With a decade of single parenting under my belt, I can hand on heart say that the toughest thing is feeling lonely as a single parent.
I’ve written before about the lack of social opportunities for single parents. We single parents are WAY less likely to be invited to social events by other (married) adults. It can be extremely isolating when you need to stay home night after night, taking care of a child. Especially when parenting is hard, or an unexpected bill lands on your doorstep.
Why are We Embarrassed by Feeling Lonely?
Being lonely isn’t a cool thing to admit to in 2019.
Who wants to admit that you sort of dread Christmas because it brings home how you’re not a normal family? Who wants to confess that you haven’t spoken to another adult human in two days? Or that you have literally no social plans for the next month, or two, or six?
Loneliness, though, is an epidemic for single parents. We go from having a partner, friends and social life to… not.
During the early days, many single parents are stuck at home. They might have had to move house, away from existing friendship networks. It can be hugely traumatic.
Loneliness completely changed how I saw myself. I felt as though I must not be nice or interesting enough to have the sort of friendships other, “normal” people had. I stuck with toxic friendships far longer than I should. Sure, they made me sad, but maybe that’s better than being alone?
Oh, and cheery thought: loneliness isn’t just emotionally hard. Apparently it shortens life expectancy and can have more of an impact that diet or exercise.
“Make some friends!” your (married) friends will say, as though THAT thought that never occurred to you.
Today, I wanted to share some of the things that have worked for me when I’m feeling lonely as a single parent.
Spoiler: none of these tips involve online dating, or dubious hook-up apps.
Get a Dog
It turns out that dogs aren’t just man’s best friend. They’re amazing company for us single Mums, too.
When you’re feeling lonely as a single parent, go walk a dog. In the few years we’ve had Teddy, I’ve realised you can’t walk a dog without speaking to someone. Because Dog People love to chat.
“What breed is she?” “How old is she?” “Can you believe how windy it is?”
It might sound trivial but if I’m working from home, sometimes just leaving the house and having a social interaction with someone can be helpful.
Not to mention the fact that everyone should have a friend in their life who loves without question, or limitation. And fuzzy tummy rubs are the best cure I know for a broken heart.
I find that swimming is hugely important to my mental health. Probably something to do with all those endorphins, and using my body to do something for myself. Exercise classes and groups can also be social.
I definitely see the same faces, week in, week out. It’s nice to have a chat while we’re getting changed. I’m not going to say I’ll meet a new bestie, there, but it’s about regular, daily, human interaction and connection.
Another option can be team sport – at Flea’s local hockey club, several of the Mums have joined teams, and there’s also the brilliant Back to Hockey programme.
Don’t Work Alone
Single parenting combined with self-employment is the quickest route to feeling lonely as a single parent.
The feeling of isolation that can come with single parenting is amplified a hundred times when you’re working from home.
We gave up our office last year, when I bought out a former business partner. At first I worked from home, full-time. But actually, shifting to working a couple of days a week in a co-working space has been great.
I still do my own thing, but on the days i’m at the “office” I know there will be people to catch up with over coffee. This includes people who work with us, but also other local business owners and freelancers.
With a co-working space, unlike a coffee shop, there’s scope to attend social events. Our co-working venue has networking tools to help support collaboration between members, and to make new friends. The world of freelancers is growing and it’s so beneficial to feel like part of a community.
Being a scout leader is one of the best choices I made as a single parent with a young child.
I’ve been a Beaver Scout Leader for almost seven years now. This means once a week I spend time with a lot of noisy, energetic six and seven year olds. There are games and activities and occasional overnight camps and parades, and trips out into the community.
Volunteering doesn’t just get me out of the house. It gives me something useful to do, as part of a network of similar-minded adults. Many of them, over the years, have become friends. I’ve found that scouting has also rooted me into the local community. I’m forever seeing past and current beaver scouts and their Mums and Dads. They’ll almost always stop and say hello.
Use the Internet
Many of my friends live far from my home in Lancashire – but the Internet means i can keep informed and connected with friends.
If you’re a single parent and feeling isolated, reach out to friends on social media or text. I regularly text one of my good friends during the day and we’ll have a catch-up on life, work, parenting, dogs…. it’s good to be reminded you’re not an island, even if it feels like it, sometimes.
I also use the Internet to help arrange occasional real-world get-togethers with Internet friends. I love Doodle as a site to see who’s available for lunch or dinner on which day, and things tend to get more organised than endless, “Yes, we must try and find a date…” type emails back and forth.
Feeling Lonely as a Single Parent is NORMAL
If I could tell fellow single parents one thing it would be this: loneliness as a single parent is completely NORMAL.
It doesn’t mean you’re a loser, not deserving of friends like all the “normal” people out there. I promise. I know you’ll feel like this is true sometimes (I do, quite often) but it really isn’t.
As a single parent you’re in a very particular period of your life. You can’t go out when you’re solely in charge of a child. Your life is busier because you’re running a household solo, and trying to do the job of two parents. We know from experience that it’s not as simple as, “go out and make friends”. Because, duh.
But it isn’t a situation without hope. As my daughter gets older, I have a little more freedom, and a little more confidence in my worth, perhaps. I have a little freedom to leave the house, to not to do the school run, to pop out for lunch or a swim, sometimes.
But when I can’t do that, the tips above definitely help me when I’m feeling alone.
If you have tips that have helped you to cope with feeling lonely as a single parent, though, I’m definitely open to more new ideas!