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Single Mothers and Parental Stress: Taking Care of Yourself

While parenthood brings much joy, pride and personal growth, it can also bring a lot of challenges, and these challenges can take a toll on single mothers.

Research shows that single moms have significantly higher levels of depression than married couples or those who do not have kids, and in many cases, the depression doesn’t go away when the children grow up and move out of the house! Researchers believe that this is because mothers still worry about their kids and how they’re getting along in the world throughout their lives (e.g., their adult child’s employment problems, marital conflicts, financial difficulties, etc.).

To make matters worse, many single moms are often relatively socially isolated and don’t always have support from the community – or even their extended family.

If you have kids, and you are raising them with little or no help from their father, you've probably experienced your share of parenting stress. Thus, it’s time that you fully comprehend that you really need to take care of your own emotional well-being for a change – and find enough social support for yourself and your family.

Here are some important tips that single moms can use to “begin taking care of themselves”:

1. Raising a youngster is expensive! The financial cost can take an emotional toll in the form of money worries. Thus, learning better money-management tips can give you more financial choices and keep you less stressed about your budget and your future.

2. Getting organized is a crucial skill for single mothers. If, for example, you're able to anticipate that potty-training accident on the way to daycare, keep an extra change of clothes in your car at all times. If you plan ahead and restructure your routines, there's less fussing, forgetting things, and stressing-out as you move through your hectic day.

3. To maintain the kind of stamina and focus required to do your best as a single mom, care for yourself in the same way you care for your kids (e.g., get plenty of sleep, eat healthy foods, make room for some "down time"). It's also important to enjoy positive feedback (e.g., hugs from children and kudos from work) to avoid work-related burnout. It may be difficult to fit all of this into an already-busy schedule, but proper self-care will help single mothers to be more efficient in their lives.

4. Only concern yourself with the things you can control – and forget the rest. For example, no one can force your ex to visit. It’s not your fault if he doesn’t show up for your youngster’s birthday party or big game. These are his issues – not yours. Don’t lose sleep over it.

5. Keep your kid's stress in mind, too. Even younger kids can benefit from stress relief practices (e.g., deep breathing, quiet time with mom, massage, etc.). Because mothers and younger kids are so attuned to each other, reducing stress in one helps both mother and youngster.

6. Don’t forget that there are people around to help you – if you just ask. Some extended family members (e.g., aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.) may love to step-in more often to lend a hand. Friends and next-door neighbors may also be rallied. Supportive networks can be formed. Also, there are ways to hire affordable help for extra things (e.g., cleaning, cooking) to make a working mom's lifestyle less frenzied. In addition, the option of delegating tasks at work is often overlooked. Enlisting help is a smart way to make life less anxiety-ridden.

7. Never forget to thoroughly enjoy your children throughout their lives and yours. Hug them often. Tell them you love them – and what you love about them. Enjoy them. Learn from them. Don’t let a day go by without finding the positives!

8. Learn to say “no” to activities that aren’t a top priority. This will open-up more time for family bonding, relaxation and sanity.

9. In today’s world, family members live further from each other, and mothers work more and have less time and energy to spend with their kids, which leaves single-parent families with fewer resources and less emotional support. But, if you make an effort to develop a supportive network, you can still find these benefits. Even though you may not get these benefits from extended family and neighbors like families in the past did, you can still find individuals with similar needs and values to network with and share support. They can help you feel nurtured and supported for years to come, buffering you from some of the factors that contribute to anxiety and depression in single mothers.

10. Simply said, prayer and meditation can work wonders in your mental health. Being a part of a church family wouldn't hurt either.

11. Find some role models. Make a list of single mothers (or kids raised by a single mother) who inspire you, and refer to it when you’re having a rough day. For example, President Obama was raised by his single mother. President Clinton was brought up primarily by his mother. Discovering a few wonderful success stories provides proof that single parenthood is not only manageable, but an incredible gift that allows you to shape your children into wonderful human beings.

12. Taking care of your body can have lasting physical and emotional benefits. For example, eating a healthy diet can stabilize your blood sugar levels and help keep mood swings at bay. It will also keep your body healthier so you’re sick less often, have higher self-esteem, and live longer. Maintaining a regular exercise program provides the same benefits (e.g., releases endorphins and other positive emotions, helps you release tension, lowers levels of stress hormones like cortisol).

13. When stressed-out, single mothers often find themselves less able to connect with their kids or focus at work, which may lead to defiant behavior in children, time-consuming mistakes at work, and other problems that increase anxiety-levels for all the family members. Thus, taking a proactive stance on stress-reduction is very important. Have several “short-term” stress-relievers on hand (e.g., breathing exercises, reframing techniques, methods for looking at a stressful situation differently), as well as “long-term” stress-reduction techniques (e.g., regular exercise, meditation, a hobby, a supportive social circle, etc.).

14. Remember that kids who feel neglected tend to act-out more, and single mothers who feel they aren't giving enough time to their children tend to feel anxious and guilty. So, maintaining a strong connection is both emotionally beneficial as well as pragmatic. Fortunately, reducing stress doesn't mean giving less to children. Spending quality time together doing an enjoyable activity can be a "multitasking" way to connect and relieve anxiety at the same time.

15. Many single mothers forget to put themselves on the list of people who need to “learn and grow.” Having a hobby or other creative outlet can help you relieve anxiety and depression, and help you maintain your identity as an individual – not just a parent. Creative outlets also help you keep your kid’s lives in perspective.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Parenting Rebellious Teens

One day you wake up and find that life has changed forever. Instead of greeting you with a hug, your little boy rolls his eyes when you say "good morning" and shouts, "You're ruining my life!" You may think you've stepped into the Twilight Zone, but you've actually been thrust into your son's teen years.

During adolescence, teens start to break away from parents and become "their own person." Some talk back, ignore rules and slack off at school. Others may sneak out or break curfew. Still others experiment with alcohol, tobacco or drugs. So how can you tell the difference between normal teen rebellion versus dangerous behavior? And what's the best way for a parent to respond?

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Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

Many families of defiant children live in a home that has become a battleground. In the beginning, the daily struggles can be expected. After all, we knew that problems would occur. Initially, stress can be so subtle that we lose sight of a war, which others do not realize is occurring. We honestly believe that we can work through the problems.

Outbursts, rages, and strife become a way of life (an emotionally unhealthy way of life). We set aside our own needs and focus on the needs of our children. But what does it cost us?

The majority of the population does not understand the dynamics of parenting an ODD child. Family and friends may think that you - the parent - are the one with the problem. Families are frequently turned in on false abuse allegations. Support is non-existent, because outsiders can't even begin to imagine that children can be so destructive. Where does that leave a parent?

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