First weeks as a single parent: feelings and challenges
When you become a single parent after separation, there’s a lot of change to cope with. For example, you might be learning how to be a single parent or working out how to co-parent with your child’s other parent. There might also be changes in your child’s behaviour to deal with.
The early days can also bring up many, mixed and strong emotions, which might change over time. For example, you might feel anger, sadness, frustration, fear, shock, guilt, regret, shame and grief.
On the other hand, you might feel relieved, hopeful or excited about your new life. Some newly single parents say they feel liberated from the conflict and stress of negotiating with a partner. This 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 and I are very conscious of the benefits of a happy home life.
– Mel, 31, separated for 4 years and parent of 2 children
Tips for the early days of single parenting
To start with, it might be enough just to get by, doing what needs to be done and dealing with your emotions. It’s fine to stay in coping mode for a while. Here are some suggestions to help you get through the first days and weeks.
Your family and friends can be lifelines. If you can’t get support from them, you could also look for support from:
- other parents or neighbours
- people at your child’s child care centre, playgroup or school
- other single parents in online or face-to-face support groups.
If you need extra support in the early days, your GP or community health centre can be a good place to start. They can help you find counselling or other support services.
Take time to adjust
It takes time to get used to big changes, so give yourself time to work through your feelings. Whatever your circumstances, the feeling of loss might be part of your experience. Talking about it can help you to process the loss and heal.
Take it step by step
In the early days don’t expect too much of yourself and your family. There might be things that you don’t need to think about right now or that you can put off until your situation and feelings become clearer – for example, moving house.
Focus on what you can control
Some things will be outside your control, like what happens when your child is with their other parent. Save your energy to tackle the things you can influence. For example, you can make some family routines to help your child feel secure and looked after when they’re with you.
Remember that you have choices
Even if you can’t change the situation, you might be able to change how you respond. For example, you can choose to:
- behave in a calm, consistent, respectful and safe way regardless of how your child’s other parent behaves
- look after yourself and stay healthy
- surround yourself with positive and supportive people.
Be kind to yourself
It’s easy to blame yourself when things don’t go to plan. But try being kind to yourself and showing yourself compassion instead. This is good for you and good for your child. Self-compassion improves your mental health and wellbeing, making you better able to give your child what they need to cope with this time in your lives.
Focus on your strengths
You’ll feel more confident and resilient if you:
- recognise your strengths
- remember how you’ve coped with challenges in the past
- set realistic goals.
For example, you might be good at soothing your child. Or you might have worked out good family routines in the past. Perhaps you know when to ask for support. These are all things to be proud of.
Think positively about the future
Allow yourself to dream a little about how you’d like things to be. Set new goals for yourself and your child and gradually work towards them.
Being kind to yourself, focusing on your strengths, meeting your own needs and asking for help are all part of looking after yourself. It’s easy to forget to look after yourself as a single parent. But looking after yourself is good for you and good for your children. That's because it gives you the energy and strength you need to look after your children.
Thoughts from other single parents
The experience of being a single parent changes over time. For example, you and/or your former partner might re-partner. And of course, children constantly grow and their needs change.
Here’s what other single parents say:
- ‘I’m able to instil a sense of values and responsibility, and be 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 made sure I kept connected socially and made an effort to stay active.’
- ‘I tried not to fixate too much on the relationship ending and instead focused on a future with my kids.’
- ‘I make my own decisions about my life now, and I feel more at peace.’