When a single person is ready to become a parent, it’s not uncommon for her to turn to adoption or foster care to create their family. It’s also becoming more common for a single person to choose to provide kinship care for his relative child who needs a safe place to land. While we believe that every adoptive, foster, or kinship parent needs a solid, reliable support network, we know it’s even more critical for single parents to have that strong network to support their families.
Intentionality is a Necessity
You cannot do it all alone – no parent can, even in a partnership. With planning and collaboration, a two-parent family can more naturally build time into their daily lives and even “trade-off” for the breaks they need. However, single parents must be more intentional from the outset and plan for the support they need.
So how can you create a support network for your family as a single parent to care for your family’s long-term health and success?
1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
You will need both immediate short-term help and long-term ally-type help as a single parent. If you are used to relying upon yourself and not needing help, think about how you can overcome that tendency.
Start small by training yourself to say “yes” when someone makes a general offer – even if you think you can handle it yourself. Your neighbor offers to pick up groceries for you that first week or two home? Say yes! Grandma invites herself over to see the new grandchild? Ask her to keep an eye on the little darling while you grab a quick and quiet shower – alone!
2. Be clear and specific about what you and your family needs.
Build on the habit of saying “yes” by getting specific with those general, often vague offers of “call me if you need anything.” People mean well when they offer, but frequently, they don’t know how to be more specific or helpful. So, don’t only ask for occasional babysitting help. Say, “I’m looking for a support system. I wonder if you could watch my kid(s) twice a week to cover my late work hours. But I’m also looking for someone to watch Johnny for Saturday night so that I can go to the movies with my sister.”
Figure out who in your closest network can help you with a regular plan: “I’m looking for someone that can take the kids for two Saturday mornings a month to give me time to take good care of myself. I probably cannot afford to pay you every time. Can you commit to being there for my kids and me?”
3. Find a support group with other single parents.
In-person support groups for single parents, though harder to find, are worth the effort. You’ll be among folks who “get” what you are living. Be open-minded as you build relationships with them. Often, you can make connections to trade with them for things like childcare, vacations, work/life balances, and so on. As you get to know the group, consider a concrete list of things you can offer another single-parent family and what kind of support you need the most to help guide your plans.
Of course, it’s also valuable to consider an in-person support group of adoptive, foster, or kinship parents. Whether they are all single or not, those folks will have a much higher degree of understanding and empathy for raising adopted, foster, or kinship kids. If some are also single, their motivation to network with you for mutual practical support might be much higher.
4. Consider moving closer to family.
For many single parents, your family will be the most reliable safety net your family has. Your parents and siblings, for example, are often already deeply invested in you and your dreams of a family. If you don’t already live near family, open some honest dialogue about what you need and why you are considering a move. Try to set realistic expectations and help the conversation by asking them how they can commit to helping your family thrive.
5. Be prepared for your family and friend networks to change.
Relationships with friends and family are another area where it’s necessary to have realistic expectations of your network. Circumstances change – after all, yours certainly did when you became a single parent. Relationships evolve or dissolve with changing life experiences. Consider which of your expectations can be flexible and which must remain firm for the sake of your family.
6. Look for an opposite-gender role model for your child.
Your child deserves to be surrounded by extra support and great role models. If your child is of a different gender than you, it will take some intentionality to create a network that serves him well. You are looking for safe, caring support for your child, so you need to vet potential role models carefully. Take your time crafting these relationships and take advantage of the resources in your community to find the right fit. You can often find reliable role models in the following ways:
- Your home church, temple, or other religious organizations
- Community groups like Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the YMCA, or Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs
- Extra-curricular activities and community sports programs
- Friends or family who can and will commit to supporting your child
7. Build self-care into your routine.
We say it all the time because it’s that important: You need regular nourishing and refueling to stay connected with who you are as a person. You are not just your child’s parent. Schedule your self-care just like your work commitments or doctor appointments. Utilize your support system to support YOU.
Self-care can be a mix of pampering and practical activities. The key is to find the right balance for this season of your life and then do it. Sometimes, the balance needs to be adjusted, and that balance is easier to keep track of when you are approaching it from a healthy, well-nourished point of view.
Valuable Life Lessons for Your Family
When you are well-supported and surrounded by a “village” of people who invest in your family’s success, you can thrive as a single parent by adoption, foster care, or kinship care. You have the energy and wellness to help your kids thrive with you. Creating your support network as a single parent also models life lessons for your kids that will help them. They can learn the value of asking for help instead of trying to go it alone. More importantly, they might learn from your network how to give vital care and nurture their own networks as they grow.
Are you a single parent of an adoptive, foster, or kinship family? Tell us about your support network in the comments!
Image Credits: Virginia State Parks (Picture 1) and (Picture 3); Kat