'The challenges are magnified': A single parent's survival guide

 Sixty percent of children in South Africa have absent fathers, and more than 40% of South African mothers are single parents, according to the Human Sciences Research Council and the South African Race Relations Institute.
Sixty percent of children in South Africa have absent fathers, and more than 40% of South African mothers are single parents, according to the Human Sciences Research Council and the South African Race Relations Institute.

For many in South Africa, parenting is a solo undertaking. 

The Human Sciences Research Council and the South African Race Relations Institute has confirmed that 40% of South African mothers are single parents, and according to a 2018 report, " less than 5% of children live with a biological father only." 

Local mom Lee Hancox knows the ups and downs of single parenthood all too well, sharing that the financial burden is probably the hardest part of parenting alone. 

"Being a parent is exceptionally rewarding and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Of course, as a parent, there can be many financial considerations and challenges. As a single parent, sometimes these challenges are magnified." 

For many, becoming a single parent is the result of divorce, a traumatic experience which Hancox says comes with its own challenges.  

"After a difficult experience like divorce, you’re often still dealing with the transition of being on your own. Added to that is the requirement to downscale to a smaller place or move back with your parents; or the possibility of having to rethink your career."

But the upside of having gone through tough times are the lessons learned along the way, and here Hancox, who is also Sanlam's Head of Channel and Segment marketing, provides her guide to single parents around South Africa. 

Also see: Black single fathers: a forgotten, but ever-present phenomenon

In the below guide, Lee shares some of her key lessons that she’s learnt along the way, including:

  • How to plan for the changes you need to implement.
  • Why it’s important to avoid cancelling your insurance and medical aid.
  • What your rights are as a single parent.

Money matters:

It’s vital to try to take control of your finances before they control you. 

  • Understand this isn’t yours forever :You will get yourself sorted. Set several attainable goals.
  • Plan for the changes you need to implement: Need to look for another job? Change your child’s school? Move somewhere else? Will you or your child need to talk to someone, or do you need any other professional assistance?Start making these decisions. And work towards them. In some cases, your child may be old enough to be involved in some of these conversations.
  • Importantly, don’t cancel your insurance and medical aid: When you’re in the deep end financially, you may wonder whether you should temporarily cancel grudge purchases like life cover. I realized I couldn’t take that chance. 
  • Remember to update your will: It’s important to decide how you want money to be dealt with should something happen to you.Do you want a trust to manage the funds for your child?? 

Also read: Update your will or you may as well still be married to your ex, and other surprising ways divorce can affect your legacy

Deal with debt

The first few months were tough for me. It’s easy to underestimate how tricky it is to maintain your old life. There are times when you can’t pay a bill.

The instinct is to duck phone calls. The mentality is ‘I can’t pay it this month; I’ll pay it next month.’

But what happens when you can’t pay it next month either? People are more understanding than you think.

It’s often worth phoning the person/ institution to whom you owe money, being upfront and working out a payment plan together. 

Start an emergency fund

Try to pay off debt to free up some funds and see if it’s feasible to contribute to an emergency fund. 

Get the full financial picture

If you’re moving into a new place, get the full financial picture before you commit. If you decide to get a place of your own, don’t underestimate the cost of rates, the moving costs, Wi-Fi and other expenses.Create a spreadsheet and do your sums. 

Know your rights as a single parent

Negotiating a divorce settlement is often complicated.

You must make sure that your child is looked after. It may be difficult to separate your relationship with your ex from your child’s relationship with your ex.

It may be hard to keep things amicable, especially if your ex is not paying maintenance.

You also need to know your rights as a single parent. Legal and financial counsel can be helpful.

It’s okay to say no sometimes

A big challenge is being invited out when you just can’t afford it.

It’s so tough to know what to say! Do you confess you can’t afford it or make up some excuse?

Or do you just spend the money you don’t have because you need some time for yourself? It’s important to have friends with whom you can be honest.

But life does tend to become work, kids, sleep, repeat – so you do need to get out, but sometimes that means you may have to give up something else. 

Don’t underestimate a support system

A support system makes a massive difference. I was lucky to have a support system with parents to help babysit.

But I think it’s important to try to stay independent and not fall into the trap of relying on family to support you financially or from a childcare perspective.

They won’t be able to help you all the time. She concludes, "Don’t be scared to ask people you trust for advice. Don’t feel like you need to constantly maintain a happy facade.

"Have a close circle of people around you who you can trust with your feelings and fears. 

"Sometimes you are not as alone as you think. Own being a single parent. You’re doing an amazing job."

Chat back:

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Read more: 

Maintenance money: to some, more divisive than divorce

Former SABC presenter Phumzile Zonke on juggling single parenting, work and a master’s degree

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