Currently, single parent families are one of the fastest growing types of families there is. This is expected to continue as greater acceptance, changing values, more support and freedom of choice impacts on our understanding of what the word “family” means. Separated, widowed, divorced, single by choice, de facto, and same sex couples living apart can all fit into the category of a single parent family.
It’s no wonder that support groups for single parents are springing up all over cities and within communities. Common interests and experiences unite sole parents and bring together individuals who may not ever have normally met.
The assumption that single parent groups are just an excuse for sole parents to meet and form new relationships with others is inaccurate. It can be hard to redevelop skills in communicating with others as a single person, rather than being part of a couple. Moving from a mindset of “us” to “I”, and attending social gatherings on your own may take time and energy. Don’t expect that it will be easy the first couple of times. Like any other group, there will be some individuals you find it easy to connect with and others you don’t.
After separation, loneliness can be a common theme amongst sole parents. For many, this may be an emotion they have become unfamiliar with and are at a loss in knowing how to deal with it. Some interpret loneliness as depression, or feeling down and dissatisfied with their lives, when in fact it can be just one symptom of needing other adults company.
Although caring for young dependent children is probably taking up the majority of your time, it’s still important to not neglect your own needs. Parents need other adults for company, conversation and just companionship. No matter how independent you are, avoid seeing yourself as having different needs to the rest of the human population. It is unlikely you would consider isolating your children from others of their age group so why extend this expectation to yourself?
Finding a connection with people who are going through similar experiences can be invaluable. Joining a single parent group means that you can avoid awkward explanations and small talk in having to explain your circumstances. By definition, you have met the criteria for inclusion and are seeking the same opportunities as everyone else there.
Your kids will benefit when they see you having normal, healthy and functional relationships with others. Women especially need other women for their emotional support and tend to share their thoughts, experiences and insights very quickly after meeting each other. This form of networking fosters the creation of bonds which often leads onto long term friendships.
It is true, however, that not every sole parent shares the same experience. Just as in other groups, it may take a while to find a comfortable “fit” with other adults who you feel willing to share your valuable time with. Don’t try too hard, and trust your gut feeling. If the vibe of the group isn’t right, you feel awkward, or do not feel included, then don’t be afraid to leave.
It’s important that you don’t feel pressured or under obligation to join a group if you don’t want to. It may be hard enough finding time to spend with the family and friends you already have. The thought of making new friends and acquaintances could be way down on your priority list.
But many single parents find they lose the friends they shared as a couple and after separation, meeting up with them becomes awkward. Establishing new grounds for relationships, even those which were previously close takes honesty and commitment.
Avoid criticising your ex-partner to those who are likely to still be close to them. Developing a sense of torn loyalty and feeling they need to keep secrets are not solid grounds for a healthy friendship.