Imagine you suddenly had sole responsibility for two children, earned around $26,000 a year, found your friends drifting away, and continually felt 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.com (Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere), I’m astounded by the resilience and fortitude of single moms, who currently are raising 23 million children in the United States alone. The route women take to single motherhood varies, but parenting alone is physically and emotionally demanding. For some single moms, it can take a toll on their mental health.
Every hour of every day, single moms rise to the occasion for their children, and they are doing an amazing job. Unfortunately many single 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 PTSD. Sometimes they self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.
By identifying the eight most common mental health challenges facing single moms, my goal is to inspire them 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 single mom’s chance at a good night’s rest. 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 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 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 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 when she needs them the most. Friends may choose sides, feel awkward or be unable to relate to a single mom’s new reality. Disconnection from community gives rise to feelings of alienation and hopelessness.
6. A Child or Children with Special Needs
Couples parenting children with special needs are more likely to divorce than the general population. Because moms overwhelmingly receive custody, they end up performing the lion’s share of these kids’ care.
In our special-needs groups on ESME.com and Facebook, 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 at any time — from a child’s teacher, another parent or a co-worker. I strive to honor and inspire single 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 single mothers 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 single 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.
Counseling is literally a lifesaver when mental health is at stake. Given the stressors single moms encounter, combined with the overwhelming responsibility of raising children on one’s own, it’s clear 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 single mom, how can I help?
Marika Lindholm is the founder of ESME [Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere], the social platform for Solo Moms, by Solo Moms. A trained sociologist and former professor, she taught classes focused on issues of inequality, diversity, and gender at Northwestern University.