Get help to avoid a mental-health crisis
Imagine you suddenly had sole responsibility for two children, earned around $26,000 a year, found your friends drifting away, and were continually judged for your parenting, no matter how well you handled it.
Welcome to the life of a typical single mom.
As the founder of ESME, I’m astounded by the resilience and fortitude of single moms, who are currently raising 23 million children in the United States alone. Stories of these women’s strength, hard work, and sacrifice inspire me to honor, support, and connect Solo Moms to the best of my ability. The route women take to single motherhood varies, but parenting alone is always physically and emotionally demanding. And for some single moms, it can be a challenge to their mental health.
Every hour of every day, Solo Moms rise to the occasion for their children, and they are doing an amazing job. At ESME, our Hall of Fame highlights inspiring men and women raised by single moms, including President Obama, J. R. R. Tolkien, Gabby Douglas, Stephen Colbert, and Agatha Christie. But we’ve also discovered that Solo Moms don’t like to ask for help and often don’t even believe they need help. For some single moms, stressors can pile up and lead to a mental-health crisis. Some of the women who come to our site struggle with depression, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sometimes they self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.
By identifying the eight most common mental-health challenges facing Solo Moms, my goal is to inspire single mothers to seek support if they are struggling and for all of us to become Solo Mom allies.
1. Sleep deprivation. Not surprisingly, single moms rarely get enough sleep. Why? Because they can get so much done when their kids are sleeping! Laundry, housekeeping, night shifts, studying, and other responsibilities often undermine a Solo Mom’s chance for a good night’s rest. As we all know, sleep deprivation is a fragile foundation on which to cope with other challenges.
2. Inadequate self-care. Single moms are so busy and focused on their children that they don’t spend enough time on self-care and renewal. “Spa days” are just a pipe dream for most single moms, and finding time to exercise can seem impossible. Self-care enables women to cope with the challenges of single parenting, but, unfortunately, most single moms put their own care last on their to-do list.
3. Financial insecurity. In the aftermath of divorce or the loss of a partner, single moms often become economically vulnerable. Minimum wage keeps many single moms below the poverty level—even when they’re working full time! Across America, homeless shelters are the final refuge for many single mom families. Not surprisingly, poverty and economic hardship are linked to anxiety and depression.
4. Ongoing conflict with an ex. Divorce and separation are hard enough, but continuing conflict with a child’s other parent can erode a single mom’s mental health. Bullying, manipulation, withholding child support, and violating divorce agreements are among the many behaviors that divorced women tell us they face.
5. Weak support networks. When a woman becomes a single mom, whether by choice or circumstance, her friends often drift away just when she needs them the most. Friends may choose sides, feel awkward, or be unable to relate to a single mom’s new reality. Unfortunately, disconnection from community gives rise to feelings of alienation and hopelessness. Support and connection is at the heart of ESME’s mission, but we also suggest ways for Solo Moms to weave a web of support on their own.
6. A child or children with special needs. Couples parenting children with special needs are more likely to divorce than the general population. Since moms overwhelmingly get custody, they end up performing the lion’s share of these kids’ care. At ESME, we are continually amazed by the selfless dedication of these single moms, who do whatever it takes to help their child or children with special needs meet their potential. These moms are also most likely to sacrifice sleep and self-care.
7. History of abuse. Rates of domestic violence and abuse have reached intolerable levels in society. A significant number of moms who seek support at ESME have left abusive relationships. Although they’ve made the brave choice to leave, the psychological trauma lingers and can be easily triggered. Without support or resources, too many single moms carry a heavy burden of pain, which is often expressed in PTSD, depression, and other mental-health challenges.
8. Stigma and judgment. Stereotypes of single motherhood abound. These judgments can come from anyone at any time—from a child’s teacher, another parent, or a coworker. I strive to honor and inspire Solo Moms because the daily assault of negative assumptions about their parenting skills and moral character is demoralizing and unfair. It’s time to realize that single moms are invaluable to the fabric of American society and to treat them as such.
For Solo Moms facing any of these mental-health challenges, here are five actions that can increase your sense of well-being:
1. Find your tribe: Connect with Solo Moms who share similar challenges.
2. Ask for help: Even strong, independent women need help every now and then.
3. Network: Build your support network of friends, acquaintances, and allies.
4. Practice self-care: It doesn’t have to be expensive or take a lot of time, but it’s a necessity.
5. Seek professional support: Counseling is literally a lifesaver when mental health is at stake.
Given the stressors that single moms encounter combined with the overwhelming responsibility of raising children on one’s own, it’s clear that they are our modern-day superheroes. The next time you meet a single mom with fabulous children, recognize that there are millions like her. Better yet, become an ally and advocate by asking a Solo Mom, “How can I help?”
The original version of this article was published in Talk Space.
Dr. Marika Lindholm founded ESME.com to ignite a social movement of Solo Moms. A trained sociologist, Lindholm taught courses on inequality, diversity, and gender at Northwestern University for over a decade. After a divorce left her parenting two children on her own, she realized Solo Moms lacked much-needed resources, support, and connection. She built her social platform, Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere, out of this combination of academic and personal experience. The acronym has since evolved to Empowering Strong Moms Everywhere, to encompass all moms. In September 2019, She Writes Press will publish We Got This! Solo Mom Stories of Grit, Heart, and Humor, an anthology of Solo Mom personal essays and poetry edited by Lindholm with Cheryl Dumesnil, Domenica Ruta, and Katherine Shonk. Marika can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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