Parenting is hard work, especially when you have to go it alone. Single mothers are a fast-growing segment of the population as societal norms and family values shift. There are many issues commonly faced by single mothers that are unique to their circumstances.
Women become single mothers for a variety of reasons:
- Unplanned pregnancy/unwilling father
Any of these situations can bring up legal factors such as custody, child support, residency restrictions, and estate planning. Consequently , the single mother may find herself in the courtroom handling one of these situations. Court proceedings for these common issues can occur across the span of months and even years as courts are inundated with cases. Depending upon your financial situation before and after becoming a single parent, the fees associated with these legal proceedings may be your responsibility. If you are unable to afford legal fees and representation, many states have programs available to assist you.
Custody and Living Arrangements
Depending on the involvement of the father, single mothers may find themselves having to deal with custody issues. The ability to physically uphold and emotionally cope with court decisions regarding custody can be stressful for single mothers. Transportation and visitation schedules can be difficult to manage, especially if the father is rigid in his requests or lives far away from you. The biggest concerns for moms sharing custody or visitation of their children include:
- How the child feels at drop-off and pick-up
- Fear of the unknown - what is happening at the other home
- Fear of being replaced by another woman in the father's life
- Fear of child choosing to live with the other parent
- Behavioral issues from the child
Child support is money paid to the custodial parent by the non-custodial parent to help cover the costs of living for the child. Enforcement of child support collection can only take place if the support agreement is made through the court system. Each state has a set of rules regarding how child support is determined. A child support calculator can help you understand the process and get an idea of the amount you may be owed.
Child support determinations and requests can be stressful to manage for a number of reasons:
- Real costs specific to only the child can be difficult to determine
- Unpaid support can be punishable by jail time
- If one parent feels the amount is unfair it could cause tension or arguments
Some parents choose to take all child support payments and place them into a bank account in the child's name for use as an adult. Other parents need this weekly or monthly income supplement to help with daily living costs like food and housing. Whatever your needs, keep in mind child support is meant to cover the costs of living for your child. If you use it only as such, there should be little cause for complaint from the other parent.
Although children typically live with one parent the majority of the time, healthy co-parenting still needs to take place. Co-parenting with a person you no longer live with can be challenging, especially as you redefine your relationship.
Co-parenting does not mean you have to be best friends with your child's father. It doesn't even mean you have to like him. What it does mean is you are both committed to discussing important events and issues regarding your child and trying to agree on a unified approach. While it may not be possible in all situations, there are a few key points to remember when communicating with your child's father:
- Keep each other informed of important extra-curricular activities and events.
- Stay positive and cordial when speaking in front of your child.
- Save difficult discussions for a time when you can speak alone.
- Live by the golden rule: treat your child's father as you wish to be treated.
Role of Romantic Partners
At some point, you or your child's father may decide to enter into a new romantic relationship. Preparing yourself emotionally for this occasion can take time. It can be helpful to discuss expectations about when your child should be introduced to a parent's new romantic partner and what roles that person should take on before any new relationships start.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, single mothers have the lowest median income of any family type. Although the median income is above the poverty guidelines for the United States, it is clear many single mothers are in financial distress. Financial concerns include:
- Ability to pay for quality childcare
- Providing adequate nutrition at home
- Costs of clothing
- Ability to pay for extra-curricular activities
- Saving for the emergencies and the future
Living on a single income can be challenging for any family. Single mothers often face the additional challenge of being the primary parent and breadwinner of the household. Balancing home life and work life can be difficult and stressful for single moms. Fortunately, there are many programs available through local and federal social services to provide resources to single mothers. Help is available for everything from groceries to home-buying. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers explanations of available programs and directories to find help in your area.
A key point to remember is what your children need most is love and security. They need you to be present and involved more than they need things beyond those that meet basic needs. Putting forth your best effort to provide financially for your children is all anyone can ask of you. Don't let financial stressors get in the way of meaningful relationships with your children.
