According to a study conducted in 2008, 40% of children aged 0-17 are living with only their mothers as opposed to 3% living with only the father. Traditionally, it has always been the case that higher numbers of mothers than fathers parent their children after separation. Once there was such a social stigma attached to bringing up children without a male present, that single mothers tended to be isolated and excluded from the rest of their communities. Fortunately now, greater social acceptance and understanding have changed our understanding of what it means to be a family.
It can be very hard for separated parents to ask for support, especially if they’ve never needed to do this before. Women, when compared to men, tend to be more willing to talk about what they are going through and request help. However, most agencies and support groups offer equitable services to both genders without discrimination.
Acknowledging a need to lean on friends and family, and perhaps accept financial support, can mean a shift in values and change in everyday thinking. But none of us are meant to parent in isolation. We are, by nature, social creatures and all of us, at one time or another, will need help from those around us. The reasons for this are many and varied; each family has their own story and unique experiences.
But they’ll think I’m not managing
Asking for help can be a sign of strength, not weakness. Most reasonable people are happy to offer help if they’re asked for it. Generally people are not interested in forming an opinion on how or why they are needed – they’ll just do it. Often, a short period of support to get through difficult times can mean the difference between struggling and coping.
Support can come in various forms. Practical help in packing up the house, moving or storing furniture, minding the children or offering a place to stay can all make a huge difference. Emotional support can be provided with a simple phone call, email or by just being there. Each facet of support is equally valuable. It is usually the combined efforts of a number of individuals on a range of levels, rather than a single action that helps to keep a single parent afloat.
I’ve never felt so lonely
In the immediate and often confusing early days of separation, many parents find themselves feeling very alone. The responsibility of caring for dependent children as a single parent and managing everyone’s emotional needs can be incredibly stressful. Early on, it pays to focus on what is important and try not to take on too much. Thinking about what the future could hold and magnifying what’s already difficult will impact on your stress levels. It makes sense to deal with what you need to and focus on what is truly important. Time, patience, communication and keeping calm will all help your children to feel more secure.
I’ve never felt better!
Sometimes separation is not always a sad process – in fact, many times it can be a relief. It is true that no matter how toxic or destructive a relationship has been, there is often grief for what could have been. Ultimately, ending a dual parenting relationship is a major life stress and cannot be taken lightly. Letting go of dreams for a future of shared parenting and then accepting the reality when a relationship is over can take years.
The ideal is that, if there has been mutual agreement over the separation, the children are being prioritised and both parents will be civil to each other. However, for all sorts of reasons this does not occur frequently enough. Hurt and anger, resentment and placing the blame, continue to affect many couples whose energies are absorbed by negative emotions rather than being able to move forward with their lives.
Sources of support
Family and friends. Don’t be surprised if people you’ve never thought of as being supportive turn out to be. Everyone has their own history and experiences in life; sometimes the most valuable friendships come from adversity. Be open and willing to accept all reasonable offers of help – some people see this as an opportunity to “pay it forward” for when they’ve needed help themselves.
Your GP or local community health centre. Having a few sessions with an understanding healthcare professional who has the training to provide counselling support can be very useful. They will have an objective approach in assessing whether you may require additional assessment, therapy or even medication for depression if this is present.
On-line support groups and blogs for single parents. Be cautious when disclosing private or identifying information though, especially when it comes to your children. These sites can be very attractive to individuals who wish to access minors.
You are not alone. There is always someone willing to listen and support you. Check the list of support agencies at the end of this article.
Your job is to be protective of your children and help them to feel secure. You won’t be able to do this unless you are mentally alert and stable. Get help if you need it and don’t be afraid to put your hand up for support.
It is a fact that children of separated parents are more at risk of being abused by adults other than their parents. Individuals who target young children are very adept at building relationships that violate a child’s vulnerability and sense of trust. Be protective, alert and cautious.
Young children are not able to make wise, informed decisions about their own care. Although they perhaps want to be involved in the arrangements made for them, they may not know, or even need to know, the whole story behind the separation. Use your own judgement when it comes to making executive decisions.
If you feel unsafe or at risk of being hurt by your estranged partner, go to the police. Domestic violence can be lethal and must be taken seriously. Check the contact numbers for help at the end of this article.
Speak with the staff at your children’s child care centre, pre-school and school about the separation and keep the lines of communication open with them. Ensure they have your new contact details if you have moved.
It can take time for a new relationship to be built with an ex-partner after separation. Although you may no longer be in a relationship together, you will always maintain some connection through your children. Be patient and aim to focus on the big picture.
Mediation involving a third party can be extremely useful in finding a way of communicating about the children and shared finances.
Where to Get Help