Being a mother is frustrating, rewarding, time-consuming, worth every effort, and something you wouldn’t give up for a minute – until you run out of minutes, that is. But just because being a single mother means that all of the frustrations and rewards are yours alone, it doesn’t mean you always have to do it alone. Whether you’re just getting ready to face being a single parent, or you’ve learned over the years how to cope with family issues on your own, you need at least one source outside yourself that you can turn to for strength, for help, and even just for fun. If you don’t already have these support networks in your life, take a minute to think about the people and organizations you’d like to find in your area who can share the ups and downs of single motherhood with you.
“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
– Robert Frost
For many people, the best advice and help on parenting comes from the ones with the most experience: their own parents. If you have a good relationship with your parents, they can be a never-ending source of support and good advice – not to mention free babysitting! Like any family relationship, you don’t want to put any more stresses on the situation, so it’s usually best to not assume that your parents will always be available and willing to help out at a moment’s notice. However, the more people you have in your family network, the more options you’ll have when it comes to looking for answers to questions, getting help with a sick child when you have to go to work, or organizing holiday events and birthday parties. Aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers, even cousins or cousins-by-marriage can all be a great help, especially if they have children of their own and you can return the favor.
Who do you have in your family network that can provide part of your support system? Here are some things to think about when you’re deciding who to ask for help.
- Do you have a good relationship with them? Have they offered to help in the past, and did you feel comfortable accepting that help? What emotions come to mind when you think about what it would feel like to ask them for help?
- Do your parents and other relatives support your decision to be a single mother? Some traditional families feel more comfortable with two-parent households, and if that’s not your goal right now, you need to stay away from that added pressure.
- Are your family members able to easily care for your child or children? Sometimes even the most willing relative has plenty of love to spare, but not a lot of time or energy. In addition, older relatives might not have houses set up to accommodate younger children. If they don’t have baby-proofed households, or areas where active children can play without worrying about breakables, you might have to open your own home up to them when they’re helping out.
- Which of your relatives are willing and able to be last-minute or emergency contacts? Which are more comfortable with requests for help that are scheduled well in advance? If your sister is more than happy to be on your child’s emergency contact list, but your mother prefers to know two weeks ahead when you need a babysitter, you’ll have to adapt to their wishes if you want to keep them in your support network.
- Who needs their own support network? If you can trade favors, you’ll find that people are generally more interested in helping out. Here’s where you can get cousins, nieces, and nephews involved. Your close family will probably be more willing to help out without expecting anything in return, but more distant relatives might not feel the same obligation.
Friends and Neighbors
“It takes a whole village to raise a child.”
– African proverb
More and more people move away from the towns and cities where they were born, leaving family behind. If you don’t have family members within easy driving distance, you’ll obviously find it harder to call your mother or sister-in-law for help with last-minute babysitting. Of course, families do their best in emergencies, and you’ll often be able to schedule a visit to your folks’ home or get them to come stay for a week or two while you go on vacation. But for the daily needs of the typical single mom, you’ve got to find people who live nearby.
And here’s something to keep in mind: friends are the family that we choose, as the saying goes. Your best friend can be just as close to you as a sister; an older co-worker can be a mother as well as a mentor. If your kids don’t have any grandparents living, you can “borrow” grandparents through your church organizations, or find them leading story times at your local library. Many retirement centers and nursing homes have outreach programs that match elderly people without families to local residents, and this is a great way to connect your kids to the love and wisdom of the older generation, while providing comfort and companionship to lonely hearts in need.
Just like your network of family members, a good network of friends and neighbors can provide the mental support you need, even if you rarely have to call on them for actual help. Simply knowing that there’s someone there to back you up will take a lot of the stress out of your day-to-day planning. Here’s how to make the most of a wider support network in your area:
- Get to know your neighbors and find out who has children of the same age. This is your resource for play dates, exchanges of babysitting times, and help with getting children to and from school and after-school events. If you don’t get home from work before your children arrive, you may be able to coordinate with a neighbor to provide a safe place for your kids to wait for you.
- Add names and numbers to your contact list for people close by that you can trust to take care of your children in an emergency. Make sure your kids have this information as well, and leave a copy with your family, just in case.
- Keep an eye out for fliers and posters advertising events like block parties and local fundraisers. These events attract families with children, and they’re a good way to informally meet a lot of people at one time. You can watch your children playing with other kids, and see who they have the most fun with. You can also talk to parents and see who you’re comfortable with and who you get along with.
“Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.”
