Given the fact that many marriages end in divorce and that many couples have children together when they are not married and end up breaking up, single parenting is a phenomenon that continues to grow in modern society. For many mothers and fathers raising children on their own, the process can involve a significant amount of stress over time. When not properly managed, that stress can take its toll on both the parent and the child(ren) involved.
Some of the most common areas of stress that affect single parents include areas of discipline, finances, personal time and healthy emotional relationships. Even if the child has a relationship with both parents, children generally misbehave more frequently for the parent with whom they live most of the time, sometimes viewing their other parent as the one with whom they have fun (“Single Parenting, 2012). It can be difficult for single parents to begin new relationships, for a number of reasons. Children can become suspicious about the intentions of the new potential partner or simply jealous of the fact that their parent’s attention is now divided between them and their new romantic interest (“Single Parenting, 2012). Finally, single parents often have to work harder to make the amount of money that they need to maintain a household, even when they receive child support. Combining that burden with doing homework with their kids and keeping the house clean and in order can eat away at that single parent’s free time (“Single Parenting,” 2012). Finally, there are times when the parent may form unhealthy emotional attachments to their children, using them for emotional support in ways that would be more appropriate with an adult friend (“Single Parenting,” 2012). Taken together, these stressors can make life difficult for a single parent.
Over time, this stress can take its toll. A study that looked at thousands of women over the course of thirty years found that those with children born outside of the marriage relationship had, overall, poorer health in their forties than those who had waited to get married before having children; even those who married their partner after having children still did not get the health benefit (Rettner, 2011). Even those women achieved high school and/or college degrees, and even when researchers factored out other health conditions, the difference in health outcomes for single mothers remained (Rettner, 2011). Because so many more women are having children even though they are not married, the implications are that this health problem could begin to mushroom as the next generation of mothers hits middle age; the study found that approximately two out of every five newborns are born to single mothers in the United States, an increase from one out of ten in 1960 (Rettner, 2011). The study did not indicate the reasons for the change, and it is also significant to point out that a bad marriage or bad relationship can also harm someone’s health because of the aggregation of stress (Rettner, 2011).
The good news is that therapists and parenting experts have identified several ways for single parents to cope with the stress that comes with raising children in an environment that is primarily alone. One of these involves the importance of getting some time for oneself. Even setting aside a half hour for yourself can make a world of difference (Coulson, 2013). This might mean sitting down with your favorite book for a few minutes, sitting in a warm bath, talking on the phone with a close friend or relative, or another way to recharge your batteries. Another involves staying physically fit. A great way to avoid the harmful health effects of single parenting is to work hard at staying active and fit. Research shows that people who get six or seven hours of sleep each night and get between thirty and sixty minutes of exercise each day will do a better job at the other areas of their lives as well, such as performance at work, willpower, and maintenance of emotional relationships with others – including your children (Coulson, 2013). Many gyms offer free child care as one of their benefits for members; city recreation centers often provide child care at an hourly rate. If you don’t have the funds to join a gym, finding some other single moms and arranging to take turns watching the kids while the rest of you get some exercise in not only helps you stay healthier but also helps you build some more healthy friendships. The more emotional connections you have, the harder it will be for you to succumb to the stresses that come with single parenting. Another way that you can cope with the stresses of single parenting is to approach your life in a more intentional way. When you are always having to react to the emergency of the moment, your life is filled with stress and discord (Coulson, 2013). Instead, the more intentional and proactive you can be about the challenges that face you, you’ll find that you face fewer “hair-on-fire” moments in which you have an emergency, because you will already have taken care of the problems that face you. Finally, it is important to give yourself an emotional break on yourself. There are enough people out there who are hard on you – maybe it’s your ex who is criticizing you; maybe it’s a co-worker or your boss who won’t stop micromanaging you. In any event, give yourself the freedom to make occasional mistakes in all areas of your life. No one is perfect, but the more you allow stress to take over, the more mistakes you will make, and you will notice a snowball effect in your personal and professional life. Taking the time to give yourself a break can work wonders.
There may be times when you look back and wish that you had not become a single parent. However, the upside of this experience is that you are shaping a person who will become an important part of the future of our society. It can be frustrating to deal with the ups and downs of life by yourself, particularly when finding another partner is often made so difficult by your present circumstances, but the simple fact is that your child is depending on you to pursue greatness in your life. You were made for greatness, and this is a challenge to which you can respond and achieve tremendous success. All single parents encounter stress from time to time; using some of the coping mechanisms in this article can help you find ways to rise above them and turn parenting into a wonderful journey.
Coulson, J. (2013). Overcoming stress as a single parent.
Rettner, R. (2011). Single moms have poorer health in midlife. LiveScience 3 June
Single parenting (2012).