(This article was first published in Your Baby issue 215, March/April 2015)
Research studies and media reports often cast a dark shadow over the idea of single parent households. At schools and within society, it’s sometimes seen as shameful to be a single parent household, yet in South Africa, it’s nothing short of the norm.
The South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) recently found that just below 40 percent of our country’s children actually live with both their parents. But the statistics don’t matter to you at 2am when you’re the person solely responsible for taking care of your children in every way.
And that’s where some handy coping strategies and nifty tips for staying on top of things can come save your day.
Find your community
Let’s put a common misconception to rest: you are not a freak and your child is not, by virtue of your single parent household, destined to become a reprobate – don’t let anyone’s attitude towards you or your child let you think that. Overcoming the all too common feeling of isolation can be difficult, but there are other families just like yours out there.
You’ll find fellow single parents in your kids’ school classes, at the park or even through single parent support groups, which you can find both in your community and online.
Single parents say: “Many have done it before you and their kids turned out fine. Sometimes single parenting is better for everyone in the long term. Ignore those who judge you for being a single parent. They don’t have to live your life.” – Elizabeth, a thirtysomething single mom from Durban
Get the help you need
Asking for help can feel overwhelming, but when you’re the one quite literally left holding the baby, it becomes an essential. Your family, friends and perhaps even colleagues may offer to watch the baby for a few hours,
or take the kids to the movies for an afternoon, so you can catch a nap or some well deserved time out. Accept the offers of help, because they come from a good place.
And if there’s something specific you need or specific advice you require, look to your community – chances are, someone in your single parent fraternity has already been through what you’re going through.
Single parents say: “Ask for help when you need it – even if it’s asking for someone to chat to you via WhatsApp at 3am because you can’t sleep. Also, remember you are only one person, so it’s cool to not fold laundry once in a while and build Lego instead.” – Megan, a single mom of two girls
Enjoy your me time
Yes, the idea of scheduling some kid free time seems impossible but it is really doable. If your kids go to their other parent every second weekend or according to an agreed schedule, use that time off to indulge in what makes you happy. Enjoy a movie without being disturbed or take an hour long bubble bath – whatever you feel like!
It’s difficult to be away from your kids, so make sure you’re still able to be in contact with them. Even though it’s their time on “daddy weekend”, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to check in on them – staying in touch is your right, and their responsibility.
Single parents say: “It’s very important to schedule time for yourself as a single parent. One thing you don’t want to do is spend so much exclusive time with your kid that you start resenting the lack of time to yourself. Even if you only get time on your own once the kids are in bed, plan things for it. If there’s a DVD you want to watch, but it’s not kid-friendly, pop it in after the kids are fast asleep. Working your time on your own around the kids’ schedules gives you something to look forward to!” – Single dad Mark
Don’t sweat the small stuff
After a long day at work, you just cannot muster up the energy to cook a healthy dinner and the idea of the McDonalds drivethrough sounds way easier? That’s okay! Tomorrow, you can make it up with a huge salad for dinner so disperse those Happy Meals guilt free. And if you left baking for the class cake sale to the last minute and you’re up at 3am to make sure the cupcakes don’t flop? Stop berating yourself, and rather congratulate yourself – most parents just popped into Woolworths for this one. You’re doing a great job.
Single parents say: “Enjoy the little things. Make memories. Things could have been so much worse. If all the bellies are full, there’s a roof over our heads, bring it on! And above all... Don’t sweat the small stuff, because this too shall pass.” – Stephne, single mom of two boys.
Are you an empowered single parent or are you barely coping? Send us your comments and stories to firstname.lastname@example.org we might publish it. Should you wish to remain anonymous please inbox us.