As a seasoned solo mom, I've learned to cope and build a support system when there's no co-parent.
In this article, I want to share my experiences and insights, not as an expert, but as a fellow solo mum who has learned to thrive amidst adversity.
Note: We are talking solo mums here. So, mums doing it without another parent in the picture.
This journey can be incredibly demanding, both emotionally and physically, as we strive to be the anchor, the nurturer, and the provider all rolled into one.
Remember: Building a solid support system is a lifeline for solo parents.
Like you, I understand the isolation and exhaustion of solo parenting. However, I also know there is hope and ways to forge meaningful connections, find the support you need, and create a nurturing environment for your children.
I explore the journey of creating a robust support system when there's no co-parent, empowering you to face single parenthood's challenges with strength and grace.
Identify your needs
If you are parenting alone, you are justified to reach for support.
The key here is knowing where and what you need support with.
When deciding what you can manage yourself and what you want to outsource (get help with), it helps to play to your strengths. For example, I love cooking, I can help my kids with their homework and I have housework down-packed. But give me a DIY project or ask me to mow the lawn, and I'm stumped! For this reason, I ask for help with gardening and the odd DIY task.
I am also, like other mums, time-poor, so I ask for help managing my time by organising lift-sharing or a few hours of childcare after school so I can squeeze in extra hours at work.
Identifying your exact support needs and targeting the right people for help is a proactive way of creating a solid support system when there's no co-parent.
Reach out to family and friends
I know! This is easier than it sounds.
You might have family in the picture but feel uncomfortable asking them for help. If this is the case, consider why this is and think outside the box to wangle the support you need. Say, your mum doesn't take the kids as much as you would like, but she wants to spend time with them. Invite her over to play with the kids at your house while you get on with other things.
As for friends, we work out who our friends really are when we need support. As mentioned in the point above, once you know what you need help with, ask the friend who is most able to offer that support. A good friend will bend over backward to help you, especially as you are parenting independently without help from a father.
If you're lacking on the family and friend front, it might be time to connect with new people to forge new friendships. I know it feels daunting but these new friends could be the core of your support systems when there's no co-parent.
Further reading: 8 Best friend finder apps in Australia.
Join local parenting groups
Talking of making new friends, joining a parenting group is a significant first step.
Ask your local playgroup or school if they know of any good ones in the area. Check the local newspaper and free kiddie magazines. Or look online to see if you can find a group that appeals to you.
Most parenting groups are for parents of young children, and the set-up allows the kids to play and socialise while the parents, well ... play and socialise too.
A parenting group might be an official group, or it could be a more informal, regular get-together arranged by parents from school or something similar.
Whatever kind of group you join, be sure to open up and mention that you are a solo mum and dad is not on the scene, meaning you do it ALL. OK, it's a bit of a sympathy card but it works, I promise you. Why? Because you deserve the support.
Keep your ear to the ground and join at least one group because here you will find like-minded souls who will totally get your situation and might, in time, be the support you crave ... both emotionally and practically.
How I built a support system when there's no co-parent (cont.)
Find a reliable babysitter and/or childcare services
The good thing about partnered parenting, co-parenting, and even parallel parenting is that you get a break when your child goes to dad's house. As a solo mum, this is a luxury you have to learn to live without.
However, it gives you a great excuse to use a babysitter or childcare services.
When I had my first daughter, before I went back to work, I put her in childcare for one afternoon each week and was able to fully justify it as a solo mum. I needed the time and space to get organised, and it's amazing what you can get done in just one afternoon if you are child-free!
If you can't afford childcare, how about finding a local teen to babysit at a set time each week? It will give you a breather, give the teen some cash, and your child will love being entertained by someone else for a while.
Get support from professionals
I'm just going to say it: There is no shame in seeking professional help.
In fact, professional support makes up an integral part of your support system when there's no co-parent.
