How to Stop Stressing and Start Thriving as a Single Mom

Every single parent knows that raising kids without a partner is no small task. But a few simple, subtle shifts in the way you think and act can make a world of difference. Here are five ways to ditch the stress and love your role as a single mom.

Cheryl Butler
8-minute read
Episode #613
The Quick And Dirty

Parenting alone is a challenge, but you can do it! Here are five essential strategies that can help single moms not only keep it together but flourish.

  1. Accept your single-parent circumstances 
  2. Never be afraid to ask for help
  3. Don’t neglect self-care
  4. Connect with a tribe of people who can relate
  5. Never compare your life to another’s

Regardless of how or why you've become a single parent, it's an incredible blessing to have a child you can love and raise. Married for 26 years, I never expected to become a mom flying solo with eight kids, but life happens. I learned many valuable lessons when I went from married-with-children to single-working-mom juggling an entirely new lifestyle. Here are five life-changing ways to embrace your role as a single parent and tips for achieving them.

Accept your single-parent circumstances

After 26 years of marriage, I found myself facing the terrifying prospect of being a single mom. I'd been a stay-at-home mom for the majority of that time, so not only was I facing a new lifestyle without a partner living under the same roof, but I was also physically caring for my eight kids mostly by myself. Not the turn I thought my parenting journey would take!

I had two choices—sink or swim. Thankfully, I love the water.

I chose to accept where I was in my life and parent from a place of love, not fear. Though it wasn't what I had envisioned when I started my parenting journey, caring for my family in a new realm was my greatest priority. After all, my kids didn't choose this, so it was up to me to make their new circumstances as comfortable as I could. And that started with acknowledging and accepting those circumstances, myself.

How to achieve it

Feel the emotion of your pain and loss and let it strengthen you. Our past pain is a part of our journey. 

The most important part of pain is rejecting the victimhood status. Don't focus on what has already happened, and don't be tempted to ask 'why me,' instead focus on the power you have at this very moment and where it could take you tomorrow.

Mohadesa Najumi, Three Surprising Reasons Why Emotional Pain Is Power

After my divorce, I realized I shouldn't resist my new situation but instead accept it. The easiest way to cope is to feel the loss of what you thought would be and embrace the change instead of resisting it. Bingo!

The moment I accepted my new path, the more empowered I became.

Altering my mindset was pivotal to my personal growth and provided me the energy I needed to sustain my large family. The moment I accepted my new path, the more empowered I became. My kids and I might not be living my pre-conceived lifestyle of a two-parent household, but they still had two parents who loved them--we could make the rest work. 

Never be afraid to ask for help

My biggest fear when I became a parent (except when my horrific meatloaf recipe would surface!) was that I wouldn't be able to care for my family adequately. I had waited nearly six years to become a mom, so I wanted to get it right. In my mind, that meant shouldering much of my parenting responsibilities alone. I did rely on my ex-husband. But asking other friends or family members for a hand? That was way out of my comfort zone.

Thrust into the world of single-parenting and returning to work outside the home full-time, my once adequate ability to juggle my super-busy life wasn't working. I needed help, and I knew my family's well-being depended on it. 

How to achieve it

Before figuring out the type of help you need or who you're going to ask, it's essential to realize that you're not a failure. Parents are human beings first. This step in my single parenting journal was probably the most difficult for me. Once I accepted that needing a break wasn't shameful and didn't make me a slacker, I was able to move forward. 

It's essential to realize you're not a failure. Parents are human beings first.

Figure out where you need assistance: child care after school, carpooling, errands that you can't complete during your workday, handyman tasks around the house, and so on. Now take a personal inventory of family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers to see who you can ask for help. I still remember how vulnerable I felt reaching out those first few times, but eventually, it became easier. If I hadn't shared my situation with a new neighbor, I wouldn't have found the amazing helper who became my new right-hand for a couple of years.

Don't forget to include your kids in the mix. Even younger kids can help with routine household chores like picking up their toys and putting laundry away. I also connected with two other single, working moms, and we shared free babysitting several times a month. Asking for help during that harried time in my life also opened up the door to new, meaningful friendships, and I was able to pay it forward and help other families as well.

Don't neglect self-care

The term self-care has taken motherhood by storm over the past few years. When I hear the word, I immediately think of a frazzled woman frantically trying to fill a bathtub with warm, luxurious bubbles so she can have a five-minute soak before her kids start pounding on the bathroom door. Oh wait, that woman was me!

Once I understood that self-care wasn't selfish, I embraced every opportunity I could to enjoy some quality me-time.

For many of the years when I was married with young children, I guilted myself into self-care routines because I knew they were supposed to be good for me. It wasn't that I didn't want to indulge in regular hot bubble-baths or get pampered at the salon; I didn't quite grasp why these healthy rituals were necessary when I barely had time to make dinner and do the laundry.

