Finding Support as a Single Parent

After a single dad wrote in who was feeling isolated with his young child, ChoiceMom.org readers chimed in with their own insights. One of the comments about finding support as a single parent was about something we’ve talked about here before — your support network often won’t be what you expect it will be.

People disappear who you thought you might count on. Unexpected newcomers show up who you never planned for.

This caused the single dad to ask, why and how does this happen? In other words, he wondered how to create a stable environment of friends and family not only for his child, but for himself.

Here’s the story of one of the Choice Moms who has experienced this (and many of us have).

“In my case, I don’t believe anyone in my circle or the people I considered my ‘village’ were being jerks. I made plans and arrangements for the practical things like childcare, babysitting, etc. long before I got pregnant and really don’t consider my village part of my logistical support — but more of my emotional and community support, and the ‘family’ in which I planned for my child to grow up.

But to quote one of my favorite people, John Lennon, “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”.

My situation is that I have very little family. I also live on a farm in the country and most of my friends…well, don’t. My closest friend is about 45 minutes away.

But I had a plan for what my village would look like. My local friends all know each other and we have been a tight knit bunch for more than 12 years. Even though I live out in the sticks, we would get together at least once a week for family barbeques and social events (girls night, guys poker night, trips to the coffee shop for a chat, beach outings, etc). It was a lot like a family. Their kids call me “auntie.” But in the last couple of months the whole circle seems to be disintegrating before my eyes. It’s a coincidence that it happened right around when I became pregnant.

I have other good friends from childhood, but they all are scattered about the globe…Australia, Europe, the west coast of the U.S. They will be a part of my family always, but not in that day to day way that a village is.

My family is small and most are either overseas or on the other side of the country. My grandparents, father, sister, uncles, and aunt have all passed on. My mother is not stable and not part of my life. I have two brothers in California who I see once or twice a year. I have one brother who lives in the same state and with whom I am very close. I cannot count on him to always be nearby (he’s in the Navy and gets moved around a lot), but I had hoped he’d be in the general area for at least another year or two. As luck would have it, the month I got pregnant he got reassigned to a different base that is six hours away and makes it difficult for him to visit (he used to spend nearly every weekend with me).

My best friend, who I considered the hub of my village, got hit with major family issues the week after I got pregnant, including a mother and younger sister losing their house and needing to come live with her, and an uncle who developed dementia and who now requires constant care.

Another close friend has marriage/personal issues and has largely removed herself from our entire circle of friends right now.

Another friend who has twins — and who I had hoped would be a major emotional support for me in raising twins on my own — is in a major career change. We used to see each other several times a week, now I’m lucky if we just talk by phone once a month. She’s overwhelmed with the new job, a daughter going off to college, and her own family dramas, so doesn’t have much time leftover for our friendship.

My doula/friend who was going to stay with me towards the end of my pregnancy and for the first two weeks after met a guy and her priorities have shifted.

And the list goes on.

None of my circle said “oh, you’re pregnant now, so we’re going to bail.” Life just happened. They were all super supportive about my choice, and had been a great source of support while I was trying to get pregnant (which was a very difficult process). It’s just bad luck that things in their life took over around the time that I was finally able to get pregnant, after three years of fertility treatments.

I’ve always been the friend who drops everything and shows up to help out in a crisis, and now with this twin pregnancy sapping my energy, I struggle to just take care of my own daily responsibilities. It is depressing that there doesn’t seem to be anyone there to be my personal super hero, but in the midst of what feels like my entire village emptying, I’ve had new people come into my life who I didn’t expect.

My neighbours have been very supportive. One checks up on me now and then. Another comes and mows my lawn (I didn’t even ask). One came by unannounced to do my dishes for me when I was in the throws of morning sickness. I met some new folks locally who — while not really baby-people — are good listeners and invite me to dinner occasionally so I don’t have to cook and have some company. A married couple I hadn’t seen in ten years resurfaced; they live too far away to visit much, but they’ve been a great source for advice on baby stuff, like cloth diapering and schedules. I also met several Choice Moms in the area and hope to form friendships there.

I still feel somewhat sad and nervous about the future, and the unknown and out-of-my-control aspects of what I had planned to be my village. But I do see a slow trickle of new people coming into my life. I learned that I cannot expect to count on any one person to be there for me, or to stay in my village, and there’s no way to know what life will bring, but I do feel that I will find the things and people I need as I need them. And I’ve learned that I can’t plan for everything and just have to make the best of what I’ve got.

I’ve spoken to a lot of people (married, choice moms, divorced parents, etc) and most of them have said that after they had their child they saw their circle of friends change. People they hadn’t expected to be there for them were, and others they were counting on vanished. In my case, I don’t think the shift in my village had anything to do with my announcing I was pregnant. I had expected that once my babies came I’d see a change in the people who were in my life, but I didn’t expect it would come so soon or as a result of outside factors.