If you need help figuring out where to start, head to your local GP. They can refer you to pretty much any health professional you need. Be open with your doctor and explain that you're a mum doing it alone. I have always found my GP to be a massive support, and I have shed many tears in the patient chair ... the cry alone makes me feel better.
And when I talk about professional support, I don't mean only for you. Does your child need help in a way that exhausts your offering as a parent? If so, bring in the big guns. It might be that your child is struggling without a father figure, has health issues, needs educational support, or anything in between.
If you are worried about cost (which is understandable), check remuneration options from Medicare or the health service in the country/state where you live. As a solo mum, without another parent taking some of the load, you might be entitled to some generous concessions.
My point here is that there is professional help out there. Don't be afraid to reach for it. And if you reach for it and can't afford it, work the system and get benefits you are entitled to as a solo mum to make it happen.
Connect with your neighbours to create a support system when there's no co-parent
Establishing a cordial relationship with your neighbours is always a good idea. They can be an awesome support system when there's no co-parent.
While you don't need to live out your neighbours' pockets, and vice versa, let them know your situation as a solo mum where dad is not on the scene. People love to be neighbourly and perform good deeds. I like to help them in their quest and let them do those good deeds for me! Of course, I help out in return too.
But seriously, neighbours can be very accommodating. They can help you fix things around the house and watch your property when you are away. Your kids can play with their children and go to school together.
When I was renting, I was lucky enough to live in a cute cul-de-sac full of fellow single mums. They became my lifeline once I'd plucked up the courage to chat with them. We shared care-child, food and even arranged the odd night out together.
Whether your neighbours are single parents or not, be open and friendly, and you'll soon have heaps of free support at your fingertips.
Find like-minded solo mums online
I have met so many kind-hearted fellow solo mums online who provide emotional support and valuable resources on various social media sites and forums. Whether I know them in real life or virtually, these women make up for the absence of another parent.
Surrounding yourself with individuals who have been or are in a similar situation helps you gain strength and inspiration. They have a first-hand understanding of how it is to be a solo mum with no co-parent, so they are much more likely to be empathetic and understanding.
Plus, single mums online have the most useful hacks and tips to make this solo parenting journey easier!
You're more likely to find people online if you head to single mother or single parent spaces. Here, you'll find all kinds of single parents doing it any which way, including co-parenting, parallel parenting, and solo parenting. You'll find the chats include stuff about ex-partners, but there will also be a fair amount of content around solo parenting.
We have our own single mum group here on Beanstalk. The Single Mum Vine FB group is a peaceful, happy space where we focus on uplifting one another and focusing on the best parts of single motherhood. Best of all, of the 25K+ members, there are heaps of solo mums.
Communicate your needs clearly
This might seem obvious. I mean, we have to tell people what help we need from them in order to get it, right?
I learned this the hard way, as I was always too nervous to ask for help directly. Instead, I would find myself moaning to people about my situation as a solo mum, hoping they would pipe up and offer me help. Take it from me that this method doesn't work and you come across as a whingey old cow!
I have discovered that if I ask clearly and directly people couldn't be happier to help, or if they can't for any reason, will say no, and that is OK too.
It took me half a year before I finally dared to ask my next-door neighbours if my daughters could carpool with their kids to school. Sarah hugged me and said, "We thought you'd never ask!" It turns out they have always wanted to offer their help but didn't want me to feel they were sorry for me.
Now, I'm not saying you should ask everyone for favors. But sharing your needs with family and friends you trust is OK. After all, you're doing this parenting thing solo, and they'll want to help.
Reciprocate and show appreciation
When someone does put their hand up to help and becomes a rung in your support system when there's no co-parent, make sure they feel valued.
Do not - I repeat, do not - ever take your source of support for granted. A genuine "thank you," small, inexpensive gifts, and offering to do errands for them are wonderful ways to express your gratitude.
