Building your support system as a single parent

Single parenting isn’t exactly like flying without a co-pilot – it’s definitely legal, and it’s generally less well-paid – but both can share the same sick feeling of having lack of backup that might come when you hit turbulence with no one beside you in the cockpit. Single parents have just as many sleepless nights, field just as many wails of teething pain, and wait just as eagerly for their children’s first steps, but they do it without the support that many partnered parents take for granted.

Having a co-parent doesn’t just mean a second pair of hands around the house, a person to alternate night-time feedings with, or someone else to pick up the slack in an emergency, though, of course, it’s those things too. At its heart, having a co-parent means having another person who cares just as much about Baby’s skinned knee or his attitude about daycare as you do. Parenting without that person beside you is its own unique challenge, but it doesn’t mean that your child will have to go without that second source of love and support. Instead, it just means that that support won’t all come from one source, but will be spread out between many different points in your family’s support network.

Tap into all of your resources

If you need to, you can do with a lot less help than might be offered to you by concerned family, friends, or even friendly acquaintances, but there’s no reason that you should. Asking for help early on doesn’t mean there’s no one left to help you later when you really need it. Instead, it means you’ll already have a good sense of just who in your life who’s said, “Let me know if there’s anything you need,” really means that they’ll drive through a snowstorm, pick up groceries on the way, and watch your crying, stuffy-nosed infant for hours when you need to stay late at work.

Being willing to ask for help – and knowing how and when to do it – is a muscle that some single parents are just not used to working out before their children come along. Strengthening that ability before you reach a crisis point means you’ll have a better idea of how to reach out and who to reach out to when you really need the help.

Be a joiner

Even if you were a loner before Baby came along, now that he is here, it might be time to do your best impression of a social butterfly and flit your way over to storytime at the library, a parent-child class or activity, or just your local playground at an especially social time of day. This is important because, as you expand your support system, the people who can understand the specific things you’re dealing with the best are going to be other parents, especially parents with children Baby’s age.

If you can find a single parents group of people you feel connected to, that’s great, but in putting together your support system, finding people you like and trust is more important – and more likely to be the sort of relationships you can depend on – than finding people who may have more directly in common with your situation, but who you may click with less.        

Set up swaps

Childcare swaps are one of the biggest ways that parents of young children can help each other out while still keeping childcare costs low, but that’s not the only way you and other new parents can share time and responsibilities to help each other out. As your children get older, ride-sharing is another easy swap you can make with other parents, as is sharing hand-me-downs – since young children grow so fast that a lot of their clothes barely get worn before they’re too small.

And a less obvious swap that can be a life-saver is a weekly or monthly meal swap. As Baby gets older and starts eating solid food, if you have a single parent buddy or just a busy parent-couple who want a night off from cooking once every couple of weeks but who don’t have the money or desire to eat out on a regular basis, pick a night and set up a swap. You can do this either by cooking big batches of something that travels easily and then bringing over half a pot of whatever you’ve cooked the morning of, or you can make a night of it, head over to your new friend’s place, and cook there. Spending a social evening with other parents – while having a built-in playmate for Baby – can be a great break, and if it’s a swap, then half the time you don’t need to worry about clean-up!

Virtual support

They can’t necessarily carpool with you and Baby, but online friends and communities can be the best way to connect with people who know exactly what you’re going through. Plus, not knowing these folks in person can mean that they’re exactly the right people to vent to. Sometimes, just knowing there’s someone out there who really understands is exactly what you need.

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