Even other aspects of my carefully thought-out plan have been turned on their heads.

Last month my oh-so-reliable and much loved car tried to kill me. I was driving down my country road at night and every light (headlight, dash, emergency lights) went dead and I nearly ran off the road in total darkness. The dealership refused to acknowledge any electrical fault so I ended up having to take a huge loss to get a car that was safe.

After I announced I was pregnant at work, one of my project managers started threatening my job. With the help of my supervisor, I was able to get through it, but it shook my foundation.

So, really, while I am a planner and usually have backup plans for my backup plans, the last couple of months have taught me that nothing is certain. All you can do is plan for the worst and hope for the best, and there is still a percentage of life that just has to be taken on faith.

Life just happens. And especially now in this tough economy, many people have to focus on their own needs before helping others. Maybe things are different for people who have big families around them. Maybe a family group has a stronger bond? I’ve never had that.

I hope sharing my story offers some illumination. I believe everyone’s reality can be different, but the one thing that remains the same is that we — especially as parents (and future parents) — have to be flexible and let go, while not compromising our own values or what we feel is best for our children.

I am reminded of a scene from one of my favorite films, “Parenthood,” where the grandma talks about the roller coaster versus the merry-go-round. Having children is definitely a roller coaster, but the ups and downs are worth it because life wouldn’t be nearly as interesting or as rewarding if all we did was go around and around in the same circle.

Also read this blog post from Felicia, about how she found her tribe after motherhood. And don’t miss the entire thread about support networks, which includes a variety of very helpful stories and advice on this topic.

Building a support network is always the #1 item I recommend that all Choice Moms need — regardless of whether you are Thinking, Trying, Waiting, Becoming or Being.

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  3 comments for “Finding Support as a Single Parent

  1. Leslie
    September 6, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    As a 14 yr verteran of choice motherhood I thought I would add a few thoughts to this wonderful blog. I too have very little family. I only have my sister and her family. My father died when my daughter was just 3 months old. There are a few pieces of wisdom that have served me well in the area of finding the support that as a single mother I have so desperately needed. One is that people in similar stages of this journey will always turn out to be great sources of support. I had a friend that had a small child that ended up being my biggest support throught my trying, pregnancy, and through the first few years. She ended up pregnant with a second child and gave birth just 10 days after I did.
    When my daughter was in preschool I ended up with some very good friends there that are still in our lives.
    The village really blossomed when my daughter was in elementary school. One of the best pieces of advice I received was from the first friend I mentioned. She said-get involved in your childs schools. It helps you to be a better parent, your child feels more connected and the children of connected parents tend to be better students. It was volunteering at the preschool that connected me there and it has been involvement with Girl Scouts, PTA, and volunteering at conferences and school events that connecterd me with other positive parental influences from 1st grade through middle school. These other parents have turned out to be the best support system yet. I know school may feel like a lifetime away for those that are still trying or just became preganant but you will be shocked at how quickly time moves after your child is here.
    The other wisdom was that you have to learn to ask for help when you need it and then be willing to receive it. We are not super human whatever we would like to believe. ASking for help is not a sign of weekness but instead a sign of strength. Single parenting is wonderful but exhausting and sometimes even overwhelming. People can be oblivious. As long as you are willing to help others when you can you will have lots of people step up when you need them. My surprises/Disapointments? I had hoped that my brother in law who was a wonderful stay at home dad to his daughters would have a strong relationship with my daughter who I knew would need some male influence hasn’t been there. Luckily I have also been blessed with a friend that was very close to her when she was little and have two of her friends dads now that are just wonderful. One is sure to invite her to join he and his daughter at the community father daughter dance and she is already making plans for the other to walk her down the aile at her wedding. Support really does come from unexpected places.

  2. d.dad
    September 2, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    thanks so much for sharing that.

    your positivity humbles me.

  3. Cyndi
    September 2, 2010 at 9:02 am

    Thank you for sharing this story! One of my fears has been that, as you mention, I also have a small family, and neither of my parents live closer than 1.5 hours away. I tend to have a small group of really close friends rather than a large group of friends, and I’ve been concerned about how I will manage if I decide to go the route of a choice mom, if those friends don’t support my choice or don’t choose to help me.

    It’s encouraging to see that you’ve managed to find and work on building a new support group, even though the one you had planned on had "life" happen that pulled them away.

    For those of us who are Type A personalities (on steroids!), it’s hard to imagine how you can cope if things don’t fall out according to plan (which always seems to happen!). It’s nice to get confirmation that it can still work out, even if all your plans get derailed even before you deliver!

    Good luck, and I’d love to hear from other choicemoms about how they’ve built and maintained their "villages".

    Thanks!

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