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Mothering alone: Confident solo parenting

Mother and two sons
Credit: iStock.com/Guasor

It’s not unusual for solo mothers to feel overwhelmed, but there are ways to confidently raise a happy, healthy child when you have sole responsibility for their day-to-day care.

Single motherhood comes in all shapes and sizes. It may be by choice, divorce, loss of a partner, or a husband living or working interstate or overseas. All of these mothers, if they’re fortunate, will have a family support system they can rely on, or a group of kind and caring friends.

Psychotherapist Melissa Ferrari says there’s a wide range of support that a solo mother needs to help her raise her children alone.

“A solo mother needs offers of help from people in the community. For example, people to make a meal, or mind their kids while they go to a doctor or hair appointment. It also helps if people offer to include her kids in things with their family,” Ms Ferrari says.

“Solo mums also need extra financial support, as well as support for the times when she is not always available to meet all her children’s needs. It’s also important solo mothers get help with getting a little ‘me’ time."

It goes without saying that one of the biggest challenges in mothering alone is that there is only one of you for a job that is, ideally, meant to be for two.

“Another challenge is the feeling of getting emotionally tired and burnt out.  Some mothers will have to put up with judgemental comments from people in society, friends and family as to how did they end up in ‘this place’.

“Other single mums are put in the position where they are constantly being offered unsolicited advice. But one of the biggest challenges is having to be fully independent on a lot of things that are usually shared. There’s also the burden of having all the financial responsibilities.”

Give yourself a break, allow yourself to be human and make mistakes, and allow your child to be human too – that is going to make everyone much more satisfied and able to get on with it.
Dr Judith Locke

Psychologist Dr Judith Locke says one of the biggest challenges in mothering alone is that things that often take two people will take a solo parent every ounce of energy to do on their own.

“Add in some sadness at the loss of a partner or guilt at your child not having the other parent around and it is a recipe for feeling you are always doing the wrong thing,”  Dr Locke says.

“There are some advantages of course – if someone else is at home and you have to change a nappy, you might be resentful that you are the only one doing that. But when you’re on your own, you take responsibility for everything and don’t have the chance to have simmering resentment. Single mothers don’t have to deal with the reality of two different parenting styles.”

Dr Locke says it’s often easier to work with single parents on their parenting style, than to work with two very different parents.

“If one contributes and the other one doesn’t, and you’re living in the same home, this can lead to complications and tension, which is why children can go to school and have different rules for school and different rules at home,” she says.

“But when it’s just you and your children, you don’t have an adult relationship in the home to make you both a team that is a little separate from the children, and this might mean that you tend to act as your children’s friend and not their parent.

“This may make discipline very difficult.  It’s much better to have a consistently authoritative approach (a mix of care and expectations) as your child will know what to expect.”

Above all, Dr Locke believes it’s important to remember most parents are doing the very best they can. Things might not always be perfect, but that’s life.

“In giving your child a ‘not perfect life’ you are better preparing them for their future that is probably not going to be perfect either. Give yourself a break, allow yourself to be human and make mistakes, and allow your child to be human too – that is going to make everyone much more satisfied and able to get on with it,” Dr Locke says.

Melissa Ferrari encourages mums to reach out for help online, where mothers can connect with each other and ask for advice.

“There are sites single mums can join that offer genuine support for single mums. Another thing single mums can do is to reach out for help from family and friends. This may be a big step but an important one as you may be surprised how many people will support you when you ask for help,” Ms Ferrari says.

“It’s a good idea to join local play groups as you may find there are other single mums there and you might be able to learn from each other as well as help each other out on tough days with kids.”

Ms Ferrari also suggests single mums take advantage of any available community help, using services such as community nurses or free counselling. Single mums who are feeling overwhelmed could benefit from a good therapist or counsellor who can normalise how they’re feeling.

“Also make sure you always say yes to those who want to help with making a meal or driving your kids to school. Stay away from people who are negative or judgemental of your situation. They have no idea how it has been for you, nor do they know what led you to be a single mum. It’s your journey.  Nothing you do needs to be explained to anybody,” Ms Ferrari says.

“If you are dating and finding it is not helping boost your confidence or being good for you give it a rest until you are ready. Becoming a single mum can feel like a vulnerable time that brings many difficulties. Learning to practice self-care regularly can help you feel more nurtured and in control because you are putting yourself first.”