To paraphrase author Jodi Picoult, "24/7 is the only shift offered once you sign up to be a mother." Your tired body and dark under-eye circles probably agree.
Being a parent is tough enough even when you have a partner to share the load with you. It therefore takes an almost inhuman amount of grace and grit if you're a single mum.
As a solo parent, you have to single-handedly cope with the stress of raising your children. Not only that, but it's likely you have to work to earn an income as well as do the majority of the parenting and care-taking of your children. Even with all the dads out there that are wanting to be more involved in raising their kids after a separation, mums still often end up with the children the majority of the time.
Being a single mum can leave you with overwhelming feelings of exhaustion, guilt, hopelessness, even anger and resentment. In fact, research shows that the mental health of single mums is often at risk. Single mothers are susceptible to mental illnesses such as depression, mainly because of the demands they face as they carry the full responsibility of raising their children.
When you're drowning in overlapping chores and errands and constantly worrying about everything – from how to discipline the kids to how to make ends meet – it's easy to neglect your own needs and health in the process. Don't fall into that trap. Eat well, exercise, take breaks, and get the sleep you need. When you invest in self-care, it can make all the difference in the world to your overall wellbeing.
No two families are alike. You're in a unique situation, so it's fine to be creative in setting up a routine that aligns with your specific needs, lifestyle and values. The important thing is to establish a structure, especially when it comes to mealtime and bedtime schedules for your family. A structure helps you manage the household better. And it can be a source of comfort and stability for your kids, too.
Some single mums say they find it hard to provide consistent discipline to their kids because they feel guilt. It's a common theme to feel you are to blame for the situation, so the tendency is to spoil your children. But setting limits and rules is vital to your own and your children's well-being. Set clear expectations and make sure everyone understands the rules (and the consequences when they break them). Setting healthy boundaries with your children has positive mental health benefits for your children in the long-term.
As the African proverb says, "it takes a village to raise a child", and this has never been truer in our busy lives. Actively seek ways to ease your burden when it comes to raising and caring for your children. Learn about community social services that can support you. Look for affordable and reliable childcare. See if you can work out a budget to delegate certain chores such as cleaning. Get support from your friends, family and your community. Be part of an online community that offers resources and support for single parents like you.
Mental illness is not something you can sweep under the rug. If something is bothering you, sometimes even well-meaning friends and loving family may be able to give the help you need. If needed, reach out and get help via counselling so you can have access to professional support, mental health treatments and practical resources that will allow you to heal and recover your strength.
Mothering is more than just a full-time job – it's an ongoing, everlasting commitment. It can be wonderful. It can be so rewarding. And it also comes with perhaps the most physically draining and emotionally demanding work you'll ever do in your entire life.
By taking care of your own mental health, you will model to your children how to be happy and healthy, even when faced with life's challenges.
About the author
Clinton is a relationship counsellor and psychotherapist with over a decade of experience working with individuals and couples with relationship issues. Clinton Power + Associates provides high-quality relationship counselling in Sydney, Australia. Clinton is regularly featured in the media on the topic of relationships and has been interviewed by MSN.com, The Sun-Herald, Cosmopolitan, News.com.au, Essential Baby, ABC 702, SBS Radio and Men's Health.
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