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Single mums chat over coffee

Single Parent Groups

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.

But Honestly – I’m Not Interested

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.

Groups Just Aren’t My Thing

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.

Tell Me Again, Why Am I Doing This?

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.

Benefits of Joining a Single Parent Group

  • Meeting like minded adults who are going through the same experiences. It can be invaluable to speak with others who have been where you are and are willing to share their own tips for getting through.
  • Not having to explain why you need to leave, pick up children from school or that your time is limited. Single parent group activities tend to include children and are child friendly with family appropriate entertainment. When events are deemed suitable for adults only, this is made clear in the planning stages so there is time for alternative child care to be arranged.
  • Although your best friends may be able to lend a listening ear and sympathize with you, true empathy will come from others who are going through a similar life experience.
  • Activities tend to be cheaper and meet the budget restrictions of others on similar incomes.
  • Expert speakers, conferences, meetings, newsletters and group sessions are often arranged so single parents can gain from knowing what services are available to support them.
  • Some groups organize group holidays and are able to negotiate a better price. For many single parent families holidays and weekends away are out of the question because of cost but groups can offer a viable alternative.
  • Some groups invite speakers with a legal background so they can be better informed about child care and custody agreements. For single parents who cannot afford individual legal guidance or who don’t qualify for legal aid, this is extremely beneficial.
  • Networking value, especially in terms of gaining recommendations around services, trades people, discounts and home maintenance.
  • Friendship opportunities for children which exist outside of their everyday sphere. This also helps with kids who feel different to their peers who may live in two parent households.
  • A successful group can provide the same benefits as a united family. For a single parent with children who has no immediate or extended family, a group and its members can help to fill this void.
  • Many successful relationships have been formed as a result of couples meeting at a single parent’s group.

Remember – It’s up To You

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.

Single Parent Support Groups in New Zealand

  • Single parent support groups are active in just about every city in New Zealand, and you can get hold of them through your local Citizens Advice Bureau. Groups are usually planned for the weekends to allow for maximum attendance. Don’t worry if you can’t make it to every group; children’s needs have a way of taking priority.
  • Support may be subsidised through Government funding, fund raising activities or community grants.
  • A joining fee and/or attendance fee may be charged as a contribution to administration and printing costs.
  • Many of the groups operate on a non-profit basis, where money raised is invested back into resources and the group’s operations.
  • In areas where there is a higher concentration of single parent families, there may be more choice about groups and their locations.
  • Some groups have a higher ratio of males to females and vice versa.
  • Some groups can have a greater representation of young children compared to older kids. If you find the match in ages with your children is not ideal, then consider attending another group.