First of all, your single mother friend is a lucky woman. She has a friend who’s taking the time to read this post and wants to support her. Lucky her.
Being a single mother can be a lonely place. And while it has its upsides, it can also be stressful, exhausting, relentless and unforgiving. Put together, the lot of a single mother doesn’t exactly cultivate the conditions for coping and staying mentally healthy.
While outwardly your single mother friend may present a tough exterior, inwardly she may be crying out for help, for someone to notice her struggles and extend an olive branch of assistance.
Because it takes a village to raise a child.
But if your friend is anything like me she may be less than forthcoming in asking for help. She probably doesn’t like admitting that she needs help because it feels like a small failure, admission of defeat.
I don’t want to be a burden to my friends or for anyone to feel sorry for me. So sometimes, to my detriment, I’ve soldiered on alone, keeping my needs, fears and struggles to myself.
It’s hard to be vulnerable. And there have been times when I’ve asked for help in the past or let people I thought I could trust know how they could be there for me. And my plea has gone unacknowledged.
What I failed to realise was that perhaps the people I asked weren’t equipped to help because they were knee-deep in their own troubles.
So instead I retreated into myself and stopped asking.
So, yes, we single mother sometimes to make it hard to help us. We’re proud. We’ve independent. We don’t want to be a burden to those around us.
Even when people say “I’m happy to have E any time.” Or “Do you need anything?” – mostly I haven’t taken the person up on it. Here’s why:
- I think that person is just being polite and doesn’t really mean it.But do persist.
- I feel guilty because I can’t reciprocate your favour fears that confessing she needs help is admitting she can’t cope. Of revealing she’s not enough on her own.
- I think that confessing I need help is admitting I can’t cope or that on my own, I’m not enough.
Total and utter nonsense, I see that now. So persist.
Every parent needs a team of support behind them. Every child needs more than one person to be around them. Single parents, in particular, need to build a support network to help them raise their child.
Your single mother friend loses so much by not making herself vulnerable, by not revealing the truth about her needs and her fears.
She needs to believe that the right people will be only too happy to help.
So help her along. Tell her to think about it in the reverse. If you were struggling and asked her to help you out, wouldn’t she be more than happy to come to your aid? Would there be strings attached? Wouldn’t the reassurance of knowing you have a community of support around you be worth build that bridge for?
Wouldn’t the reassurance of knowing you have a community of support around you be worth building that bridge for?
However, let me also tell you – the help that arrives unprompted is like finding hidden treasure.
To have read this far, you must be someone who genuinely wants to help your single mother friend. So to help you out here’s list of support and small gestures that when sent in my direction have restored my faith in human kindness.
1 | drop by to keep your single mum friend company
Unless she shares a home with family or friends your single mother friend is most likely at home alone, night after night.
After a long day working, chasing a toddler, or negotiating with a stroppy child, making dinner and getting the small people to bed, there is no-one arriving home to ease the load, discuss the day with, help with any chores, or simply be adult company.
Night after night by yourself can be tough. Depressing even. After six years as a single parent, and rarely having local friends who drop by, I’ve learned to fill my evenings with more than just watching TV.
But when E was small and all I had the mental capacity to cope with was a glass of wine and mindless TV, I used to yearn for someone to drop by for a chat. Someone to debrief with, someone who could provide me with a window into a world other than one filled with nappies and breastfeeding.
This is SO easy to do, yet so rarely put into action (in my experience).
2 | Be considerate of your single mother friend’s sensitivities
I remember inwardly fuming when friends were offering all kinds of help to a friend when her husband was away, dropping over to keep her company in the evenings, offering to babysit, when no similar help had been extended my way.
I marvel at some people’s lack of awareness.
So, this may seem obvious but please don’t make a fuss in front of your single mum friend when your partnered friend’s husband goes away on business and leaves her home alone.
Also, don’t post on Facebook about how hard it is when your husband’s away for a couple of days, saying you “feel like a single mother”.
You don’t, and you never will, because you’re not. He’s still on the end of the phone, he’s still sharing the responsibility of raising a family and what’s more your time alone is finite. Hers is not.
3 | Bring the party to your single mum friend
Remember, her reality if different to yours. You can organise nights out on evenings your husband is home to look after the kids, she doesn’t have that luxury. She has to pay a babysitter or call in favours and sometimes she may have maxed out those favours just to get through the working week.