I'm the sort of person who, if someone buys me a drink in a bar, I will spend the rest of the evening worrying until I have evened the scales and brought one for them in return. This goes for everything in my world. If someone is kind enough to help me, I can't rest until I have done something for them.
Now, don't stress. You might be thinking 'If I have to do something for everyone who helps me, how's that going to help me in the long run?'. But just because someone takes your kids for a few hours doesn't mean you must do the same in return. Instead, think of easy ways to show your appreciation. Next time you make homemade cookies, put some in a small box and gift them. Or send them a text telling them how appreciative you are for their support.
Remember that there's such a thing called "compassion exhaustion." It applies to your support system too.
Plan for emergencies
One of the main reasons to have a solid support system when there's no co-parent is to ensure you and your children are covered in an emergency. Of course, we all believe the worst won't happen and most likely won't. But, it's sod law that if you are prepared, it is less likely to eventuate.
This is another time that neighbours come in so handy. Their proximity to your home makes them perfect for emergency support. I can't tell you the number of times my neighbours have taken in one of my daughters when they've forgotten their key and I'm stuck at work.
I also have one friend (another solo mum) with whom I've agreed we will be each other's emergency support people. This means we can call each other anytime and reach for support. So far we've avoided any midnight callouts or hospital runs but she has done countless school pick-ups when I've worked late, and I once took her kids on Christmas Day morning when her nan got ill and she had to drive interstate.
Us solo mums can't call our kid's dad's in an emergency, therefore we need another plan. Make sure you have yours ready to go.
Take care of yourself
This is one of the most important things you can do as a solo mum. But we are all guilty of putting our own self-care waaaay down the priorities list. Myself included.
Please remember you are doing one of the most challenging jobs in the world (parenting) on your own. That takes a lot of energy, headspace and time. No one can maintain a fully functioning solo mum role without a break.
I'm not talking about a trip to Hawaii ... but if you get the chance, GO. I mean small acts of kindness and self-care for yourself. My personal example is very dull: I go to bed at the same time every night but only after a full hour of Netflix/Britbox/my current fav streaming service. This means I relax before bed and (usually) get a good night's sleep.
For others, self-care will be way more impressive. Meditation, Pilates, gym etc.
Self-care is a personal practice. Decide what makes you feel good. Think:
- How can you really relax?
- What re-charges your batteries?
- How can you keep on top of your health?
- What makes you feel happy?
As a solo mum, you are your children's one and only parental role model. You are being watched!
By taking time for self-care, your children will see that you love yourself and teach them the importance of self-love. They will also learn that it's not all about them, you are not their servant, and if mum doesn't get to sit down for five minutes now and then, she'll seriously lose her shit!
My final words on how I built a support system when there's no co-parent
The well-coined phrase 'it takes a village to raise a child' is so accurate.
I love being a solo mum to my children. I wouldn't have it any other way. But, I am not blinkered into believing that I alone am enough.
Children need a team to raise them. They need people from all walks of life with different skills, ideas and values to offer them. The best way to provide this is by building a support system where they can thrive, grow, and feel confident even when you are not around.
After ten years of solo parenting, I'm proud of my support system. It shows how I conquered my fears, allowing me to both accept I needed help and ultimately ask for it. It is a network of people and services that have allowed me to be the best mother I could to my children while living my life to the fullest.
If you are in doubt about how to create a support system when there's no co-parent, reread this article. Identify what you need help with and where you can find it. Put your feelers out in your immediate crowd and among strangers (who may become your friends) at local and online support groups. Be clear about what you need from these people and offer what you can in return.
Most importantly, always remember the central pillar holding your support group in place.... YOU. Without you, the plates will not only stop spinning, they will come crashing down. So, be sure to take care of yourself. Yes, it's a cliche but it's also super important.
Anyway, I must dash. I have to get the kids ready for the neighbours to take them to school before Mick, the handyman, arrives to mow my lawn, and my best friend's husband pops around to put my daughter's desk together. See what I mean ... support! It makes the world go round!