About help and support for single parents
People can give you support in three main ways:
- practical help to lighten the workload
- emotional support to help you cope with parenting
- social support to give you a break.
Most parents - whether single parents or couples - need all three forms of support, and that's normal.
People who can help single parents
Asking for help - and saying yes when it's offered - can be hard sometimes. You might feel like you should be able to cope on your own. You might also worry that you're being a nuisance. But many people like to help out, and they'll be glad if you ask them to do something specific. And if you're prepared to help them out in return, you don't need to feel uncomfortable.
If you're finding it hard to think of people who might be able to help, you could try these ideas:
- Friends: support from friends can sometimes be less complicated and emotional than support from family.
- Local people: you could try people from your child care centre, kindergarten or school, a local club, religious group or support group.
- Colleagues at work or people you meet studying or training: they can take your mind off parenting for a while and might also be able to help out sometimes.
- Counsellors or other professionals: they can offer help and neutral advice without any emotional involvement.
- Telephone hotlines or online counselling: this might be good if you need to spend a lot of time at home or just need someone to listen once in a while.
Without the respite, I would not have been as calm a caregiver as I have managed to be. Isolation and young children is a bad mix for me. I went to a support group and we took turns minding each other's kids.
- Marnie, 30, single mother of two children
Ideas for finding support as a single parent
Here are some ways and places you can find support as a single parent.
Connections and services in your community
Local papers, councils and libraries often have information about neighbourhood houses, playgroups and toy libraries. Child and family health nurses can also be a valuable source of support and advice.
Children are a ticket to making new friends at first-time parent groups, playgroups, kindergartens, schools, or sporting and leisure centres. Try inviting other families to have afternoon tea or playdates or just to go for a walk. When you talk to other parents, you might be surprised at the family challenges and changes they've been through themselves.
Local support and interest groups
Support groups for single parents can be especially helpful for sharing ideas, feelings and experiences with other people in the same situation as you. You can also join book clubs, craft or sporting clubs, charity organisations, religious groups or political groups.
Online forums and social media
Going online can help you connect with other parents from Australia and around the world. Many single-parent groups have forums or Facebook pages or groups. Just remember to protect your personal information when you go online.
Parents who get support tend to use more positive parenting strategies, are better able to cope, and are more consistent in parenting decisions than those who try to manage by themselves.
Finding the right support as a single parent
When you're looking for support, it can help to start by imagining the kind of help and support you'd like. Sketch out the ideal scenario - then plan out the steps to achieve it.
It makes no difference whether you have a few close friends or connect with a large group of people. Both are equally good for your emotional health and wellbeing, as long as you feel you're getting the support you need.
You and your child will both benefit from having supportive, positive people in your lives. So surround yourself with people who have dreams, hopes and active goals. And if there are critical, unhelpful or even hostile people in your life, it might be a good idea to put some distance between you and them.
If you're spending more time caring for children now that you're a single parent, it can be hard to stay in touch with friends who don't have children. Or if friendships got lost when you became a parent or during the separation or divorce, try getting back in touch. Be honest and say you're sorry you lost touch, but you're keen to reconnect now.
If you find it hard to arrange child-free time, you could meet for coffee at a child-friendly caf?, or meet at the park so the children have something to do.
Getting financial support as a single parent
Many people find managing money and budgets difficult, and it's natural that you might feel worried about money. As a single parent, you probably have three potential sources of income:
- your own earnings
- child support
- government payments.
If you're a single parent because you've separated and can get child support from your former partner, do so. You might need some help or someone to advocate for you. If there's conflict, seek help from a family support centre - don't try to do it on your own.
When you've worked out how much money you've got coming in, take the time to plan a monthly budget and ask for advice from people you can trust.
I used to take Jack in his stroller to the local market just before it closed on weekends. I would pick up massively discounted boxes of vegies and we lived on vego pasta and curries and rice for quite a few years. I had a very low-cost menu because I wanted to be able to afford some socialising. Looking back it was probably the healthiest diet we ever had.
- Ken, 45, single father of two children