Socialising will, therefore, have to take last priority. If you’re always arranging nights out, you might find she attends less and less. Accentuating her aloneness and your lack of awareness.
So every now and then offer to take the party to her house instead of the local restaurant. Offer to bring around a takeaway and a bottle of wine so she can socialise without having to cook or arrange a babysitter.
4 | Offer no strings babysitting
Tell her, you’ll come to hers and babysit so she can go and see a movie, go out for a drink or do anything else she doesn’t usually deem worth getting a babysitter for. Tell her if she’s not able to reciprocate, no problem. But I guarantee she’ll find another way to show her gratitude.
5 | check in with your single mum friend in tough time5
Being stuck at home for days with a sick child who’s awake all night and on the couch all day needing your attention is not fun. You know that. And as a single mum your friend may have no respite. She can’t leave the house. She can’t do anything!
I’ve been unbelievably grateful to the few friends who’ve taken the time to send me a text asking me if I needed anything when E has been sick. Once a neighbour I’d had coffee with only once dropped over simply to hold a vomity, nine-month-old E so I could have a shower and take a walk round the block. She became one of my best friends.
More recently a mum from E’s school – now also one of my best friends – said she was going to the shops, did I need anything, just when I realised I’d run out of toilet paper and had no way of getting to the shops. Lifesaver.
These are small simple gestures, that result in big gratitude.
6 | step in when you notice she needs another pair of hands
Sometimes one pair of hands just isn’t enough. I remember being at a party in a park when E was tiny and having to constantly having run after her in case she fell off a precipice, ran into a road or put a cigarette butt in their mouth.
I was rattled, stressed out, and unable to draw breathe, let alone relax and chat with my friends. It had been a huge effort just to get out of the house and all I could do was look around enviously at my friends who can play tag team with their husbands.
The relief I felt when once of my closest friends quietly and firmly take E off her hands for 10 minutes with a reassuring nod – swapping my child for a glass of prosecco – was palpable.
So notice. And keep noticing.
7 | Acknowledge how tough single parenting is and tell her she’s doing a great job
I’ll never forget the kindness and consideration a friend in my mother’s group showed when after her husband had been away for a week she took the time to post on Facebook her admiration for anyone parenting alone.
She’d brought to her knees by one week alone with a small baby, so she ‘took her hat off’ to all the single parents out there.
I’ve also had partnered friends who are struggling acknowledge how hard it must be to be doing everything they do together alone ALL the time. And not just the day to day stuff, but the big stuff too – paying the mortgage, earning the money, shouldering all the responsibilities.
Sometimes people don’t need solutions, they just need the people around them to understand and acknowledge them.
If she’s struggling, your friend will be acutely aware of her shortcomings, so she needs someone to point out what she’s doing right. Tell her she’s doing the best she can and that’s all anyone can expect.
Tell her to ask you for help whenever she needs it. And as mentioned about, keep saying it, keep doing it.
8 | check your single mum friend isn’t alone on Mother’s Day
In the lead up to Mother’s Day be aware that for single mothers this can be a tricky time.
I’ve written about this before, and I know not every single mother feels like this, and that many partnered mothers aren’t fans of the day either. But it can be galling to feel like you’re the only once no receiving flowers, treats or lunches.
Ask her what she’s doing and how she feels about it. She may be fine, but she may not. She might fear spending the day alone or feel sad that she’s part of a perfect nuclear family. It doesn’t matter than most nuclear families are far from perfect, it’s just a reminder of what she lacks.
Again, just be conscious that her experience is very different to your own. Be sensitive – don’t go on about your gifts, your wonderful husband bringing you breakfast in bed. Tread carefully. But most of all be aware.
Send her a text, ask her to join for brunch or lunch. Share your tales of a less than perfect Mother’s Day so she doesn’t feel alone.
On reading this back I realise that it might come across as patronising, or whiney. I don’t mean it too. Motherhood and friendship can be tricky, but it can also be a lifeline.
Since becoming a single mother I’ve found that often the people who’ve ended up being there for me have not been the people I expected. I’ve had friends let me down but I’ve also made wonderful connections with new people. And, I know that often I haven’t been able to be a good friend myself.
So my message is one for me, as much as anyone else us. Whenever you can, be kind, and be a good friend. That is all.