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Maintaining Your Mental Health as a Single Parent

By 
Jean Linder

Image courtesy of Georgia Center for Community Wellness.

When we were doing research for this article, we found an astounding amount of information directed specifically at single mothers. We recognize that there are more single mothers than fathers out there, but we believe that every type of single parent out there should know how to address and treat their mental health. And now that there’s a pandemic going on, single parents have it worse now more than ever:

  • The challenges
  • Self-care
  • Pandemic-specific issues

My Transformations will always have your back, with the best mental health assistance and treatments around. We are committed to providing top-quality, innovative mental health treatment to everyone. Read this article, and contact us for ways we can help.

Single dads are often left out of mental health conversations. Image courtesy of Medical News Today.

The challenges of managing mental health as a single parent

While everyone in a parenting role faces personal and universal parenting challenges, some of the issues that face single parents are unique to their situation. Many of these challenges have to do with how the single parenting situation started-- divorce, death, adoption, or fertility treatments. These challenges can include:

  • Custody and other legal issues: Whether it’s from divorce, domestic abuse, a relationship gone wrong, or something else, legal issues cause a whole different level of stress and anxiety. Especially if the legal battle does not seem to be going in your favor.
  • Finances: You’re the sole breadwinner and you’re paying out the wazoo for everything. Money is tighter than ever, and applying for assistance programs (that you might not even qualify for depending upon income brackets) takes time and energy that you don’t have.
  • Health care: Health costs money. And even if you have good insurance, if you’re not healthy, that’s a stressor with extra costs that spill out over the boundaries of money and into mental and emotional costs as well as the next issue-- childcare.
  • Childcare: Not everyone has family or friends who are willing to watch children for free or a dinner out. Childcare costs money, and the professional childcare institutions cost lots of money-- even on the cheap end-- and often have years-long waiting lists. If you’re working from home, balancing childcare with work is blasted hard-- even impossible sometimes-- to do. If your child has special needs, that’s an additional stressor all across the board.
  • Grief: Loss is loss, whether it is from divorce or death. Grief emcompases so many complex emotions both children and adults experience, and everyone expresses and deals with their grief in different ways. It’s important to demonstrate and lead by a healthy example of how to handle grief.
  • Lack of or introduction of new parental figures: Both taking a parental figure out of the picture (even if it was necessary) or putting a new potential one in place are hard challenges for single parent families. You’re feeling just as complex emotions about it as your kids-- or even the kids that any new parental figures might bring into the picture.
  • Co-parenting issues: Just because you’re a single parent doesn’t mean that there isn’t another person sharing the responsibilities. This most often results from a divorce situation with either a re-marriage or a new life partner on one or both party’s side. However happily or not the new addition to the parenting strategy enters the arena, figuring out how to be a co-parent is difficult for everyone, adults and children included.

These aren’t all of the challenges, but they do cover the most common ones.

The vast majority of single parents are women, who often don’t reach out for the help they need. Image courtesy of Healthline.

Self-care, because you cannot pour from an empty cup

All of these challenges take a toll on you as a person, not just as a single parent. Symptoms of anxiety and depression, sleep deprivation, ongoing conflicts-- it all exacts a hard price. So self-care is vitally important, even though it often is the first thing to take a backseat to being a parent.

Self-care as a single parent may feel selfish or induce feelings of guilt, but that is something that you need to fight through and recognize as a falsehood. Society-- and even family members-- pressure you to always be “on” as a parent, but that’s simply a toxic behavior and way of thinking that must be unlearned. (We know-- easier said than done. But worth doing.)

