Single parents have important (and seemingly endless) responsibilities. And unless you have super powers, the stress of doing it all yourself can leave you lonely and exhausted. But asking for assistance isn’t easy.
It takes courage, humility and coordination, says Renee Fanning, a family counselor in Pinckney. As a single parent, you may feel you’ve failed if you need help from others, especially because there continues to be a social stigma around parenting solo.
But the bottom line is that parenting is a lot of work – and doing it alone is not easy or really in the best interest of you or your children. Single parents need friends, family and maybe even neighbors – plus good advice and a plan. Here are seven tips for single parents to start reaching out.
1. Identify needs. Start by figuring out what concrete help would be most beneficial. Perhaps you need child care so you can work, attend school, get counseling or just relax. Maybe a nutritious home-cooked meal one night a week would lighten your load and brighten your spirits. The more specific your request, the better.
2. Brainstorm buddies. Develop a list of resources, including family and friends, and church and community services. Don’t be afraid to put formal sources of support, such as counseling groups, on your list. Individual or group therapy can help you heal after divorce and learn to thrive as a single parent.
3. Play to others’ strengths. Consider who is best at what and take preferences into account. If the kids’ grandparents get frazzled by babysitting, they might prefer to host a family dinner once a week to stay involved and give you a break. That’s OK. You want this to be a win-win situation.
4. Make it mutual. Figure out how you might reciprocate. Exchanges don’t have to be exact – you can swap babysitting for piano lessons, if that works for everyone. And you don’t have to give back immediately; just pay it forward when you can. You’ll feel stronger and more connected when you give and accept help.
5. Help kids help you. Determine what kinds of contributions are age-appropriate for each child. Your 6-year-old may be too young to vacuum, but she can set the table or sort the recycling. Older kids can take turns folding laundry or helping put away groceries. Be sure to praise kids for work well-done.
6. Be clear and optimistic. Avoid misunderstandings by explaining exactly what you want. If cleaning the bathroom means towels hung up neatly, bath toys picked up, toilet and tub scrubbed, and floor mopped, say so. Specificity sets helpers up for success and increases the likelihood a potential helper will say “yes” to your request.
7. Praise progress. You may not get the results you want right away, but recognize others’ efforts anyway. When you’re sure they know how much you appreciate their help, explain how they could improve. Then say thanks again.
The pressure to be a single-parent superhero can be strong, and letting go isn’t easy. But stay the course. Remind yourself that everyone benefits when we make connections and support one another. The support you get can alleviate stress and give you more energy – and a more positive outlook. And your kids learn important lessons from our help-seeking behavior, too.
This post was originally published in 2010 and is updated regularly.