Single Parent or Superhero?

. February 6, 2013.

Single parents have important (and seemingly endless) responsibilities. Unless you have super powers, the stress of doing it all yourself can be overwhelming. But asking for assistance isn’t easy.

“It can be an act of tremendous courage, humility or coordination to seek out help,” says Suzanne Harrington, M.A., a family counselor in Kelowna, BC. Asking for help can make us feel weak or inadequate.

“Today’s families are quite isolated from extended family and community,” says Harrington. People we might ask for help are not always accessible. Grandparents may be far away, busy with their own lives or unwilling to take on childcare responsibilities. Feelings of mistrust may prevent you from seeking an ex-spouse’s assistance.

Listen up, stressed-out superheroes

Studies show social support diminishes the negative health effects of stress, including coronary disease and immune suppression, and boosts your sense of personal balance and well-being. You’ll have more energy and a more positive outlook if you develop a team of trusted helpers around you.

“It benefits children so much to have other adults interacting with them,” says Tammy Gold, MSW, a parent coach and psychotherapist. This is especially true when a single mom gets help from her father, Gold says, because the child is nurtured by both female and male family members.

The helping community you create for your kids will likely inspire them to pitch in, too. Pitching in builds kids’ competence and provides a sense of accomplishment
and belonging.

Discovering the joys of teamwork
Identify Needs. Start out by figuring out what help would be most beneficial, Harrington advises. Perhaps you need childcare so you can work, attend school, get counseling or just relax. A home-cooked meal once a week might lift your burden and brighten your spirits.
Brainstorm Buddies. Develop a list of resources, including family and friends, and church and community services. Don’t be afraid to put formal sources of support,
such as counseling groups, on your list.
Talk Teamwork. If you’re on good terms with your ex, have a conversation about your parenting roles. Take a problem-solving approach.
Play to Others’ Strengths. Consider who is best at what and take preferences into account. If the kids’ grandparents get frazzled by babysitting, they might prefer to host a family dinner once a week to stay involved and give you a break.
Help Kids Help You. Determine what kinds of contributions are age-appropriate for each child. Your six-year-old may be too young to vacuum, but she can set the table or sort the recycling. Older kids can take turns folding laundry or helping put away groceries.
Be Clear. When you seek help, explain exactly what you want. Misunderstandings happen when we assume others know our expectations. If you want the bathroom squeaky-clean, explain what clean means. Set helpers up for success.
Praise Progress. Be generous with your appreciation. Recognize others’ efforts, instead of focusing on their shortcomings.
When you’re sure they know how much you value their help, explain how they could improve. Then say thanks (again). The pressure to be a single-parent-superhero can be strong, and you may avoid asking for help because you fear you can’t reciprocate. “People don’t help because they expect your assistance in return,” says Gold. They help because they love you and care about your family. Remind yourself that everyone benefits from meaningful social connections
and take pride in the helpful community you’re creating for yourself and your kids.