Guest Author - Cynthia Parker
Regardless of how you become a single parent, there are certain aspects of your life, of yourself, that you need to contemplate as you move forward. It is important to consider your emotional, physical and spiritual health as you take on the challenges of a single parent. If you do not care for yourself, it is very difficult to adequately care for your children.
Depression is common after the loss of a partner and parent of your children. Depression is not a sign of weakness. It is an intense form of sadness that requires assistance toward recovery. Some people require anti-depressants. For some, talk therapy is sufficient. Whichever is appropriate for you, the first step is to initiate the contact that will get you the help you need. Your primary care physician can steer you in the right direction while also considering your financial needs. If you have insurance, there are many programs that are available for people who deal with depression. If you don’t have insurance, Family Services often has counseling available on a sliding scale, dependent upon your debt to income ratio. One of the programs that I found particularly helpful was a Divorce Care program at a local church. It was an eight-week program that met once a week and discussed the stages of grief in regards to a divorce. Loss due to divorce or abandonment is very different from loss due to death. It is important that you learn the difference in order to address your pain accordingly. In addition to learning how to cope with your grief, this class also helped participants understand what you are experiencing on a physical, emotional and spiritual level and taught us how to begin healing from this experience.
Physically, it is very important that single parents eat correctly, exercise and get enough sleep. I do realize that as you being this journey as a single parent, it may seem that those three things will never again happen in your lifetime. Single parenting can be completely overwhelming. However, once you realize the benefits to yourself and your family, you will know why you cannot ignore the importance of these aspects of your life. Eating correctly ensures that you maintain your nutritional health. Without the vitamins, minerals and proteins we receive from healthy food, we wear ourselves out attempting to function on a malnourished body. A diet of fats and empty carbs that we obtain from many fast food venues will only leave us tired and sickly. A steady balance of lean protein, vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables, and complex carbs will keep us running at our optimum and will allow us the energy to accomplish all of the tasks, including caring for our children, that we need to accomplish in a day.
Exercise keeps our energy flowing, releases stress, elevates endorphins (which fight depression) and gives us a feeling of purpose and accomplishment. And why is it that most of us hate exercise? I always have trouble getting myself into an exercise routine. Once established, I have no problem sticking to it and the feeling I get after a good exercise session is wonderful. Unfortunately, my work and life schedule changes from semester to semester, so my exercise schedule must also change. I fight the routine every time I have to establish a new one and I am not sure why. Bottom line: Do it! Get your kids involved (they can ride their bike while you walk/run). Find an exercise partner. Attend a yoga class. Check out the exercise classes at your local YMCA or county recreation center. Get moving!
Sleep. So incredibly important, yet many of us start the bad habit of thinking that sleep is nothing but wasted time at a very early age. Yet it is very important that we get enough sleep – both as children and as adults. Sleep affects our body’s metabolism, our physical and emotional health, our immune system, and our general outlook on life. It is incredibly important to be sure that we are getting enough sleep! As a single parent, I realize how valuable the time after your children are in bed can be in getting tasks completed. Juggling life as a single parent requires planning and that means we must even plan for sleep. Sounds ridiculous to some, logical to others. In your all important task of time management, be sure that you allot at minimum of 7 hours a day for sleep!
It is also important to understand how the loss of a partner – through death or divorce – affects you on a spiritual level. Regardless of how strong in faith we believe ourselves to be, the pain of death or divorce deals grievous injury to our spiritual selves. We all have a spiritual self that needs to be nourished and nurtured. Seek the company of those of similar faith. Speak with your spiritual leader. Attend church, synagogue, or temple. Find fellowship and solace in your community. Immerse yourself in the book(s) of your faith. Do not ignore this aspect of your being because it is very important that we tend to all parts of ourselves in order to lead a balanced life.
Above all else, remind yourself frequently that you are not alone. In 2012, 28% of children in the U.S. lived in single parent homes (U.S. Census Bureau). That may sound like a low percentage, but it is an incredibly large number. Of those living with two parents, only 8% of those live with their biological parents. The remainder live with adoptive parents, step-parents, or in blended families. Reach out! There are many groups where you can find support for single parents. Contact Family Services or the United Way. Check into churches in your area. Contact your school district; there may be single parent groups that meet at the school. Do not isolate yourself or your children. As hard as it is to deal with your specific situation, it is a lot easier to do if you are not alone.
Take care of yourself in order to do your best job as a single parent.