We think that this “negative” association with self-care may stem from a misrepresentation of self-care. Many folks think of self-care as an indulgent, pampering thing like a facial or a massage. And while these things do qualify as self-care in our book, it’s not what we’re talking about. The real self-care can be hard, because it has to do with working with the way your brain works and taking care of your emotions in healthy ways. This includes:

  • Actually seeing doctors and mental health professionals to ensure that you are in top shape to be yourself, much less a parent. Taking medicines on time and in the correct ways, keeping appointments, and understanding diagnoses and treatments are probably one of the best things you can do to take care of yourself as a parent. You won’t be the best parent possible if you aren’t a) modeling good self-care to your children, and b) making sure you’re the best version of yourself.
  • Ask for help, and accept it when offered. This can sting or even shred your pride, but your ego is not as important as being the best possible person and parent you can be. One of the most dangerous things you can do for the health of your family is not ask for help when you need it-- your kids are watching, and asking for help does not make you weak and doesn’t mean you’re not independent. We all need a hand sometimes.
  • Be nice to yourself. Try to not beat yourself up over not meeting impossible societal standards for the Instagram-worthy family. Dishes not done for a week? Oh well. It’s not the end of the world, and certainly not a mark of your quality as a parent. Worrying you won’t live up to the absentee parent’s shoes? Stop it-- you’re not them, and you cannot be everyone’s everything. Learn to shift your focus to what you CAN do-- you can love your children and demonstrate that to them in lots of wonderful ways that are more important than housework and more meaningful than trying to be someone you’re not.

You can read bedtime stories, admire their skills, support them in homework and nourish their souls with your own integrity as a person. As a side note, watch how you speak about and to yourself around your kids-- they are watching, and they know that they are part of you, so they will internalize any negative self-talk about yourself as something wrong with them.

Lastly, remember that if at any point you are unable to operate or find yourself disassociating due to stress, anxiety, or an empty or dispassionate feeling that you just can’t shake, it’s time to see a mental health professional. You may already be seeing one from a previous mental health issue, but if you haven’t, it’s time to start. Many clinics offer sliding scales to accommodate lack of insurance and income, and the benefit of talk therapy is that there is no need to drag the kids with you for an office visit. Telehealth works extremely well with talk therapy.

If your mental health professional prescribes a medication, be sure to follow instructions and take it at the same time every day whenever possible. If traditional medicines don’t work, be open to alternatives, such as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) offered in a safe, clean environment such as My Transformations. Visits don’t take long, and the premises is safe and clean.

The pandemic has increased the load on single parents exponentially. Are you taking the right care of yourself so that you can take care of your kids? Image courtesy of MadameNoir.

Pandemic-specific self care issues for single moms and dads

As a single parent during the Covid Era, you’re facing some challenges unique to the pandemic. Massive job loss or layoffs may mean that you’re no longer working, bringing in money, or are unemployment. With schools not in service, your children may not be getting free lunches or breakfasts, meaning that money-- and patience-- are rather thin on the ground.

Or you might have the opposite problem-- your employer may still need you to come into work, which leaves you the problem of child care even worse than before. You might need to use up PTO or even take a leave of absence to try and work out some kind of child care.

What about going grocery shopping? If you are privileged enough to be a single parent with a very good income, you could afford grocery delivery. But most aren’t that lucky, and while many grocery stores offer curbside pick-up, many single parents in cities rely on public transportation to get around. That means extra stress and anxiety over whether your kids and yourself are adequately protected while getting necessary goods.

When faced with these additional stressors, take stock of your situation. See if you can delegate some responsibilities to your kids-- it’s good parenting to expect them to help maintain the household. Even young, elementary-aged children are capable of using a dust cloth to wipe lower bookshelves and tables, disinfect doorknobs and cell phones, and pushing around a Swiffer-type dust mop. Doing the dishes is easily shared amongst family members, as is doing the laundry. At the same time, remember that having an Instagram-worthy living space is not a realistic goal under regular circumstances. If you have a pile of dirty dishes in the sink and the bedsheets are changed once every two weeks instead of every few days, that’s not an issue to worry about.

Be realistic about your goals for your abode and responsibilities. And be kind and compassionate with yourself about letting a few things go. Sleep and a calmer mind and heart are worth a bit of mess and clutter.

You want to set the best example for your children, so be sure to model good self-care for them too. Image courtesy of Direct Advice for Dads.

As a single parent, your life is full of tough choices, stress, and strain. But there is joy and love, too. You are worthy of being your best self so that you can be an active participant in that love and joy. So take the best care of yourself that you can-- besides, you want your kids to see you as a role model, and you’d want them to do the same in your shoes.

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