the right direction. What truly matters is not where you are, but where you are going. That is all any parent can ever do – and yes, it is enough.

Break with the old, embrace the new

Becoming a single parent will make your family a ‘work in progress’ for a long time. Accept all the realities and uncertainties that come along with the change.

1. Break with the old

As you transition from being a two-parent to a one-parent family, allow each child to work through their pain, loss, betrayal and sense of abandonment. Make sure your children know that the ‘lines of communication’ are open to them – that they can express their anger, disappointment and sadness in a safe way and with a safe person – you. It will take time and effort but the benefits are immense. Not only will your empathetic listening help them cope with their current bad feelings, it will also teach them skills for processing emotions that are essential for health and well-being, and lessons that will remain with them for a lifetime. These skills will go a long way towards preventing depression, anxiety and toxic anger from setting in. Your willingness to communicate in an environment of honesty will produce safety, security and a predictable environment that will protect family members from further pain. This stability offers the best chance of rebuilding a great life.

2. Embrace the new

A newly-single parent has a mountain of challenges. Where to live, what to eat, new routines to establish and providing for the family – these all take a lot of energy and wisdom to do well. It helps to see this as part of a journey. The inner strength to do the journey well will come from your deep-rooted love for yourself and your children.

Coping with loneliness

Parenting on your own can be lonely. The sense of alienation and isolation can cause stress that may threaten the healthy functioning of everyone in the family. If you find yourself stuck in the grief of lost dreams and feelings of victimisation, seek out a trained professional.

Take positive steps to combat the feelings of loneliness by –

Building a network of safe and sensible friends. Having someone to talk to when you’re feeling down can make all the difference in the world.

Start a list of things you’d like to do – books to read, projects to tackle. Having something constructive to focus your energy on can be a wonderful way to lift you up.

Get involved with people – even if you don’t feel like it! There will be many groups in your community to connect with. Being involved in the lives of others will give you a new perspective on your own situation.

Learn to be yourself, by yourself. It is tempting to believe that things would be better if you only had a partner to share life with. It is undeniably difficult when there is no one to hold you or comfort you but if you can find the strength and energy to be truly comfortable alone, you will be more likely to build a healthy relationship when someone special does come into your life.

Care for yourself

Raising children alone, especially when you are new at it, requires a great deal of time and energy. Eventually, life relaxes into routines but it can still seem like your whole life is totally focused on the children. To be a healthy and effective parent, self-care is very important.

Have occasional downtime. Respect and value yourself enough to take essential moments of relaxation. Your example will eventually help your children to respect and value themselves too.

Budget time each week for your own activities and learn to see yourself as a priority. A few household chores may have to wait.

Nurture your creativity and uniqueness and do what you enjoy. Make sure you find time on a regular basis to do what makes you feel energised and alive. It is not selfishness, it is wisdom.Pay attention to what you eat, get enough sleep, and get regular exercise – these are some of the most effective antidepressants.

Keep your mind active and engaged. Give yourself permission to explore, to be curious, and to be a learner. You will find life much more interesting and fulfilling if you do.

Each single parent must eventually find their own way, learning to trust their own wisdom to change what seems necessary when it seems right. With the right skills and understanding, single parents can raise happy, responsible, respectful and resourceful children. Parenting may be the most difficult task, but it is also the most important and rewarding one. The greatest legacy parents leave is their children.


Lorraine Sievers is a family therapist, supervisor, trainer and attachment parenting consultant, MNZAC. She can be contacted at lorraine@buildingfamilies.co.nz.

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