There’s a famous quote about Ginger Rogers that says, “She did everything that Fred Astaire did, only backwards.” In some ways, being a single parent is similar, except you’re doing everything other parents do, only solo.

I was talking with a single mom recently who described her day like this, but I think it probably is true for a lot of you out there, as well: “I rush home from work, dash off to the supermarket, pick the kids up from practice, go home and try to get dinner on the table. The arguing begins when I ask them to help out, and they start fighting with me. Any time I tell my oldest “no” these days, she screams, ‘I hate you – you are the worst mother in the world! I wish I could live full-time with Dad!’ I explode, then she runs out of the room, slamming her bedroom door. I’m so tired of playing out this scene night after night!”

It’s important to remember that children naturally fight to get what they want. To not be worn down and give in to your child’s demands and challenging behaviors can take a superhuman effort when you never get a break.

It’s hard enough raising kids with a partner, let alone parenting on your own. It takes confidence, resilience and courage. If you’re a single mom or dad, rest assured you’re not alone: according to the United States Census Bureau, one of every two children will live in single parent homes before they reach the age of 18.

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There are many difficulties in raising kids in a two-parent home as well, but to raise them alone has its own special set of challenges. Day-to-day parenting becomes more daunting when a parent is overburdened and under-supported.

“I feel so worn down.”
It’s important to remember that children naturally fight to get what they want. To not be worn down and give in to your child’s demands and challenging behaviors can take a superhuman effort when you never get a break. Added to this, if you’re separated or divorced, your energy may still be absorbed in ongoing conflicts with your ex. Children from divorced homes sometimes get pulled into the middle of these conflicts and might have a lot of complicated feelings around the breakup. They may disrespect their parents and feel they’re “owed” for the disruption to their lives by acting rebellious, defiant or entitled. Other kids feel like they need to fill in the role of the missing parent, and start acting like the boss instead of the child they are.

If the single parent is widowed, their energy may be absorbed in their grief. It may take a long time for the remaining spouse to get back on his/her feet. The child might become the caretaker of the grieving parent or try to fill the void of the missing one.

If you add to the mix a child with a learning disability, ADHD, or Oppositional Defiant Disorder, you can feel extreme exhaustion and isolation without a partner to step in when you are overwhelmed and at the end of your rope. Single parents simply do not have this luxury, because there isn’t anyone there to pick up the slack or give them a break.

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As a result of the stresses and strains, a single parent might tend to “give in” to their child’s demands from pure exhaustion, and then lose it on their kids from exasperation. It might sometimes feel like you and your child have become like bickering siblings rather than parent and child. Or as time goes by, you might look to your child as a source of support, but start to feel uncomfortable about displeasing them. These dynamics can happen naturally over time, but they make it difficult to set limits with their children and to be respected as the authority in your home, which can make your life a lot more challenging in the long run.

So what does it take for a single parent to manage things successfully and raise resilient kids?

1. Develop a support network for yourself. I can’t state enough how important this one is. Work on building a network of caring individuals around you and your child. Share holidays and go on day trips with family and trusted friends if you can so they get to know your children. Encourage your children to use them as supports when necessary. Discuss with your friends your big decision issues. Vent your frustrations and share your joys with them. Developing strong adult relationships will help prevent you from leaning too heavily on your children for emotional support, too.

2. Try to maintain a mature relationship with your ex. If you are separated or divorced, work at being civil with one another. Ongoing conflicts often have a negative effect on children, and can leave them feeling bitter, frustrated, withdrawn and stressed. Work to manage your communication and emotions well so your child isn’t caught in the middle of your battles. If you have a difficult relationship with your ex, the first step is to stop contributing to the conflict. It takes two to participate, but only one to stop. If your ex criticizes you to the kids, just respond by saying that you are comfortable with how you are handling things, rather than defending yourself or throwing back a jab. This way your children are not in a position to have to decide which parent is right, wrong, better or worse. Kids want to be free to have good feelings toward both parents and get on with their lives. Children will appreciate you if you put your energy toward maintaining good relationships with them rather than trying to prove what a jerk their other parent is.

If you are widowed or have been left, get the support you need to grieve so that you can move forward. Work to get back on your own feet so that your children don’t feel they have to hold you up. If you are having difficulty getting there after a period of time, consider seeking out professional help or a support group.

It’s also important to be a listening ear for your children when they need to express their feelings about being in a single parent home. There is no need to defend yourself. They are not blaming you even if it sounds like they are. They might just be unhappy with the situation. Expressing their feelings and being heard by you will help them come to terms with things.

3. Manage your expectations of yourself and others. Be realistic and reasonable. Your kids will do well and turn out “good enough” when you calm down and allow yourself to be “fine enough” as a parent. That means accepting your limits and imperfections so they can come to terms with their own. You don’t need to be, nor can you be, a “super parent”—and if you try to be one, your stress will get in the way of that goal. Be compassionate and reasonable toward yourself and your kids.

4. Expect respect from your children. Expect your children to treat you with respect, even when they grow bigger and stronger than you. Insist from day one that they respect you. Never put up with abuse. You are their parent and they need to treat you as such. Do not allow yourself to get entangled in endless debates or arguments. Once you have decided “no,” politely and calmly disengage. Give yourself some time to decide your answer. If it’s appropriate, give them a chance to negotiate with you, but once you have given their request some reasonable thought, end the conversation…even if they are not happy with your decision. Your answer is now final. Explain limits clearly and honestly, and then walk away if your child tries to engage you in an argument.