– Mother Teresa
You’ve connected with your neighbors, you’ve coordinated with your family, and you’ve canvassed your friends, and you think that you’ve gotten all of your childcare-related problems solved. Now it’s time to think about you. When you’re looking at support groups, be sure you don’t concentrate just on family issues, but on filling holes in your personal life as well. Whether you want to stay single or meet someone to join your life to, it’s a good idea to have a way to make new friends, whether they’re male or female, married parents or single moms and dads, or just people who share your interests and hobbies.
Of course, if you can combine meeting friends with expanding your network of support for babysitters, transportation, and after-school activities that your children will benefit from too, then you win all the way around! Here are a few places to start looking, no matter where you live:
- Websites for single parents. Sometimes it’s easier to start on line to make your new connections. There are two popular websites out there, both run by single mothers. When you sign up with these networks, you’ll find forums where you can chat with other single moms, get advice on parenting problems, find new healthy kid-friendly recipes, and just hang out with friendly like-minded people. Each of the websites also has an area for people interested in dating and meeting new partners, if that’s what you’re looking for now or in the future. Go to the Solo Parents Network site (http://www.soloparentsnetwork.com/) or the Single Parents Network site (http://www.singleparentsnetwork.com/) and start an account to tap into the benefits of these groups.
- Advice and support for single mothers. When you have a place you can go to get quick answers to your questions, you’ll feel more confident in your ability to be a single parent. The website Single Mothers By Choice (http://www.singlemothersbychoice.org/) was created to help women decide whether or not they could succeed as single mothers – in other words, women who chose to adopt or raise a child without a partner involved – but the resources and advice on this website are great tools for any single mom, no matter her situation. This nationwide organization has local chapters in most of the large cities across the United States, including Boston, Los Angeles, New York City, Atlanta, and Seattle. Even if there isn’t an SMC chapter in your town, once you join the group you’ll be sent a list of the SMC members closest to you, and their contact information.
- General activities, events, and community networks. You’ve probably heard about Meetup.org, the online website that lets people create one-time or ongoing events and meetings for people interested in the same things, or located in the same area. But did you know that they have a special section just for single parents? You can sign up for free here (http://single-parent-support-group.meetup.com/) and instantly get connected with people in your area who have similar needs and interests. A lot of the events are family-friendly, so it’s a great way to get out and do fun things with your kids, but they also have “adults only” events where you can meet new friends, go out on date nights, or get group discounts to shows.
- Resources for single parents. The Single Parent Alliance & Resource Center (http://www.singleparent411.org/) was started in 2001 and has a wide network of community-based chapters. Although they have a lot of information on parenting and other family-related issues, this group is also a valuable place to start for single moms who want to get back into the work force, or move up in their career. When you become a member of SPARC you’ll have access to all of the discussion forums and job listings, and you’ll be able to get help with employment opportunities.
Local Community Groups
“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”
– Dorothy Day
Not all of the groups who provide support and advice to single parents have websites that are easy to find on line. However, they’re usually fairly easy to find once you start looking in your local area. Start with the churches around you (whether you attend a church or not) and check their bulletin boards. That’s where a lot of groups advertise their events and any weekly meetings. Your child’s school might also be a place to look for parenting groups, since this will connect you with people who have children about the same age as yours. Check with the school’s administrative office, or the school nurse or counselor.
Libraries and community centers are also places to look for the names and contact numbers for organizations that have kid-friendly activities, provide after-school support, offer tutoring and mentoring services, or lead regular meetings for single parents and working mothers. Once you get in touch with one organization, you’ll probably start collecting more and more numbers and names, because each person in charge of one group will generally know about at least one more in the area.
“The soul is healed by being with children.”
– Fyodor Dostoyevsky
While you don’t want to put any burdens on a child to be “the strong one” in the family, your kids can be a surprisingly good source of support for you, both emotionally and physically. They can provide the physical support by helping with chores around the house, babysitting for younger brothers and sisters, and even learning to cook simple meals. You’ll get emotional support from your kids through their love, their smiles, and their faith in you. Here are some ways to give and receive support in your family:
- Show you love each other. Spend time together every day, whether that’s playing, helping with homework, or just spending quiet time together. Be sure to let your child know how much you appreciate their love, help, and support.
- Create a stable routine. Younger children in particular are more comfortable with regular routines, and that will help you with your weekly planning as well. Make sure you let you children know that it’s important to keep you up to date with any changes in their school or after-school schedules.
- Know the boundaries. Children need to be shown that family life involves being kind, respectful, and responsible. That means that kids should follow the rules you set, take responsibility for their own chores and homework, and avoid “sass” and talking back. It also means that you need to respect your child’s boundaries and treat them respectfully in turn.
- Keep a positive focus. Even when things go wrong, remind yourself – and your children – that things will get better soon. Find reasons to laugh and have fun, even if you don’t really feel like it. You’ll set up a positive feedback loop to help you get through the hard moments.