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10 Things a Single Parent Wants You to Know

Raising kids is hard enough with two parents in the equation, so how do people do it with only one? We've asked single parents how they parent alone effectively, and what they need you to know the most.

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It’s so much more than being alone

Some might assume that single parenting is the same as any other type of parenting, only it’s done alone. Not so, says single mother of one, Ashley. “Being single and parenting is so much more than parenting alone.  You are taking care of not only yourself, but others on a one person income. There is no such thing as time to yourself. Being sick isn’t an option. Finding quality and affordable child care seems impossible. You feel like a burden when you have to ask friends or family for help because even though it’s not your fault you’re a single parent, it definitely isn’t theirs either.”

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You’re not a single parent if your spouse works a lot

When married parents complain about their spouse being out of touch or working much of the time, and compare themselves to single parents, it can be down-right rage inducing, says single mother Vicky Charles. “When you have a partner, even if they are only home on the weekends or work odd hours, they are there for you at some point. And if they’re away with work then that income is also contributing to your home. When you’re a single parent, there is no other person who is responsible for your child, who will help out with childcare and school runs and everything else.”

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It’s motherhood on steroids

Teia Collier, a single mother in Dallas, knows that other single moms need support; it’s why she helps run the site dallassinglemom.com. She believes that single parenthood has its ups and downs like anything else, but both are magnified when you’re doing it alone. It doesn’t mean you have to miss out on life, however, according to Collier. “When I am asked about single motherhood, I often say, it’s motherhood on steroids. It’s about joy and doing the very best you can. It’s about realizing it takes a village to raise a mama and a family. It means you rise up and learn to be your best self. There are unique challenges, some from society, some from the nature of the beast, but there are so many proud mama moments and none of it precludes you from having everything in this life,” she says. (Check out these 18 true stories that show how hilarious parenting can be.)

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Success and failure is yours alone to claim

Sometimes the hardest part of the whole single parenting gig is the pressure to get it right, planted squarely on one set of shoulders instead of two. “When something goes wrong, it’s just you. You have to cry to yourself while you try to figure out the solution alone. When something goes right, you don’t have anyone else to celebrate with, so it doesn’t always seem so grand,” says Ashley, mother of one.

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Single dad’s have their own unique problems

Nicholas Demski, a father of one, and a writer who documents his travels with his young daughter on his site thesingledadnomad.com, says that he’s made up some silly games with his daughter to address a very unique problem. He says, “As a single dad, I struggle with public restrooms and shower facilities. My daughter is too little to use the female facilities on her own, so I play a game with her we call ‘Don’t see the butts!’ It’s basically just making sure she covers her eyes in awkward situations.” Here are answers to all your public restroom etiquette questions.

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My kids are independent because they have to be

“A great thing about being a single mother is that your kids will be more independent. Both of mine are well aware I am the primary caregiver, and it’s impossible for me to give them 100% of my undivided attention. Them being aware of this has caused them both to become so much more self-sufficient,” says Amber, mother of two.

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I’m more than capable by myself

For many mothers, the idea of parenting alone sends a shiver up their spine. It looks overwhelming, and it’s easy to feel insecure about your ability to handle it all by yourself. Trina Dye, single mother and blogger, says she found a new sense of confidence when she became single. Dye says, “I stayed in a very unhappy marriage longer than I should have because I thought it would be better for my kids. Then I thought about what I wanted for them and realized, ‘this isn’t it.’ I thought being a single mother would be the hardest job in the world. I was right about that, but what I didn’t realize was that I am more than capable. I found strength I did not know I had. It is hard and I am scared a lot of the time, but I always find a solution. And with each solution, I become stronger.”

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Single parenting can be a choice

Being a single parent isn’t always a bad thing—sometimes, it’s the preferred option, says Emma Johnson, author of the new book, The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children and founder of the site wealthysinglemommy.com. Johnson tells Reader’s Digest, “Despite all the very real fear and stress that comes with finding you’re parenting alone, you may realize eventually that parenting without a romantic partner suits you far better than other family formations. I love the autonomy of running a household as the only adult (no bickering over decorating, chores, or clutter), day-to-day parenting decisions, and dating and sex during this time of my life have been an incredible, powerful surprise. I connect with tens of thousands of single moms around the world, and my perspective, wonderfully, is far from unique.”

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Shared custody can be awesome

While some single parents have full custody of their children, others split time with their children with an ex- and the arrangement works beautifully, says Courtney, single mom of one. She says, “There’s something really pleasant about co-parenting and having scheduled and reliable time to myself to be alone, do errands or spend time with friends. I love my son immensely, but I’m very spoiled by the freedom my shared schedule with his father affords me. Sometimes shared custody can be irritating and infuriating in the beginning, but with time, patience, and hard work, it can develop into something really great and healthy.” Here are ways moms can get their mojo back.

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Filling the gap for both parents can be heartwrenching

Sometimes single parenthood is the result of heart-breaking loss that is hard to navigate through yourself, much less lead children through. Becky McCoy, a writer and podcaster who has experienced more grief than most at her age, says filling in for a missing spouse can be the hardest part of going it alone. “People assume I’m divorced, but I was widowed. It makes my singleness complicated because my youngest wasn’t even born when my husband died. As I raise my kids, I’m grieving my own loss, while helping them navigate growing up without a dad. I’m teaching them about their dad to fill in the memories they’ll never make.” Find out things you should never say to a widow.

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Decisions can feel overwhelming

For some, the opportunity to begin life anew free of a partner can bring feelings of relief, even joy—but for those who have lost their life-partners unexpectedly through death, it’s the little things they miss the most. Tara Dickson and her husband of 23 years, Alan, never expected a brain cancer diagnosis to turn their lives upside down. When the unimaginable happened, and Dickson became widowed with three of their four children still at home, her life changed in countless ways. Her entire family moved, she renewed her love of writing, and she found that the smallest of things became what she longed for the most. She says, “I think some of the greatest challenges since Alan passed have been making decisions. It wasn’t so hard to make the big decision of selling our home and buying a new one. Even though it was something we had never done as a couple, let alone by myself. I knew our future lay somewhere else, but because I am making so many big decisions on my own, daily, I find the little ones more challenging. Deciding what to make for dinner, or what we need from the grocery store can feel overwhelming when I have been wrestling with being the only financial provider, or figuring out how to advise my son on career choices.”

Jen Babakhan
Jen Babakhan is an author and credentialed educator living in California. She writes regularly about advice and culture for Reader's Digest. She is also the author of Detoured: The Messy, Grace-Filled Journey From Working Professional to Stay-at-Home Mom (Harvest House Publishers, 2019). She earned her BA in Communication Studies from California State University, Stanislaus. You can follow her on Instagram @JenBabakhan , Twitter @JenBabakhan, and Facebook @JenBabakhanauthor.