For years before I met my children, I knew I would be a single mom. I planned to be a single mom. It was my plan A and my number one goal. While single parenting is often the result of loss, I set after it with the same intensity I’d always done everything — which means I watched a lot of Netflix, did a lot of procrastinating, had bursts of productivity here and there until one day my “someday in the future” had become the present.
But many (if not most) single parents don’t wind up parenting solo on purpose. For many, single parenthood brings with it a sense of loss. I’ve never known otherwise, so I didn’t feel this very strongly. To be honest, I still don’t most days, but I’ve since become more acutely aware of the ways in which the world, in general, is still not sensitive to the unique needs of single parents. I’ve also learned how this experience, which I wanted, sought out and often fought for, is both completely wonderful and also isolating and difficult in ways I didn’t expect.
I expected it to be wonderful, and it is. I expected it to be difficult, it is that too. But I didn’t expect to feel so intensely the weight of being literally the only one who will parent my children.
Recently in a parenting forum, someone posted asking for ideas to help a single friend find more time for self-care. The friend was a working parent and wanted to spend time not at work with the kids. Additionally, like most parents, the friend didn’t have a lot of free time to schedule nights out or activities… because work and kids.
I laid out a laundry list (pun always, always intended) of various things I hate doing but consistently have to do. Put simply, be available willing to take on some of your friend’s emotional labor.
The answer came back, to me and to others. “But is that helpful? But is that self-care?”
As a single person, let me answer that with both a resounding YES, IT IS!, but also with an even more resounding IT DOESN’T MATTER!
Taking some of those things out of my brain frees up time and mental energy for me to do other things. Also, to be literal, nothing you can do for someone else is ever going to be self-care. Maybe the emphasis should change to simply… care. How can I care for my single parent friends?
I’ll tell you.
Care about our kids.
Really care about them, as much as possible, as if they were your own family. This is number one. This is absolutely the most important. If this is all you ever do, it is probably enough. But if you want to demonstrate it in tangible ways… read on.
As the only adult in my house, there is nowhere for my words to go and sometimes my head feels like it will explode. Every decision I make, I make alone. I’m someone who needs to talk through things, and one of the most unexpected challenges of single parenthood has been not having anyone to with which to toss around ideas. At work I had coworkers, I can reminisce about school with college friends, but there’s no one else who can discuss how it feels to be raising my kids because I am literally the only person doing that. There is no one else. Friends can’t change that or ever fill this role completely, but listening and trying to empathize goes a long way.
We like it. We have to eat it regularly. That means it has to come from somewhere, and I have to make that happen. If instead of me making that happen, you make that happen (even just once!), you will be my hero forever.
Minimize the aggravation of errands.
I had a conversation with a newfound friend in college as we discussed the lack of definition in platonic relationships. Unlike dating, no one ever sits down and really answers the question of what kind of friends were we going to be. Were we just “in class friends”, as in, “hey can I borrow your notes?” or were we social friends who might occasionally do things together, or — were we what I consider the holy grail of friendships — errand-running friends, who can call each other to run to Target to buy toilet paper because it’s more fun to go with someone than alone. We determined straight out of the gate that we were errand-running friends.
Errands with young children are a whole new level of misery. As a mom, I need more errand friends than ever, and yet they’ve never been more scarce. I need “hey we’re going to Target, meet me there” friends. I need friends I can call to be on second-child duty when I need to go to the store.
Minimize errands, period.
If I can dream big and get crazy extravagant for a minute, I also need friends who will text me with, “I’m at Kroger, what one thing are you out of that you don’t want to drag small children out of the house to get?” or “I’m at Starbucks, can I bring you anything?”
(Or maybe just show up. Maybe send a courtesy text first to give your friend five minutes to get herself and her children presentable. This is coming from someone who had a phone alarm titled “Social worker visiting, put on real pants.”)
You’ll be providing your friend either with something they need but you’ll also be providing them with something more valuable than a cup of coffee. You’ll be showing them that you are thinking about them, that you care about them and that you want to do something kind for them. And the fact that you don’t require a delivery surcharge and a tip certainly helps!
We need people. Be our people.
Single parents aren’t superheroes. They’re parents, just like married parents are, doing the best they can for and by their kids… they’re just doing it alone, whether by choice or not. More than anything, single parents need people to mitigate some of the alone-ness. Rather than speculate, “I don’t know how you do it,” please just ask them. Find out how they do it. Find out what doesn’t get done. See if anything you can do lines up with what doesn’t get done.
Or maybe just bring coffee.