Single Parents and Self-Care

01 May

Being a single parent is tough. This isn’t a statement that many people would debate about. We all think we know the work that it takes to parent a child. The thing is, it’s hard enough to parent a child when you have two caregiving adults living with and caring for a child, let alone when you are the sole caregiver in the house. You have double the responsibility you were intended to have. That includes finances, stress, cooking, cleaning, getting your kid(s) to bed on time, etc. When do you even have time for self-care?

A recent study of female single parents that was published in 2018 found that, “most of the parents had poor mental health (48.33%), 40 percent had very poor mental health and only 11.67 percent had average mental health” (Chanda, Hittalamani, and Pujar, 2018). This study was done in Dharwad taluk, and while the stressors of daily life might differ from those of single parents in the United States, the reality is that stressors and responsibilities of which are doubled for a single parent does not differ. 

Chanda, Hittalamani, and Pujar (2018) also found there to be a significant relationship between the age of the single parent and their mental health, and between the socio-economic status of the single parent and their mental health. When we bring the research a little closer to home we find that,  “A 2018 report4 by the UK charity Gingerbread highlighted that nearly half of all children with a single parent lived in poverty in 2015–16” (Lorant and Webb, 2018). The question becomes, how can single parent’s take care of their children, earn money, obtain healthcare, keep a roof over their children’s heads, and partake in activities for self-care and maintain an average level of mental health?

Well that's a big question, right? It deserves and answer, but honestly, I don’t have the answer. Nobody has THE answer.  However, there are some small things you can do in your everyday life to benefit your mental health without jeopardizing your child’s or children's well being.    

  • Provide yourself some lee-way. (Psst.  You’re human too!)
    • As a single mother or father you can really only realistically do so much. Accept this and don’t punish yourself for it. 
  • Learn to say “No”. 
    • If you can’t take something new on at work, or you can’t volunteer at your kids school for an event it is OKAY.  Try to get the next one. It’s better to say, “No. I just can’t take this on right now.” than to say “Yes.” and do a mediocre job.  
  • Set aside 5 minutes a day to do something you love.
    • It can be as simple as meditating, or watching your kid(s) play, just make sure you’re allowing yourself to be in the moment and enjoying every aspect of that time you alot for yourself. If you can do more than 5 minutes a day, do!
  • Accept help when it’s offered/ ask when you need it.
    • I know it’s hard to admit that we need help. When it is feasible, and offered that takes weight off of your shoulders, even if it’s just for a few minutes. It can be as simple as asking to drive your kids home from school, that gives you extra time to get home and do some things around the house.
  • Have meaningful family time.
    • Your family, small or large is important to you. Not only is it fun to play with your kids for a few minutes, but it’s been shown that family influence has played a particularly important role regarding negative behavioral outcomes (DePanfilis, Hayward, and Lindsey, 2010).

On the airplane they tell us to put our air mask on before we help others. It’s the same idea for self-care. As a parent, especially a single parent, how can you expect yourself to take care of your children without taking care of yourself. If you were physically sick, you’d take steps to get healthy again. When we’re feeling burnt out, or our mental health is suffering, we need to participate in self-care in order to feel better, and to be the best single-parent you can be. Implementing these actions may not  be a cure-all, but they certainly can help. If the pressure’s on, don’t forget to take care of yourself so that you can take care of those who depend on you.

By Rachael Steinmetz, RP

I am a first-year master’s student at the University of Denver studying Counseling Psychology with a concentration in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. I am a practicum student at Denver Adolescent Therapy Group. I love working with adolescents and young adults because they have their own thoughts and opinions, yet are often so open to learning and changing. I work the most with people who struggle with depression, anxiety, and relationship issues.


 Lindsey, M. A., Hayward, R. A., & DePanfilis, D. (2010). Gender Differences in Behavioral Outcomes Among Children at Risk of Neglect: Findings From a Family-Focused Prevention Intervention. Research on Social Work Practice, 20(6), 572–581.

Pujar, L., Chanda, K., & Hittalamani, D. D. (2018). Mental health of single parents.Indian Journal of Health and Wellbeing, 9(3), 373-376. Retrieved from 

Webb, R. T., & Lorant, V. (2018). Neoliberal welfare reform and single parents' mental health. The Lancet Public Health, 3(7), e307-e308.

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