You’ve probably heard that “it takes a village to raise a child.” For around one-third of parents, however, chronic loneliness is an ongoing struggle that leaves them feeling isolated and unsupported. Many single parents feel this isolation more than anyone—and that lack of a support network can be a massive barrier to the stability and wellbeing of their families.
The coronavirus pandemic has severely exacerbated these challenges for single parents—adding a layer of risk to any interaction with folks from outside of the household, like babysitters and extended family members who would usually help out.
As families begin to go back out into public and widen their social circles, the need for creating community and building support networks is at an all-time high. These 5 tips can help single parents build their parenting “village,” and get some much-needed back-up in this stressful time—
- Explore virtual communities. One upside of the pandemic is the explosion of new virtual communities for every walk of life. Look up local support groups for single parents on Facebook, Nextdoor, or Meetup. If you’re comfortable, go to meetups and networking events. Taking these small steps will gradually put you in touch with more and more parents in the same boat who can help out in a pinch.
- Get to know your neighbors. Especially in the last couple of years, it’s entirely possible to live next to someone and never learn their name or what they do. Next time you see your neighbors, let them know you’ve been meaning to introduce yourself. It can be so helpful (and a smart safety measure!) for you and your kids to know your neighbors in case of an emergency. Plus, in time they may end up becoming good friends and reliable helpers!
The same goes for parents of kids in your child’s class, if your child is school age. Strike up a conversation at the next school event, ask the teacher to make some introductions, or organize a text thread to make it easier for all the parents to communicate with each other.
- Capitalize on your kid’s activities. You have to take your kid to things like soccer practice, the playground, and drama club anyway—so you might as well use the time to network a bit with the other parents there. This can be a great way to find folks who are willing to trade off carpool duty or have your kid over for a play date sometime so you can get some work done!
And remember, it’s important for you to explore your interests, too. Is there an activity you enjoy like walking or running, but don’t want to do alone? What new craft or hobby would you like to learn? Join a club that meets regularly, or organize a group in your neighborhood. Great conversations happen while people engage in other activities, and many clubs welcome children.
- Get to know seniors in your community. Communities are multi-generational. In fact, there’s incredible value in connecting with seniors—especially those who have already raised children. Most enjoy sharing their wisdom and experience. If they’re retired, they may be willing to pitch in with childcare or homework help, too.
- Support a cause. You may be passionate about rescuing animals, feeding the hungry, or petitioning for local initiatives, so look for local or online ways to volunteer. Many organizations post opportunities at local libraries or community centers, or you can search online through sites like Idealist. This is a great way to meet like-minded individuals, get the mental health boost of doing something altruistic, and set a great example of community engagement for your child. Some organizations welcome pint-sized help as well, so kids may be welcome to join you.
The key to making use of all these new connections might be the hardest part—it’s to know your limitations, and ask for help! As a single parent, it’s likely you’re used to being independent and managing things on your own. The truth is, however, that raising a child and managing a household alone while also maintaining your own mental and physical wellbeing is nearly impossible. It’s hard enough for partnered folks!
Make a list of the most stressful things on your plate that someone else could reasonably help with—things like grocery shopping or helping your kid with their school project are good examples. This way, when you start building your network, you have some concrete things you can ask for help with. And of course, be sure to reciprocate whenever you can—the power of a parenting village comes from everyone helping each other!
After nearly two years of pandemic isolation, we could all use some community-building right now—but no one needs it more than the single parents who have juggled remote school, work, and protecting their family all on their own. The idea of building a parenting network from scratch can certainly be daunting, but even just adding one person to your “village” can greatly reduce your burden and improve your family’s quality of life. Start slow, and your village will eventually grow!