Single parenting, whether by choice or by consequence, can be overwhelming at times. Child-rearing can be difficult under any circumstances. 

Without a partner, the stakes are higher and it may result in added pressure, stress, and fatigue. This is why it's imperative to develop a support system as a parent, so you can get through difficult situations. Family psychologist, Relebogile Mkhwanazi, shares a few ways single parents can create a support system.

1. Ask and accept help
It takes a village to raise a child and single parents often feel guilty for asking for help. It is okay to accept help as a single parent. It doesn't mean that you aren't there for your child, or that you aren't parenting well enough. Sometimes it actually means you are parenting better because with help, nothing slips through the cracks of your son or daughter’s childhood. They will always have the help and support they need, always have someone taking care of them, and not your half-attention when you’re trying to work and earn a living to support your family and raise them at the same time.

2. Prioritise yourself
The metaphor ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’ is an important quote to remember especially when you’re a single parent. For you to take care of your child and be the best parent possible, you need to take care of yourself first and prioritise your needs and health. You need to deliberately carve out time in your day to prioritise self-care. This could be in the form of finding little bits of ‘me’ time throughout the day. Such as painting your nails, watching your favourite show, or taking a walk.

As single parents, you can also have 'self-care dates' where you hang out in a group and engage in activities that don't involve the kids, such as having a book club, having a picnic, or going out for a braai. Hang on tight to the things you love and remember them dearly throughout the day. It’ll help keep you sane and your spirits high, even in the face of stress and adversity

3. Create or join a single parent group
Support groups provide a great way to meet other single parents who may be experiencing similar stressors. From small, more intimate groups to large gatherings, these support groups can help you connect, vent, and find solutions to issues you are working through. You can join groups on Facebook and even create groups on Whatsapp with other single parents you may know.

4. Learn from your support system
Having a healthy support system in the form of family, friends, medical professionals, or the community can provide parents with a host of benefits. A support system is more than a shoulder to cry on, it’s a network of people you can depend on either emotionally or practically. A strong support system is one that includes both a social network of people as well as medical professionals. Support systems are there for you to rely on for emotional support and advice. The knowledge you gain from your support system will boost your self-esteem, encourage you to make healthy choices and calm the negative effects of emotional distress.

5. Reward yourself for being a single parent and give yourself the benefit of the doubt
Single parents often experience more shame and judgement from society. Negative judgements about other parents or yourself as a parent are never helpful or healthy for your children. So, instead of being critical, you need to give yourself the benefit of the doubt and remind yourself that you're doing your best. Reward yourself by finding a creative outlet that you enjoy. If you enjoy cooking then share a recipe with other parents online or go for a cooking lesson. You can also reward yourself by learning a new skill such as sewing, crafting or doing the garden.

6. Give your child a positive role model to have
Giving your child another person to look up to besides yourself will help shape how they behave in school and interact with others. It’s your duty as a parent to help your child choose a positive role model. It’s important to expose your child to a worthy role model early on in life, the exposure influences their mannerisms, sense of purpose, and values. The role model you choose for your child could either be from your support system or a teacher from school that you know well enough.

If the other parent isn’t involved in his or her life, you might worry about the lack of a male or female parental role model in your child’s life. To send positive messages about the opposite sex, point out accomplishments or positive characteristics of the opposite sex and contradict negative stereotypes about the opposite sex. Show your child that is possible to have long-term, positive relationships with members of the opposite sex.

By Wandile Jama

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