Many single mothers experience emotional pain and confusion about how others will view them. Although our society has moved toward more liberal views about marriage and parenthood, there are still many who view single mothers in a negative light. Single moms fear being viewed as:
- Sexually promiscuous
- Carrying too much baggage
- Unable to meet job demands due to needs of children
Moms today are criticized for being too involved and not involved at all. Moms who work a lot are shamed for missing out on time with their kids while moms who don't work are called lazy. There is no universally accepted vision of what a mom's life looks like. As long as you feel good about your life choices, societal stigmas will be nothing more than someone else's opinion.
Single mothers often struggle with feeling guilty. Some of the most common things moms feel guilty about include:
- Taking away the experience of a family with both parents in the same household
- Working too much
- Missing out on experiences that happen during visitation with the other parent
- Change in income level and lifestyle
- The emotions children experience when dealing with separated parents or an uninvolved parent
As human beings, every person is entitled to feel emotions, both good and bad. Guilt in small doses is a sign of your love and can push you to be a better person. However, too much guilt can cause you to isolate, lose yourself, and make poor decisions. If you are feeling overwhelmed by guilt, consider speaking with a professional counselor.
At some point, the desire to have a new romantic relationship will likely come about. Dating when you have children at home poses an extra set of challenges on top of the standard dating concerns. Some questions single moms often ask themselves regarding romantic relationships include:
- Will anyone want to date a woman with kids?
- How will I make time for a new relationship?
- When do I introduce my kids to a potential mate?
- What if my kids don't like the person I am dating?
- How will my children's father react to my dating life?
As a woman, you deserve to be loved and appreciated in a romantic relationship. As a mom, it is part of your job to model healthy relationships for your children. Dating is a natural step in life that should be approached with caution and optimism. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to dating as a single parent. Take some time to evaluate your values and comfort levels with the different aspects of dating. Follow your instincts and the right person will come along at the right time.
Single moms have a lot on their plates, so it's no wonder they don't always take the best care of themselves.
According to the Center for Disease Control, single mothers are the most likely type of adults to get the least amount of sleep. From dealing with bedtime issues to managing household responsibilities, single moms take on a lot at nighttime. While this may seem like the only opportunity to get things done, insufficient sleep can lead to serious issues like:
- Heart disease
- Driving and workplace accidents
It may not always seem easy or even possible, but taking care of yourself is one of the best things you can do for your kids. When you are well-rested you will be more alert, have a more positive attitude, and be capable of doing more. There are many things single moms can do to increase sleep time:
- Using calendars and lists to keep your life organized can help you go to bed earlier and have fewer running thoughts at night
- Practicing yoga or meditation can help relieve daily stress. Also, you can do these at home with no equipment
- Eating healthy and drinking plenty of water will give your body the energy it needs to make it through the day
- Making time to pursue your interests can keep you feeling like an individual, not only a mom
- Talking to friends or a professional about stressors can help keep you from thinking about problems constantly
Moms have a tendency to put themselves last. While this is a noble notion, it can lead to poor health and a negative attitude. Being a single mom is hard work and understandably stressful. It is important to remember the age-old adage, "you can't take care of others if you don't take care of yourself." This is especially true for single moms who carry the weight of the world. There are many simple ways to relieve stress daily that will not only keep you feeling good, but also make you the best mom you can be.
- Get regular exercise - alone or with the kids.
- Find a friend or family member you can regularly vent to - someone who can just listen and not necessarily try to save you.
- Try breathing techniques to calm your nerves.
- Plan regular adult fun with friends.
- Choose a relaxing hobby like reading or crocheting.
Where to Find Support
Juggling work, home, parenting, and personal desires can be difficult and overwhelming. Accepting help when offered and seeking support can help you find a new normal more quickly. There are many free and easy ways to find help and support in all aspects of life:
- Friends and family
- Mom groups such as MOPS or Parents Without Partners
- Government and informational websites like Single Parent Advocate
- Local playgroups and classes for families
Give It Your All
The demands and expectations for single mothers can be overwhelming. Setting priorities and asking for help are simple ways to help balance life with motherhood.