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If you’ve just become a single mother, you might feel that your world has been turned upside down. It’s challenging, but there are things you can do to cope with this big change in your life.
Mum at back looking at toddler

did you knowQuestion mark symbol

  • In Australia, single parents head up one in five families with children under the age of 15 years. Of these parents, 85% are single mothers.
  • Many (60%) single-parent households have less than 50% of the disposable income of other families.
  • In 2009-2010, approximately
    441 000 families containing 770 000 children were single-mother households.
 

The first weeks as a single mother

When you become a single mother, there’s plenty of change to cope with. There’s the reality of parenting alone, and often the challenges of co-parenting as you and your ex-partner adjust to the new situation.

The change and uncertainty can lead to all kinds of emotions too. You might feel anger, sadness, frustration, fear, shock, guilt, regret or perhaps grief for the life you once led.

On the other hand, you might feel relieved, hopeful or excited about your new life. Some single mothers even say they feel liberated from the conflict and stress of negotiating with a partner.

It’s challenging – but it can also be a time for learning about yourself and finding new directions.

I did grieve in the early days of separation, but got over it when I moved into my own home and established an independent life with my children. My children are very conscious of the benefits of a happy home life.

Tips for the early days

To start with, it might be enough just to get by, doing what needs to be done and dealing with your emotions. Here are some suggestions to help you get through the first days and weeks:

  • Reach out for support. Your family and friends can be lifelines. If you can’t get support from them, seek out other single mothers, neighbours or parents. Try your children’s playground or school, or your community health centre. You could try sharing ideas and experiences in our online forum for mums.
  • Take time to grieve. Whatever your circumstances, the feeling of loss might be part of your experience. It’s OK to feel this way – it helps you to grieve.
  • Take it step by step. In the early days, don’t expect too much of yourself and your family. There might be some things that you don’t really need to think about right now. Or you might be able to put off some big decisions until things become clearer – for example, planning to move house.
  • Focus on what you can control. Some things will be outside your control, like what happens when your children are with your ex-partner. Save your energy to tackle the things you can influence. Give yourself credit for your daily achievements.
  • Remember that you have choices. Even if you can’t change the situation, you might be able to change how you respond.
  • Go easy on yourself. It’s easy to start blaming yourself for everything that goes wrong. But you’re not superwoman, and no-one expects you to be. Be gentle and pat yourself on the back whenever you can.
  • Think positively about the future. Allow yourself to dream a little about how you’d like things to be. Develop new goals for yourself and your children.

Thoughts from other mums

The challenges of being a single mum change over time. You and/or your ex-partner might repartner, adding a whole new dimension to your arrangements. And of course, children constantly grow and their needs change.

Time might also bring new benefits and positive experiences. Many single mums who responded to an online survey conducted on this site saw the upside of single motherhood:

  • ‘I’m able to instil a sense of values and responsibility, and provide a positive role model to my children, without the conflict of another parent to deal with. Hard work? Yes. Lonely? Often. But easier? MUCH!’
  • ‘I feel our home environment is better than it was when I was married.’
  • ‘I’ve discovered my inner strength and trust in my abilities as a parent and as a woman.’
  • ‘I’m living my life my way.’

Repartnering

Over time, separated parents move on with their lives and make decisions about new relationships. Some single mothers repartner quickly. Some stay single.

Challenges when building a new relationship can include establishing a home with a new partner. There’s also the impact the new situation might have on your children.

Repartnering takes time, patience and commitment from everyone. Research shows that it can take anywhere from 2-5 years for all the pieces of a repartnered family to fit together and work well. This means it’s important to give everyone time and space to adjust.

Research suggests that when children go through lots of family transitions, it can affect their wellbeing more than experiencing one or no transitions. So it’s always important to consider the impact of a new relationship on your children.
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  • Last Updated 02-11-2011
  • Last Reviewed 26-02-2013
  • Acknowledgements

    Article developed in collaboration with Elly Robinson, Australian Institute of Family Studies.

    Based on material produced for Single Mothers: A resource for parenting solo, a publication produced by the Parenting Research Centre in collaboration with the Council of Single Mothers and funded by the Victorian Government Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.

  • Australian Bureau of Statistics (2012). Australian social trends, March 2012: Life on ‘struggle street’: Australians in low economic resource households. Retrieved January 22, 2012, from http://abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features10March+Quarter+2012.

    Australian Bureau of Statistics (2011). Australian social trends: Data Cube - Family and Community. Retrieved September 13, 2012, from http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/subscriber.nsf/LookupAttach/4102.0Data+Cubes-23.12.112/$File/41020_family_indicators_2011.xls.

    Australian Bureau of Statistics (2011). Family characteristics, Australia. Retrieved September 5, 2011, from http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4442.0Main+Features12009-10?OpenDocument.

    Australian Bureau of Statistics (2007). Australian social trends 2007. Canberra: Author.

    Australian Bureau of Statistics (2004). Household and family projections, Australia 2001-2026. Canberra: Author.

    Burke, S., McIntosh, J., & Gridley, H. (2007). Parenting after separation: A position statement prepared for the Australian Psychological Society. Melbourne: Australian Psychological Society. 

    Cherlin, A. (2008). Multiple partnerships and children’s wellbeing. Family Matters, 80, 33-36.

    Child Support Agency (2000). Back on track: Finding a way through separation and repartnering. Canberra: Author.

    Grayling, A. (2008). Social evils and social goods. London: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

    Pryor, J., & Rodgers, B. (2001). Children in changing families: Life after parental separation. Oxford: Blackwell.

    Silberberg, S. (2001). Searching for family resilience. Family Matters, 58, 52-57.