Guest Author - Cynthia Parker
Support groups are incredibly important to the single parent. Support groups include anything from family members who are willing to give you a break by baby-sitting, a Mom’s Morning Out program at church, a single parents’ discussion group, or co-workers who discuss their experiences with their children over lunch. It does not have to be a formal group with membership and a set meeting time for it to be considered a support group. Quite frankly, a support group is any number of individuals (or a collective) from whom you obtain encouragement and understanding for your status as a single parent.
I have made use of many different types of support groups during my time as a single parent. When I first embarked on this adventure, I thought that I would find solace and support within my church. Some of you will – I believe completely that there are some church groups that are very effective for helping single parents find the right way to adjust to their new status. However, this was not true in my case. The group offered was a Divorce Care group and while we talked about the difficulties of raising children alone, the goal was to encourage us toward reconciliation with our spouses in order to dispel the difficulties. This was not an option for me. Instead of continuing to participate in this group for the parents, I wound up teaching a group for children whose families are dealing with the process of divorce. I may not have found support for my own problems, but I gained a great deal of solace in helping children of divorce deal with their own situations.
I was then referred to Parents without Partners. Again, this may be an excellent solution for many, but it was not my cup of tea. Parents without Partners is predominantly a social networking situation and while dating is never stated as a specific purpose of the group, it is a dominant activity of its members. I was not interested in dating; I was interested in learning how to survive being a single parent and doing the best for my children as such. I didn’t last long in this group.
My family was there for me when it came to baby-sitting and an ear to listen when I needed to discuss discipline problems, etc. However, divorce is frowned upon in my family and I did not get any sympathy for the fact that life was harder for me now that I was the sole adult in the household. I was told more than once that this was the choice I had made. It mattered not that I had good reason. I was blessed with a wonderful aunt who took me aside and told me about her own divorce (I never knew she had been married more than once!) from an abusive spouse. She gave me personal encouragement and I will never forget how much better I felt after our conversation. But she was the only one in my family from whom I received understanding. (My sister is six years younger than me and, at the time, as not a source of support I felt I had the “right” to rely upon. I am very thankful that now, when we are both older with families of our own, we have each other to share all types of life issues!)
So, where did I find “support?” From other single parents. Let’s face it – we stick out like a sore thumb. We are the ones who have no one to help watch the kids when they are supposed to be on their best behavior. When you stop us to chat, our children take advantage of the fact that we cannot divide our attention adequately to keep them in line. We are the ones that always look a little tired, even when we are smiling. We never have a dedicated phone conversation because we always have to yell over a hand positioned over the receiver at the kid who decides to climb onto the counter or torture the dog because they know there is only so much we can do. Single parents can spot other single parents a mile away. Don’t hesitate to reach out to the ones in your community. You will be so surprised at how much they are willing to give. Let’s face it – we understand each other perfectly! And if you are willing to watch my kids so I can go grocery shopping alone, I will happily watch yours so you can shop for that dress for your best friend’s wedding or simply so you can take a bubble bath without interruption.
Another feature of a self-created single parents’ group is the potential for a built-in barter system. Single parents are budget-conscious and are often willing to trade for what they need. A few hours babysitting in the park might get you a home-cooked meal on Saturday when you have to work and parents are coming in to town. Sewing for painting, plumbing for cooking, car repairs for house-cleaning. It never ceases to amaze me what goods and services can be had for a good barter. I have not paid to have my oil changed in years. I baby-sit for an over-night stay once a quarter and my oil gets changed for free.
The secret is that we have to do two things in order to make a single parent support system work. We first must be willing to seek out other single parents. We second must be willing to trust enough to share support. At first you might find only one person with whom you feel this comfortable. That’s okay! Expand your circle gradually and remember that friendship is one of the most precious gifts we can find in life. Don’t be afraid to share friendship with both men and women. Make it clear that friendship is your goal so there are no questions of intent. One of my best friends is male and there could never be anything more than friendship between us. But we have a tight-knit friendship that no one could budge and we both benefit greatly from it. As do our children.
Yes, it is easy to search for single parent groups that are already in existence and if they provide what you need from a support group, then by all means – use them and enjoy!! However, if you cannot find quite what you need, don’t be afraid to create the perfect opportunity to suit your situation. Support groups will not come to you – you must go out and find what you need!