Currently, single parent families are one of the fastest growing types of families. This is expected to continue as greater acceptance, changing values, more support and freedom of choice impacts on our understanding of what the word “family” means.
Separated, widowed, divorced, single by choice, and same sex couples living apart, can all fit into the category of a single parent family.
It’s no wonder that support groups for single parents are springing up all over cities and within communities. Common interests and experiences unite single parents and bring together individuals who may not ever have normally met.
But honestly – I’m not interested
The assumption that single parent groups are just an excuse for sole parents to meet and form new relationships with others is inaccurate. It can be hard to redevelop skills in communicating with others as a single person, rather than being part of a couple.
Moving from a mind-set of “us” to “I”, and attending social gatherings on your own may take time and energy. Don’t expect that it will be easy the first couple of times. Like any other group, there will be some individuals you find it easy to connect with and others you don’t.
Groups just aren’t my thing
After separation, loneliness can be a common theme amongst sole parents. For many, this may be an emotion they have become unfamiliar with and are at a loss in knowing how to deal with it. Some interpret loneliness as depression, or feeling down and dissatisfied with their lives, when in fact it can be just one symptom of needing other adult’s company.
Although caring for young dependent children is probably taking up the majority of your time, it’s still important not to neglect your own needs. Parents need other adults for company, conversation and just plain companionship. No matter how independent you are, avoid seeing yourself as having different needs to the rest of the human population. It is unlikely you would consider isolating your children from others of their age group so why extend this expectation to yourself?
Finding a connection with people who are going through similar experiences can be invaluable. Joining a single parent group means that you can avoid awkward explanations and small talk in having to explain your circumstances. By definition, you have met the criteria for inclusion and are seeking the same opportunities as everyone else there.
Tell me again, why am I doing this?
Your kids will benefit when they see you having normal, healthy and functional relationships with others. Women especially need other women for their emotional support and tend to share their thoughts, experiences and insights very quickly after meeting each other. This form of networking fosters the creation of bonds, which often leads onto long-term friendships.
It is true, however, that not every single parent shares the same experience. Just as in other groups, it may take a while to find a comfortable “fit” with other adults who you feel willing to share your valuable time with. Don’t try too hard, and trust your gut feeling. If the vibe of the group isn’t right, you feel awkward, or do not feel included, then don’t be afraid to leave.
Benefits of joining a single parent group
Meeting like-minded adults who are going through the same experiences. It can be invaluable to speak with others who have been where you are and are willing to share their own tips for getting through.
Not having to explain why you need to leave, pick up children from school or that your time is limited. Single parent group activities tend to include children and are child friendly with family appropriate entertainment. When events are deemed suitable for adults only, this is made clear in the planning stages so there is time for alternative childcare to be arranged.
Although your best friends may be able to lend a listening ear and sympathise with you, true empathy will come from others who are going through a similar life experience.
Activities tend to be cheaper and meet the budget restrictions of others on similar incomes.
Some groups organise group holidays and are able to negotiate a better price. For many single parent families, holidays and weekends away are out of the question because of cost, but groups can offer a viable alternative.
Networking value, especially in terms of gaining recommendations around services, trades people, discounts and home maintenance.
Friendship opportunities for children outside of their everyday sphere. This also helps with kids who feel different to their peers that may live in two parent households.
A successful group can provide the same benefits as a united family. For a single parent with children, who has no immediate or extended family, a group and its members can help to fill this void.
Many successful relationships have been formed as a result of couples meeting at a single parents’ group.
Remember – it’s up to you
It’s important that you don’t feel pressured or under obligation to join a group if you don’t want to. It may be hard enough finding time to spend with the family and friends you already have. The thought of making new friends and acquaintances could be way down on your priority list.
But many single parents find they lose the friends they shared as a couple and, after separation, meeting up with them becomes awkward. Establishing new grounds for relationships, even those that were previously close, takes honesty and commitment.
Avoid criticising your ex-partner to those who are likely to still be close to him or her. Developing a sense of torn loyalty and feeling they need to keep secrets are not solid grounds for a healthy friendship.
What if I cannot find a group I want to join?
When you cannot find a group that suits your needs, you can form your own. Many organisations owe their beginnings to a mother who didn’t know what to do and needed help, but realised that she’s not the only one in that type of situation. With advances in technology, we often forget that word of mouth is also a good way to find out where to go. Take a bold step, form your own group and see what wonders await.
For support groups near you:
Family Life Centre – Tel: 011-788-4784 or 082-231-0371
Family and Marriage Society of South Africa (FAMSA) – Tel: 011-975-7106/7.