Essential coping skills all single moms and dads should know.
Single parents have it pretty tough. I know because I am one, I was parented by one, and I coach them. It can be easy to start feeling overwhelmed when you're the one responsible for every single parenting decision and everything going on in your kids' life.
So in order to make parenting alone easier and keep yourself from feeling overwhelmed, it's important to develop some essential coping skills that will make your job as a single parent more manageable.
As a single parent, there are days when you want to call for backup and there is no one to call. There are nights when you drop into bed exhausted from pulling off a full day at work and a second shift of playing chauffeur, activities director, chef, housecleaner, tutor, nurse, life coach, and sleep doula.
When your child is sick or when you inevitably catch their illnesses, you might be able to call your ex, but there are no guarantees. So, you slug it out because you have to and want to, hoping your boss won't grumble under her breath about another day you've had to take off work when you're already worried about carrying the financial load for your family. Let's face it; having two incomes can be less stressful than one.
But despite the extra load in tasks and the monetary burden, there can be emotional overwhelm, too. Seeing your kids come and go, missing holidays, and dealing with transitions when they return can be hard to handle, also. I know many women feel guilty about being the bad cop or imposing rules when their children’s time with their ex is like a trip to Disneyland.
It's not uncommon for single parents to think, "I feel like I can't do enough, yet I'm literally killing myself trying to be the best parent I can be."
Unfortunately, many single parents reach a breaking point. And, while there are periods of higher stress in single parenting, it is possible to push through, cope, and even thrive if you learn tried and true coping skills.
Here are 7 coping skills for single parnts can help make parenting alone easier:
1. Take care of yourself
Self-care isn't selfish. For single parents, this is especially true; it's essential. You simply cannot function if you're not getting the required sleep, nutrients, and exercise. You must remain healthy, strong, and resilient to deal with the volume and complexity of tasks and issues.
So, take a nap when the kids are with their other parent, slip into a bubble bath when they're fast asleep, pre-make nutritious meals and snacks for on the go, and get a babysitter so that you can make your weekly yoga class. You don't have to indulge in expensive spa days or gym memberships to take care of yourself; just a little time each day to meet your basic needs and feed your soul.
2. Know when to ask for help
If you already have an extended group of family and friends to pitch in, you're farther ahead than most single parents. Often you find yourself in a different city, friends who have gone by the wayside, or people who have distanced themselves from you after the divorce. Part of the rebuilding after a breakup is re-establishing relationships and creating new ones.
I encourage women to look for community groups and women's networks to emotionally support you as well as to connect you to resources like quality child care, programs for kids, or mental wellness for the family. There are also many online groups where single parents can be an ear and a voice, which is sometimes all that's needed to get you through a more challenging day.
Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it, and lend your skills, time, and compassion to others when you can as well.
3. Create a structured environment
If you're overwhelmed by challenges that often come with divorce, it’s likely that your kids are dealing with anxiety and behavioral issues, too. As beneficial as shared parenting can be, it's also hard going from home to home — especially if parenting styles differ.
Kids (and you) need predictability. Sticking to a routine as much as possible can make transitions easier. Keeping to a parenting schedule — especially in the beginning — is important. When life is spinning around, knowing that Monday night is with one parent and Tuesday night is with the other can give them something sure to hold onto.
If that means a night "off" for you, take full advantage and enjoy it with some friends or get to bed a little earlier.
Be sure to get in some dedicated quality time with your kids so you can be totally present with them. My daughter and I love Friday movie nights where we can unwind and bond over a good chick flick!
4. Understand your finances
Paying the bills is a common source of anxiety for many single parents. When you're regularly worrying about providing for your kids and making ends meet, it can put you on edge and distract you from spending quality time with your family.
Learn how to create a budget, manage your investments, cut costs, and save money. If you can, hire a financial planner, sign up for a free consultation, or ask around. It may be that someone in your circles can help you with some basics or you can barter for a service you could provide.
When you feel more finally secure, some of the weight you're carrying will be lifted and you can concentrate on other things that bring you happiness.
5. Connect with yourself
When you're giving every last drop of energy to single parenting, you can lose your sense of self in the mix. But when you take the time to connect to what matters to you outside of your family and pursue your own goals and dreams, you'll actually be giving your kids something vital: The realization that you matter.
Take an art class at the local community center. Sing in a choir. Volunteer at a shelter. Start that side hustle.
Stay grounded in your interests and talents and develop them. Parents who invest in their personal growth and inject joy into their day will be more resilient and less overwhelmed.
6. Stay mindful of your emotions
It's easy to lose it when you're stressed out being a single parent. And even when your kids are dysregulated, you need to stay calm; that's the only way to cope.
Mindful living and mindful parenting can change your life. Give yourself a time out every day to meditate or sit quietly for ten minutes. Breathe deeply, be present and curious, and let your thoughts come and go without judgment.
Stick with it. Over time, you’ll find yourself more grounded, more accepting of yourself and your kids, and more able to stop your overwhelm from escalating. The next time Jamie stomps and screams that Daddy doesn't make her do the dishes, you'll be a little more understanding, a lot calmer, and ready to respond instead of reacting.
7. Treat yourself with loving kindness
Walking on eggshells as a single parent can drive you to feel "less than". It can also trick you into feeling like you can’t cope when really, you can. You can do anything, and you're doing OK; probably more than OK.
Pin up some affirmations like:
- “I am calm.”
- “I am enough.”
- “I matter.”
- “I can do this.”
- “I am the best parent I can be.”
Remind yourself that single parenting is what it is; it can be tough, but it has its positive sides, too. Single parenting can bring gratitude, hope, and new doors opening.
When you use these coping skills, you can deal with the overwhelm, and know that you're building a positive future for you and your family!
Lisa Petsinis is a certified life coach who works with strong and resourceful moms who want to get rid of guilt and overwhelm and create a life they love. Visit her website to get her free resources or set up a complimentary empowerment call and turn your life around, starting today.