Why a healthy lifestyle is important for single parents

If you’re physically and mentally well and happy, your child is likely to be healthy and happy too. If you have a healthy lifestyle, it helps to create a healthy and loving environment for your child. And it models healthy habits for your child.

Keeping physically and mentally healthy means:

Healthy eating for single parents

Healthy food gives you fuel to get things done and the energy to make life enjoyable. For good health, you need to eat a wide variety of foods every day from the five main food groups: fruit; vegetables; grain foods; protein-rich foods like lean meat, fish, chicken, eggs and legumes; and reduced-fat dairy.

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating has details of recommended servings. If you want more information about healthy food and drink choices, you could also see an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD).

Physical activity for single parents

Regular activity keeps you physically fit.

If you’re short on time as a busy parent, it’s often good to fit physical activity into everyday activities. This could be a walk with your child, splashing about at the local pool, kicking a ball together in the park, or walking to the supermarket instead of driving. Even vacuuming and other household chores get you up and moving.

Movement is what matters – 30 minutes or so a day. Even little amounts of physical activity that add up to 30 minutes will lift your energy. And fitting in some regular vigorous exercise will help boost your health.

Rest for single parents

Exhaustion can be a big issue for single parents. You might not have anyone there to back you up when you’re having a bad day. And it can be tempting to put yourself last and spend all your time meeting your child’s needs and working.

Try to make some time for yourself during the day, even just ten minutes reading a book or doing some meditation can help you feel more rested. You could ask a friend or family member to look after your child for a couple of hours while you rest. It can be hard to ask, but people usually like to help.

When it all gets too much I do feel a bit down, so I get out and take my neighbour to the fresh food market. We have a coffee and I go home and cook up a feast, invite a couple of friends and pretty soon I’m OK again. If I can’t shake it off I might ring a parenting helpline or see my GP. She’s helpful and has given me some good referrals.
– Jan, 28, single parent of two children

Mental health and wellbeing for single parents

As a single parent, it’s normal to go through periods when you feel like life isn’t fair or your responsibilities are overwhelming.

When you’re feeling down, you can try a few different options to see what helps. Here are some suggestions.

Do something active
Being active can help you deal with the ups and downs of life. When you exercise you:

  • feel a greater sense of control
  • are distracted from worries, at least for a while
  • have more energy, and you sleep better
  • have better self-esteem, body image and self-confidence
  • get a release of feel-good chemicals (called endorphins) that give you a ‘natural high’.

Keep connected
Staying connected with others can remind you that people do care about you. It will also help you feel supported. It’s worth making the effort to set up a date for coffee or dinner, so you can meet up with friends and have a laugh. If you can’t meet people face to face, phone or text friends or try online forums for single parents.

Do something relaxing
There are lots of ways to relax, depending on what works for you:

  • Try mindfulness meditationmuscle relaxation exercises or breathing exercises.
  • Create some space for yourself that’s free of toys or other children’s stuff. For example, even a chair that’s just yours can be good.
  • Read a book, or watch a movie or a documentary on something you love.
  • Write a journal or blog to get your feelings out.
  • Take a hot bath or shower.

Get organised
It might seem like an effort to start with, but getting organised can reduce your stress:

  • Plan something to look forward to, like a holiday, day trip, party, picnic or concert.
  • Make a to-do list – and cross things off it. Pay bills, and make school lunches the night before.
  • Say no to things you don’t have time to do or don’t enjoy.

If you find it hard to shake off negative feelings, or you feel like depression or anxiety is stopping you from doing the things you really want to do, it might be time to seek counselling and support. You could start by ringing a parenting helpline. It’s also a good idea to see your GP.