The Challenge and Necessity of Self-Love for Single Parents

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Self-affirming strategies that make it easier to parent without a partner.

Over 22 million American children are being raised by single parents. Most are alone due to a dissolved partnership, the death of a partner, or another difficult circumstance whose psychological costs impact their families. Even when men and women parent alone under the happiest of circumstances, being the primary parent can be a thankless job. Parenting alone comes with overwhelming responsibility and few accolades.

When taking care of a child or children without the support of a partner, single parents often sacrifice their own emotional needs. But as the anchors of their families, it’s especially important that single parents find a way to parent with joy and confidence.

Self-love isn’t a magic fix for financial insecurity, depression, anxiety, exhaustion, loneliness, or resentment, but it does offer a foundation for being the best parent you can be. In honor of all the incredible single parents across this nation, I offer the following seven strategies, which build on each other and work together to help you love yourself.

  1. Acknowledge psychological pain — and stop the emotional bleeding. Guy Winch’s widely viewed TED Talk makes the compelling case that, from an early age, we are taught to attend to our physical injuries but but not our psychological injuries. When we ignore or numb our psychological pain, well-being eludes us. A fundamental step toward self-love is emotional healing and psychological health. Winch describes the process of identifying psychological wounds and seeking care for them as emotional hygiene. Single parenting takes bravery, resilience, and fortitude. Regardless of whether you are leaving a partnership after abuse, are widowed, or are single by choice, it’s critical to address past pain and work on healing the wounds it created. No one wants to see the ones we love suffer; nor should we accept this pain for ourselves. Understanding and healing our own pain is the ultimate expression of self-love.
  2. Prioritize self-care and sleep. Exhaustion and lack of self-care often go hand in hand with single parenting. Unfortunately, burning the candle at both ends is a risky strategy over the long term because it compromises parenting skills and is dangerous to your physical and psychological health. Eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep are expressions of self-worth. Give yourself the same care and love that you show your children. Protecting your health will make you a wonderful role model and equip you to handle the inevitable physical and psychological challenges that come your way. Make these changes, and you won’t be able to help but love yourself!
  3. Praise yourself and avoid negative self-talk. In a “self-love story,” wellness expert Janet Fawber Verney describes healing herself through daily self-love. “When I made the choice to start truly loving me, just as I am, that is when the magic happened,” she writes. “It didn’t happen overnight, but day by day things began to improve.” Noting that the majority of our thoughts are negative, Fawber Verney advises us to change negative self-talk into positive thoughts. Because single parents don’t have a partner to cheer them through the tough parenting moments, negative talk can be particularly challenging to avoid. Kids often push us to our limits and accentuate our feelings of inadequacy. Writing about self-love, Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. urges us to “take each day one at a time and as you move through it, pat yourself on the back for small and large accomplishments.” Focus on the many ways you’ve done right by your children to recognize your self-worth and power.
  4. Allow forgiveness and practice acceptance. Stop trying to compensate for being a single parent by trying to be perfect. Hollman advises us to think about the “highs and lows” of the day each evening. “Think of what made you feel you love yourself for who you are. This is essential — who you are is good enough. Tell yourself that over and over.” Everyone gets tired or cranky. Forgive yourself for those imperfect moments and move forward. Acceptance and forgiveness are part of any healthy relationship. Aim for the same qualities in your relationship with yourself. Aim to be as forgiving and kind to yourself as you are to others.
  5. Focus on gratitude, and aim for optimism. Yes, parenting alone is hard, but look at your children and the family you’ve sustained, and be grateful for their health and love. Adopting a ritual of gratitude is linked to reduced anxiety, optimism, and an ability to not sweat the small stuff. A ritual could be as simple as lying on the floor, closing your eyes, and taking deep, purposeful breaths to conjure something you are grateful for. Consider your journey, the progress you’ve made, and your happy hopes for the future. Give yourself a pat on the back for being a superhero to your kids. A Harvard University study of 70,000 women reveals that an optimistic outlook improves health and well-being — and even lengthens life expectancy. Being optimistic is a wonderful expression of self-love!
  6. Plan adventures, and explore nature. Single moms and dads have to jam so much into a 24-hour day that often they have no time to breathe, let alone fully relax. Nonetheless, getting off the daily treadmill is essential to their well-being. Because pushing boundaries can make us feel alive and joyful, escaping our normal routine has abundant psychological benefits. In addition, it’s been proven that natural landscapes accelerate recovery from stress. Try unplugging everyone in the family to hike in the mountains or walk on the beach. Nature can create positive changes in the brain, so step outside, breathe, and appreciate who you are and where you’re going. Your kids will love you for it. More important, it’s easy to love yourself in the relaxed rhythm of the natural world.
  7. Set goals and reward with indulgences. Parenting with a partner offers moments where you can slip away, confer with another grown-up, or receive a gentle touch when life feels overwhelming. As the only adult in a household, single parents have to be especially good to themselves. Even when you can’t plan an adventure, it’s important to establish goals and rewards. Whether that means saving money or taking care of yourself, you deserve a reward for doing the right thing — the more indulgent, the better. Spoil yourself, whether that means enjoying your favorite food or binge-watching your favorite show. Find something you love to do, and do it often. Treat yourself with love and affection.

Self-love encompasses self-care, self-esteem, self-image, and self-determination. Above all, it means taking good care of the person deep inside you. Design a purposeful way of living that incorporates daily rituals and long-term strategies that are self-affirming. You deserve it!