5. Spend uninterrupted time with your kids. Have time with your kids, even if it is just twenty minutes. Get to know the important people in their lives such as their teachers, coaches and friends. Create routines and rituals with your family. Whether you vacation each year in the same place, have holidays with the same extended family or have a special evening or Sunday routine, stick with it as best you can. These daily, weekly, monthly or yearly routines become a tremendous support for kids after a break up or loss in the family. The routines also provide kids with a sense of security, continuity and a healthy sense of family togetherness.

Incorporate these strategies into your life so you can continually build and maintain your resilience. Let your parenting principles—rather than your moment-to-moment emotions—be your guide. By following these tips, you can rest easy knowing that you and your single parent family will thrive.

Related Content:
Estranged from Your Adult Child? 5 Things You Can Do
Flying Solo: Six Ways to Soar as a Single Parent


For more than 25 years, Debbie has offered compassionate and effective therapy and coaching, helping individuals, couples and parents to heal themselves and their relationships. Debbie is the creator of the Calm Parent AM & PM™ program and is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.

Comments (11)
  • MMA_Momma_of_5
    I found this article to be helpful. I am a single mother of 5. Ages range from the two oldest 15 and 9 both females, and a 3yr old and twins that are 2 that are boys. It is extremely hard especially when you stayed in an abusive relationship forMore too long. What finally forced me to realize I needed change was when I had my boys, for so many different reasons. Now I'm left with mentally helping myself be strong as well as creating a steady environment for my children. I'm beyond stressed, and my anxiety levels are high, started counseling a few months back because of depression, which had helped emensly with that. I was also blessed with a great counselor. I will use these methods along with what I'm currently learning and using. Thanks for the support through these awesome articles 😊
  • Rosalind

    A helpful article. I am also trying to 'reclaim' our flat from 2 teenagers (1is19 but still in school until July).

    It took a friend to point out that it shouldn't be me lurking in the bedroom whilst the children +/- their friends are gaming in the living room, nor me on an inflatable mattress in the living room when grandparents come to stay.

  • Natasha
    Your comment is even more useful that the article:)
  • Amandarb
    This article is too long to read for a single parent.  I have time to skim things and dash off responses here and there.  Lengthy articles don't stand a chance in my world.
  • KimHardly
    Very informative article,
  • KM12
    Yes - shared parenting may be a pain in the butt at times, but you can't beat a night off once or twice a week. Makes you feel like you can conqueror the world again.
  • Sjf
    We are all doin the best we can regardless of our circumstances no two are the same it's not a war to see who's worst off...we should be supporting one another not pulling each other down...being a parent is very difficult however you got to be alone it shouldn't matter!!!More I actually came on here for advice to pull me up not down and be made to feel seperate again...such a shame! Being kind and good to each other is what's needed life is not a game and strangely we are all doing it...why can't we do it together ?
  • April

    I have witnessed 3 women in my immediate family successfully raise children as single parents and maintain a professional life (real estate agent, attorney, and professional within Universal). One (real estate agent) went through years of torment and harassment by her ex who perpetually sued her for trivial reasons and even alimony (and she was eventually required to pay it)!! Long story short, all of these women successfully and gracefully maintained their households, children, and professional lives despite insurmountable odds. I believe the difference between them and others is that they had role models who were also successful and independent single mothers who allowed them to believe that "having it all" was realistic. They saw the victimized scraggly single mother as only an option- an option they refused to become.

    I would also add that these other suggestions that contributed to their success:

    -Make yourself a priority. Take care of yourself and give yourself breaks when needed to prevent burn out. This requires establishing strong boundaries. Be a little selfish and nurture your self esteem.

    -Maintain your mental health. Period.

    Having a regular counselor you can vent to helps.... alot (you can find resources for free counseling services). Get treated for depression, anxiety, or any other ailments. Single parenthood is a Mecca for mental health issues when stress and isolation mount.

    -Pursue your passions/ find purpose in your life. Your dreams, although more difficult to obtain, still can and must be pursued. It will be painful, but if you give up on your personal success and purpose in life, what do you have to live for? I see this is where so many go wrong- society tell us that our children are first and that we must sacrifice all for them. This will lead to the loss of oneself, cynicism, depression.....

    -Work out! (This will help you maintain energy, strength to go the extra mile, looks, and buffer stress).

    -Become resourceful.

    Look into and apply for the benefits you qualify for ;-) There is no shame in this.

    -Collect the maximum child support.

    -Surround yourself with positivity even if it's via YouTube self help videos.

    It seems paradoxical, but taking care of yourself = care of your children.

  • Single mum
    I am giving you my best regards. I do feel for you. I am a single parent myself. I had the worst evening of the year. It has been so exhausting on a daily basis that i dont find the energy now to type out my experiences and mentally goMore though it all.....
  • Mark
    Believe me being thrown into being a single parent the shock is barely wearing off.. I've even gone so far as to start a funding page. I quit my job of 20 years to try and Start a home business so I can stay home with my 4More sons.. If anyone is feeling generous https://www.gofundme.com/2jdy3f8
  • Venn
    single parenting is very exhausting!  knowing yourself is the key to success in doing this. First accept that you are a single parent and all that comes with it. Second, go at it while you are still afraid of anything and everything for whatever reason! Third, pay attention to everythingMore and adjust, adjust, and adjust! Look! it is mind over matter okay. Life is what you make it to be 100%. The bible says that your child or children will save you. So learn from them, love them, prepare for them, prepare them for everything, teach them, protect them, fight and die for them!!!!! That is all you can do until they come of age. Then and only then, you'll see the blessings of the decision you made to bring them into this world.
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