And that was the problem—my way of thinking about self-care, not making time for it. Once I understood that self-care wasn't selfish, I embraced every opportunity I could to enjoy some quality me-time.

How to achieve it

Wrap your head (and heart) around the concept that self-care isn't just things you do to nourish yourself; it's a state of mind. Realizing I could accomplish meaningful self-care practices in as little as five minutes (visualizing myself sitting under a palm tree with my new read and a mug of frosty root beer) was empowering and refreshing. There are hundreds of ways you can recharge your batteries and appreciate your current life if you create a positive mindset.

Several years ago, I read an inspiring column, 24 Self-Care Practices for Mothers: Do It for Yourself. Do It For Your Daughter. Its author, Erica Layne, captured the essence of finding ways to live in the moment and care for your mind, body, and soul beautifully. She also included the list on a free printable. My favorite was number five: "Inhale deeply the moment you step outside your house. Notice how the morning air smells instead of rushing through it." Doing this sets a positive tone for my day when I leave for work.

Connect with a tribe of people who relate

One of my biggest fears upon entering my single-parent journey was how it would affect my friendships. Sharing the news of getting a divorce—particularly when I was so involved with PTO, school functions, and my faith community—was difficult. I wasn't sure how people would react, and the last thing I needed was pity or people gossiping about our family. 

I learned that you can't control what other people think, say, or do. It was a massive waste of my time worrying about the general public's reaction to my new situation. The therapist I saw at that time gave me great advice: "If you don't make a big deal out of this in public, you'll close the door for anyone else doing so."

The last thing I needed was pity or people gossiping about our family.

She also suggested finding new friendships. Not to replace the relationships I enjoyed and valued, but to add moms that shared a similar family situation. Soon after my divorce, I began rebuilding my social network, which included several single moms. I still maintained my closest friendships, but surrounding myself with moms who were experiencing the same challenges was helpful and cathartic. We can learn from one another, commiserate, troubleshoot, and most importantly, laugh together.

How to achieve it

In today's digital world, there are plenty of online forums and groups that support single, working moms. One of my favorites is Wealthy Single Mommy with Emma Johnson. She has a terrific, interactive online community helping women rebuild all aspects of their lives. The topics are relatable, and the information is priceless. I've made some close connections through this forum, in addition to gleaning lots of great advice from the members who post comments. (Oh, and you don't have to be "wealthy" to be a member—you just have to dream big.)

Don't be afraid to strike up a conversation with moms you meet at your kid's school or through some of their other activities. One of my married friends introduced me to her sister, a newly single mom. We've developed a fun relationship and hang out with our daughters, who are close in age. 

Never compare your life to another's

My last strategy might be the hardest to achieve, but it's a game-changer.

When you're a single parent, you undoubtedly will be surrounded by many families who have a partner by their side throughout their parenting journey. I thought that would be my case, but my life took an unexpected path. As I stated in my first tip, it's vital to accept your new situation and move forward. It's crucial for your family's overall well-being but the healthiest gift you can give yourself.

Your family needs and deserves a mom that's focused on their happiness and welfare, not one that is wishing to have someone else's life.

That said, don't let yourself get swallowed up in the dark hole of comparing your life to anyone else's. President Theodore Roosevelt, known for his robust personality, is quoted as saying: "Comparison is the thief of joy." That quote sums it up beautifully. Your family needs and deserves a mom that's focused on their happiness and welfare, not one that is wishing to have someone else's life. The moment I understood and accepted that I began to blossom into a confident, relaxed woman who didn't let the word "single" dictate her most treasured role as mom.

How to achieve it

An obvious place to start is to limit the time you spend on social media. Social media can be fun, and groups like the one I mentioned in my previous tip can be helpful. But obsessing over all those picture-perfect photos of two-parent families enjoying their "happily ever afters?" Not so much. If you feel upset or defeated after scrolling through your Facebook or Instagram feed, help yourself by stepping away from your smartphone. Instead, you can spend your time reading positive material, learning a new skill or hobby, or listening to calming meditation apps.

The best way I've found not to compare myself to others is by living in gratitude.

I started a fun tradition with myself a few years ago by writing letters to my future self. Futureme.org is a free website allows you to create a letter to yourself about any topic. I choose goals I'm working on or cool ideas I have for my personal "bucket list" and write the letter as if I've already accomplished these things. Then I pick a future date to receive the email. I love that I forget about these after I hit the send button and they turn up months or a year later. It's an inspiring surprise.

But the best way I've found not to compare myself to others is by living in gratitude. I've always kept a gratitude journal and encourage my kids to do so as well. When you stop to give thanks for what's going well in your own life, you won't find it necessary to worry about what's going on in someone else's.

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.