Coping as a single parent


Coping with life as a single parent is challenging, especially if the situation was forced upon you by the breakdown of a relationship. As well as having to manage your own emotions and those of your children, you also have to deal with the practicalities of running a home alone.

Whatever the circumstances of your divorce or separation, when you have children you need to put their feelings first, regardless of how you may feel. That means that whatever your ex may or may not have done, you're responsible for your actions and your decisions. And unless there are safety concerns, your children need to maintain contact with both of you and be protected from conflict.

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Unfortunately anger, guilt, resentment, sadness, jealousy and loneliness can all get in the way of children having a good relationship with their parents.

And they can also get in the way of you adapting to your newfound status and moving on with your life.

Managing your emotions

After a divorce or separation, most people find themselves on a bewildering rollercoaster of emotions. If it wasn't your choice to end the relationship you may feel angry and rejected, and if it was your decision you may struggle with feelings of guilt and doubt. And even if the decision was mutual, you're still likely to struggle at times with anxiety and loneliness.

These feelings are all totally natural and you may experience more of some emotions than another. You can also expect your feelings to change over time, as you adjust to your situation. Many people don't feel lonely at first as they're too busy trying to get on with the job of coping on their own, or feelings of anger and resentment might be dominant while the injustices of the break-up are still raw.

Whatever you're feeling, knowing that these feelings are commonplace and will subside over time can help you to manage them in a healthy way. It's a cliché, but time really is the greatest healer. If you want the clock to tick a little faster, you may find some of the tips below helpful:-

  • Look after your health. Eat regular, nutritious meals and exercise. Indulging in comfort food and slumping on the sofa adds to negative feelings.
  • Talk. A problem shared really is a problem halved. It doesn't matter who you talk to, a trusted friend, family member, next-door neighbour (or other parents on Mumsnet). Talking prevents isolation and puts us in touch with the many other people who've been in the same situation.
  • Let yourself cry - and shout. When emotions are welling up, allow yourself to let them out, but try to keep these powerful feelings separate from the times when you're with your children.
  • Plan ahead. Even when you're having a bad day, remind yourself that things will get better by writing down what you're looking forward to doing when you're through this..
  • Relax. Give yourself space to unwind, read a book, watch a film, go for a walk, soak in the bath or laugh with friends. This will help your body and brain to de-stress.
  • Treat yourself. Take any opportunity you can to give yourself a treat, whether that's a cup of hot chocolate, a foot soak or a weekend away. Being single is a great opportunity to indulge yourself.

Money and practical matters

For some people, how they'll manage practically and financially is the most worrying aspect of coping alone. This is especially true if you've always relied on a partner to do household or DIY chores, or if their income was an essential part of family finances. Although some people relish the thought of being more self-sufficient, for others it's a burden.

The key to overcoming the practical aspects of being single is to learn to delegate and plan ahead. Make an inventory of all the chores that need doing regularly, and occasionally, and then list what you can do, what you can ask a friend or family member to do, and what you might pay someone else to do.

Reclaiming your self

Relationships are all about compromise, which is of course a great and noble thing, but it means we sometimes stop doing things we enjoy if they don't suit our partner.

And it's often not until we're single that we realise just how much we've given up, whether that's a certain type of food because your ex hated it, or watching the soaps or listening to jazz, which he also couldn't bear. One of the great advantages of becoming single is that you can now claim those things back for yourself.

Many people also find their social circle shrinks and they spend less time with friends. Although loneliness is a horrible feeling, it is also a great incentive to deepen existing friendships and create new ones. And in the age of the internet, childcare commitments don't have to stop you from being sociable (Mumsnet is proof of that).

There's no doubt that becoming single, especially as a parent, is a difficult and challenging time. But what really makes the difference between those who cope and those who don't, is how they think about their situation. Becoming single is an opportunity to reconsider who you are and where you want to go. To choose your path to an even happier and more fulfilled future.

  • Get more information about coping alone from the Relate Guide, How to Have a Healthy Divorce, by Paula Hall, available from the Relate online bookstore
  • Chat about coping as a single parent on Mumsnet Talk


The content on this page is supplied by Relate.

Last updated: about 3 years ago