According to The National Council for Single Mothers and Their Children, in Australia 93% of single parent families are headed up by their mothers. Traditionally, it has always been the case that higher numbers of mothers than fathers parent their children after separation. Once there was such a social stigma attached to bringing up children without a male present that single mothers tended to be isolated and excluded from the rest of their communities. Fortunately now, greater social acceptance and understanding have changed our understanding of what it means to be a family.
It can be very hard for separated parents to ask for support, especially if they’ve never needed to do this before. Women, when compared to men, tend to be more willing to talk about what they are going through and request help. However, most agencies and support groups offer equitable services to both genders without discrimination.
Acknowledging a need to lean on friends and family and perhaps accept financial support can mean a shift in values and change in everyday thinking. But none of us are meant to parent in isolation. We are, by nature, social creatures and all of us at one time or another will need help from those around us. The reasons for this are many and varied; each family has their own story and unique experiences.
Asking for help can be a sign of strength, not weakness. Most reasonable people are happy to offer help if they’re asked for it. In the main they generally aren’t interested in forming an opinion of how or why they are needed. Often, a short period of support to get through difficult times can mean the difference between struggling and coping.
Support can come in various forms. Practical help in packing up the house, moving or storing furniture, minding the children or offering a place to stay can all make a huge difference. Emotional support can provided with a simple phone call, email or someone just being there. Each facet of support is equally valuable. It is usually the combined efforts of a number of individuals on a range of levels, rather than a single action which helps to keep a single parent buoyant.
In the immediate and often confusing early days of separation, many parents find themselves feeling very alone. The responsibility of caring for dependent children as a single parent and managing everyone’s emotional needs can be incredibly stressful. Early on, it pays to focus on what is important and try not to take on too much. Thinking about what the future could hold and magnifying what’s already difficult will impact on your stress levels. It makes sense to deal with what you need to and focus on what is truly important. Time, patience, communication and keeping calm will all help your children to feel more secure.
Separation is not always a sad process – in fact, many times it can be a relief. It is true that no matter how toxic or destructive a relationship has been, there is often grief for what could have been. Ultimately, ending a dual parenting relationship is a major life stress and cannot be taken lightly. Letting go of dreams for a future of shared parenting and then accepting the reality when a relationship is over can take years.
The ideal is if there has been mutual agreement over the separation, the children are being prioritised and both parents are being civil to each other. However, for all sorts of reasons this does not occur frequently enough. Hurts and anger, resentment and blame laying continue to affect many couples whose energies are absorbed by negative emotions rather than being able to move forward with their lives.