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Surviving & Thriving in Single Parenting: Stress Management Tips You Need

If you are a single parent, feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, and just trying to survive each and every single day, you need to read this.


A parent is practicing stretching modelling thriving with her two children.
Shifting from surviving to thriving as a lone parent is possible.

Before we even get into the nitty-gritty of the unique stressors single parents face, ideas for what you can immediately do in your own life to cope better, or talk about how therapy can help, it's important to say: Please know you are not alone, and there is NOTHING wrong with you for feeling whatever you are feeling as you navigate solo-parenting, even if whatever is coming up for you seems negative or unhelpful. All you need to do is take a breath and try your best.


SINGLE-PARENT STRESSORS

A single parent, solo parent, or lone parent is someone who raises a child or children alone, without assistance of a partner of spouse. This could be due to various reasons such as divorce, separation, the death of a spouse, or choosing to have a child without a partner. This is a distinct parenting arrangement where there is no support or very irregular support from another adult sharing the role and responsibilities of parenting.


Because of the nature of lone parenting, single parents often face unique stressors compared to parents in two-parent households. Recognizing these extra stressors rather than minimizing them is essential for single parents to seek out support, prioritize self-care, and develop coping strategies to manage effectively. Take a look at these, and see what resonates:

A happy face balloon lies on the ground, deflated and forlorn.
The stressors associated with solo-parenting can leave you feeling deflated.
  1. Compromised Finances: In 2021, Stats Canada reported that the median income for a lone-parent family was $56,750 (see data here), and a 2018 study concluded that lone-parent families are less likely to leave low income than coupled families. The reality is that single parents, who are most often women (about 80%), regularly bear the sole responsibility for providing financially for the family, resulting in limited resources and financial instability. As a lone parent, there is a higher risk for excessive debt, reduced income earning potential, and often damaged credit history. This can result in stress, anxiety, and even moral injury as finances are experienced so differently from coupled or coparented families.

  2. Lack of Support: In Canada, about 45% of people living in a family setting are couples with children, while only 15% of families are lone-parented (see data here). Without a partner to share the daily grind, single parents can often feel isolated and face a very real issue of lack of emotional and practical support that comes from having the involvement of a co-parent. Additionally, single parents must make all parenting decisions on their own, without the input or support of a partner, which can increase stress and feelings of self-doubt.

  3. Time Constraints: Balancing work, household chores, childcare and personal time can be overwhelming at the best of times in parenting, but without a coparent to take some of the time-heavy tasks, it is no wonder that for single parents, the associated time constraints of managing all the logistical pieces can lead to exhaustion. Single parents often have little time for themselves, and as they prioritize their children’s needs, it can lead to neglect of self-care and personal interests. This can even result in health concerns, as many single parents, caught between being everywhere they need to be for their children and juggling multiple responsibilities, will not have the capacity to fit in even regular medical visits, or even may neglect their own health care needs to a critical point as a result.

  4. Emotional Burden: Lone parents may experience feelings of guilt, loneliness, or inadequacy as they navigate the challenges of parenting alone. While from the outside looking in, it can be clear that single parents are doing the best they can, parenting alone often comes with the sensing that one is never doing enough for oneself, one's children, one's work, or any other relationship. This internalized guilt/shame can generate overcompensation, emotional shut down, or even unmerited outbursts.

  5. Childcare Challenges: While many families with more than one parent can (a) afford childcare, and (b) manage the demands of a work schedule and a childcare provider's schedule, dealing with this as a lone parent can be highly barriered. Finding affordable and reliable childcare can be a significant challenge for single parents, especially if they work irregular hours or have limited financial resources.


SINGLE PARENT STRESS REDUCTION (IMMEDIATE SELF HELP OPTIONS)


Two hands make a heart against a bright background
Finding ways to reduce stress significantly increases wellbeing.

If the list above hit for you at all, it's time to talk about what you can do (immediately) to help manage the stressors you face as best you can. And yes, managing stress as a single working parent is likely to be challenging, but there are several techniques you can implement. You don't have to do them all, and you don't have to do any of them perfectly. It's just about making manageable changes - stepping into a slight stretch for the moment to get to a relaxed place for the future. Take a look at these options, and see if there is even one small tweak you could make this week to help manage stress better going forward:


  1. Establish a routine: Set up a daily routine for yourself and your children to bring structure and predictability to your days. If this goes well, you may be able to expand the routine to include weekly or even monthly tasks.

  2. Prioritize tasks: Focus on the most important tasks first and let go of perfectionism and non-essential areas.

  3. Delegate responsibilities: Don’t hesitate to ask for help from family, friends, or trusted individuals to share workload. Maybe think about the example it sets for your kids to build a caring network who can rely on one another compared to modelling that everything needs to be done on your own.

  4. Practice self-care: Make time for yourself each day, even if it is just a few minutes for mediation, exercise, or a hobby you enjoy.

  5. Seek support: Join a support group for single parents, access community supports as needed, or seek professional counselling if you are feeling overwhelmed. (And refer back to tip #3 above!)

  6. Set boundaries: Learn to say no to extra commitments that will stretch you too thin.

  7. Utilize resources: Take advantage of community resources such as childcare assistance, food banks or parenting.

  8. Stay organized: Use tools like calendars, to-do lists, apps, and meal planning to stay on top of tasks and reduce chaos.

  9. Practice mindfulness: Stay present in the moment and practice gratitude for the small joys of life.

  10. Maintain a positive outlook: Focus on what you can control and celebrate your achievements, no matter how small they seem.


HOW COUNSELLING CAN HELP SINGLE PARENTS

Counselling offers single parents a valuable opportunity for personal growth, emotional healing and improved parenting skills, ultimately enhancing one's ability to thrive in the caregiver role.


A sign in the sand dunes has the word, "THRIVE," painted on it.
Keep the destination in mind... Arriving where you thrive is worth it.
  1. Emotional support: Counselling provides a safe and supportive environment for single parents to express feelings, fears, and frustrations without judgement. It allows people to process emotions related to their role as a single parent and any challenges they may be facing.

  2. Coping strategies: A counsellor can teach coping strategies and stress management techniques tailored to the specific needs of single parenting. This may include mindfulness practices, relaxation exercises, and problem-solving skills to better manage daily stressors.

  3. Parenting skills: Counselling can help single parents develop effective parenting skills, such as setting boundaries, improving communication with their children, and managing behavioural issues. It often offers guidance on navigating co-parenting relationships, if applicable, and fostering a positive parent-child bond.

  4. Self-care: Single parents often neglect their own needs while prioritizing their children. Counselling encourages self-care practices and help single parents establish boundaries to carve out time for themselves. This helps with reducing burnout and improving overall well-being.

  5. Building support networks: Counsellors can assist single parents in identifying and accessing support networks, whether it is through family, friends, community resources, or support groups for single parents. Building a strong support system can alleviate feelings of isolation and provide practical assistance when needed.

  6. Addressing past trauma or relationship issues: For single parents who have experienced trauma or difficult relationships in the past, counselling can offer a space to explore and heal from these experiences. This can promote personal growth and resilience, enabling single parents to better navigate challenges in their parenting journey.


If you would like to try working with a counsellor, most extended benefit plans cover some reimbursement for sessions with a Registered Clinical Counsellor, and we have several team members who have a specialized focus on Mindful Parenting - take a look here.



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