In 2020, roughly 80% of single-parent households were headed by single mothers. When your husband walks out on the family, learning to be both parents can be overwhelming. After a 20-year marriage and living what I thought was an idyllic life, I became part of this group of single mom households.
Our oldest daughter had just started her freshman year of college, and I was homeschooling our youngest daughter in middle school. Unexpectedly divorced and grief-stricken, I experienced the pain of having a husband walk away from the family. I could handle the tears, anger, and frustration, but fear was my enemy.
How was I going to provide for my daughters on my income, even with spousal support? How would I maintain a home by myself? How would I pay for activities they wanted to do? How would I provide them with healthy food? How would I help support them during college?
Single mom survival tips
I made a lot of mistakes trying to answer these questions, but I made a lot of good decisions, too. I’ve become somewhat of an expert on what to do and definitely what not to do as I learned through the years how to be a successful single mother.
Here are some of my single mom survival tips:
1. Be intentional in building a relationship with your child
Be present for your child in daily life and in things they like. If they love science, find ways to engage with that. If they like sports, put on your tennis shoes and go outside. If they play video games, grab a joystick and join them. They will love laughing at you falling off Rainbow Road in MarioKart.
A divorce is traumatic and overwhelming for your child, so provide a space where processing emotions is encouraged and accepted. Let them share their feelings and thoughts. If they won’t open up with you, you need to get them counseling.
Give your kids space to make mistakes and let them know you trust them. If you expect them to make wise choices and give them the necessary freedom, they will know you trust them. If they break that trust, talk with them, not to them.
2. Be present in their education and relationships
Be involved with your child’s education by asking them questions like “What are you learning? How is it impacting you? How are your classes?”
I helped my daughters with their class schedules, and we talked with school career counselors regularly. We also started very early with college planning, which proved to have great financial benefits for both my children.
Be present in your child’s peer relationships. It will connect you with other parents and let your child’s friends know your home is a safe place to hang out. Your kids are going to need their friends, and encouraging time with them will help your child invest in healthy habits and relationships.
3. Be willing to do the hard things
A naturally independent person, I had to let go of my pride. You can’t sacrifice your child’s well-being because you may feel self-conscious about your situation. You will need help, and you can’t afford to be embarrassed about asking for it.
I applied for food stamps and negotiated for months with my mortgage provider. My daughters applied for scholarships for the activities they wanted to do but I couldn’t afford. I got my hands dirty and learned how to do home repairs.
Doing the hard things also includes having hard conversations. When there are two parents, one usually ends up being the fun one, the other the disciplinarian. As a single parent, you don’t have that choice. However, if you develop an intentional relationship with your children, you will realize that all of it matters—building the blanket fort to watch movies and redirecting behavior.
4. Don’t allow your emotions to overtake your child
I learned—a lot later than I would have liked—that there’s a need to “divorce” yourself from your circumstances. You have to do this in order to distance yourself from your own toxic emotions and focus on helping your children succeed.
You’re human and you will say negative things. Have self-awareness of when not to speak and when you can speak. Know how you are feeling and recognize your emotional triggers. If you feel you’re about to blow, head to the coffee shop or take a walk instead of letting it all out in front of your child.
5. Don’t be fake with your child
Kids can spot a “poser” a mile away, so don’t be one. Your child knows you’re hurting; they can hear when you cry and understand you’re stressed. Your child is not expecting you to be perfect, but they want you to be authentic with them.
You will have bad days. It’s okay to admit, “I’m having a tough time and just want cookies.” It’s okay to not smile all the time or spend the whole day in your pajamas. Your child is grieving, It’s okay for them to see you grieve, too. Letting your kid know you’re human will strengthen them.
You can’t become consumed by your circumstances, though. Being a successful single mom means admitting it’s hard but still pushing through for the benefit of your child.
6. Don’t neglect your core values
Some of the negative psychological effects of being a single mother are self-neglect, depression, loneliness, guilt, and extreme stress. Neglecting your core values will amplify these effects.
When you’re a single mom, it can be very easy to embrace substances, unhealthy relationships, or days on end in pajamas. One of the things that kept me striving for success was the realization that it wasn’t all about me. I had children who depended on me to function well. You have to be able to set aside your grief and anger and help them process through some rough times.
Self-discipline, self-control, time management, and healthy habits were things I practiced when I was married. Becoming a single mom didn’t change this; in fact, it emphasized them more. Remaining true to my values influenced my daughters, and they say it makes me a SuperMom.
How to be a successful single mother
SuperMom doesn’t exist, whatever my daughters may say. However, a mom who is super is one who’s intentional, present, self-aware, kind, loving, and unafraid to do the hard things when necessary.
My parenting advice for single moms are these 5 main things: practice self-care, teach your children family responsibilities, aim for wise time management, do not isolate yourself, and, as best as you can, get along with your ex-spouse.
- Practice self-care by getting enough sleep, eating healthy, exercising, meditating, and doing things you enjoy.
- Teach your children that everyone in the family has responsibilities and assign age-appropriate chores.
- Practice time management by sticking to a daily routine if you can. Try light cleaning throughout the week, running errands all on one day, and prepping meals on the weekends.
- Be with other single moms, don’t isolate yourself from friends, and engage with others at work or school. Basically, don’t become a hermit.
- Getting along with your ex is really important, and to be honest, it’s not one of the things I do well. So, do the best you can in this area, and if it gets to be too hard, try counseling.
You cannot be both parents. No one can take the place of a child’s father. Your goal in single parenting is to recognize the other roles you can play in your child’s life: an encourager, guide, equipper, teacher, safe haven, and friend.
There will be things you can do that you never thought you were capable of doing, like tilling a plot of land for a garden, fixing a leaky sink, going back to college, and maybe even writing about your experiences to help other single moms. By being diligent and intentional, you will be raising some truly awesome, independent, and capable children along the way.
Some of the best books for single moms I have found are:
- No-Drama Discipline by Daniel J. Siegel offers strategies for helping a single parent understand how to instruct and nurture rather than punish. Besides helping a single parent recognize the discipline mistakes parents make, it also provides alternatives.
- Single Mom…Slaying It by Andrea Pearson is intended to support and guide single moms who are overwhelmed and overtired. It offers tons of encouragement and many practical tips on how to be the best single mom to your children.
- Prosperity After Divorce by Michelle Jacobik provides a funny, warm-hearted, and reasonable look at how single moms can thrive financially. It’s one of the best hands-on books for single moms who are struggling to make ends meet and want to turn their financial situation around.
- Overwhelmed: The Life of a Single Mom by Jennifer Barnes Maggio is an emotional read about the life of one single mom. Both moving and uplifting, it was a book I read after my daughters embarked on their own paths, and it helped reassure me that I’d done a good job as a single mom.
- The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown will help any single mom understand that she doesn’t have to be perfect. Learning who you are to your children but also who you are as an individual and pursuing excellence doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes, but it helps you see how important connection is to those you care for.