Parenting alone is a 'hard and relentless' job
Q I am writing not so much to ask for advice, as to share with you the burden of life and, perhaps, highlight a problem that many might share with me. I will try to be concise.
I’m in my 30s and I’ve been separated from my husband for a number of years and am alone with a young child. I find lone parenthood almost a heroic act. It’s such a hard and relentless job. I have no family in Dublin but thankfully I do have many friends. Still, I am hesitant about asking them for help when I am worn out, unless it’s something really urgent. I find myself often on the verge of insanity due to all the hardship.
To top it off I have been struggling with severe anxiety for the past few years. I have a full-time job, yet, in the past I had to take time off as I wasn’t able to cope with all that. I find consolation when my child is happy, but I often worry that she will be damaged somehow by seeing me struggling 24/7.
My day often starts at 6.30am and finishes at 11pm, after being on my feet non-stop. It’s a lonely journey. Sadly, the general perception doesn’t seem to perceive anxiety as a very debilitating condition. Sadly, lone parenting is often perceived through some hurtful stereotypes.
I defy all of the misperceptions and stereotypes. I try not to worry, yet, sometimes, in times of sadness it does bother me and I wish people were more understanding.
A Thank you for taking time to email me and to share your story and the challenges of parenting alone with which I am sure many of the readers can empathise.
Your story highlights the burden and intensity of parenting and how isolated and lonely you can feel at times. Your email also highlights the stress parenting can put on your mental health and after a long hard day alone most readers will appreciate how this can push you onto the “verge of insanity”.
Once you become a parent, the stress, long hours, lack of sleep and reduced leisure time can all compromise your own mental health. If you had a pre-existing tendency to be anxious or depressed, these problems can all be aggravated under the stresses of parenting or can be triggered for the first time for parents who never had problems before.
Though parenting has the potential to bring the most joy and meaning, most people describe it as the hardest job they will ever do and it is doubly hard when you are doing it alone without support.
I know in your question you say you are not looking for advice, but it might be useful to share a few thoughts on possible ways forward for other readers who might find themselves in a similar position.
Prioritise your own self care and mental health
The quality of your own mental health does, of course, have an impact on your parenting and your children. The more positive and cared for you feel, the more you will be able to dedicate yourself to the task of parenting.
Children need “cared for” parents as much as they need their parents to care for them. As a result, you owe it to your children to prioritise your own mental health and to do what you can to improve this. This could be as simple as ensuring you have daily moments of relaxation and to develop coping strategies for managing the day-to-day challenges.
Doing a course in yoga, meditation or mindfulness or simple exercise such as taking a daily walk could all help. Make sure you have adequate childcare so you can have time to work on yourself and to prioritise your mental health.
It could also be useful to seek formal help from mental health services and if you have not done so already contact your GP to explore access to services in your area. Above all, the most important decision is to be proactive and to prioritise overcoming your anxiety and to improve your mental health.
Increase co-parenting with your child’s father
You don’t give details of whether your ex-husband is currently involved in co-parenting and there may be specific reasons for non-involvement. However, if possible, it is worth trying to negotiate to increase his involvement. This could be of benefit to your child and also to you in reducing the burden you experience parenting alone. Even if there has been none or minimal contact for some time, it is worth considering whether this can be increased now at this point or some point in the future.
Though this has to be planned carefully, in my work with families, the re-engagement of a father in a positive way, even after a period of distance, can make a big difference. There may also be other extended family members such as paternal grandparents who could be of support who now might have the potential to be more involved.
Reach out and seek support
They say “it takes a village to raise a child” and for this reason you need to reach out and get support as you need it. Rarely, can someone do it all alone effectively, and most people survive by drawing in other people to help.
If you don’t have this support from your child’s father or extended family, then you have to go out of your way to gain it from other sources.
Some lone parents do it by forming close alliances with other parents in similar positions, some gain support from neighbours, friends, family resource centres, community and church groups. There are also many advice and support services for parents who parenting largely alone such as onefamily.ieor oneparent.ieor the Family Support Agency ( fsa.ie).
Taking positive action to change a situation is hard work especially if you already feel burdened or down. For this reason, I would suggest that you seek the support from a professional/counsellor from one of the organisations above who could help you in making a positive plan to increase your support over time for the benefit of you and your child.
Dr John Sharry is a social worker and psychotherapist and director of Parents-Plus charity. He will be giving a one-day Parenting Teenagers course on February 2nd in Wynn’s Hotel, Dublin.