Young kids need a lot. They need comforting arms to rock them when they’re fussy and tired. They need a hand to hold to cross the street, help tying their shoes, and a bandage when they scrape their knee. They need our care, attention and love.
More than ever, those needs, and every other one throughout early childhood, are being met by one parent. As single parents, we aren’t sharing those big and small moments, in the moment, with someone else. We’re managing the home front alone.
About 37 percent of children under age 6 in Arizona are being raised by single parents.
Working Mother magazine estimates that 23 million children are being raised by single parents across the U.S. In Arizona, about 37 percent of the state’s children under age 6 are being raised by single parents, according to First Things First’s 2019 Building Bright Futures report, which is slightly higher than the national average.
“It is really challenging.”
Parenting alone can certainly feel like a pressure cooker, as we try to be perfect, give every spare moment to our children, and meet every need our children have. But such expectations are unrealistic and unreasonable.
Single parents don’t have to be perfect, but they can instead focus on being present in the moments they do have, be it a trip to the grocery store or a car ride filled with attentive conversation. And then, they should find support. Because, everyone needs it.
Kelly Lubeck, a program manager for the family support and literacy team at First Things First, said she believes the biggest issue facing single parents is isolation. As a single parent herself, Lubeck knows.
“It is really challenging,” Lubeck said, before rushing off to pick up her son on a recent summer afternoon. “The more we live in isolation, the more at risk parents and children are. We know children do better when parents are happier and less stressed. So, the biggest piece is understanding that parents need additional support. And, single parents don’t always have that.”
Most single parents have to work and may also live far from family, further chipping away at their usual, built-in support system.
“Children really feel the difference…”
In isolation, things can seem overwhelming. So, Lubeck suggests that single parents find ways to build connections with others, either through work or in the neighborhood or by attending support groups for single parents. Staving off isolation is a form of self-care that can have a powerful trickle-down effect on children, as it offers a parent an outlet and support, which then leads to reduced stress at home.
“Children really feel the difference when their parents are less stressed and more relaxed,” Lubeck said.
“Our goal is to provide the resources…”
Building a network of support can be a challenge when your children haven’t yet reached kindergarten. But, it’s possible. Parents can search for play groups at local parks, inquire about clubs or groups at church, get chatty with other parents at dance or sports practices or find a new friend during story time at the library.
In addition to building a support system, it’s important to access support systems that are already in place. In Maricopa County, First Things First supports dozens of family resource centers where parents of young children have the opportunity to learn more about early childhood health, the stages of childhood development and school readiness, among other things. Juan Marquez, a family education specialist at the Care1st Avondale Resource Center, said the programs offered at the center provide support for single parents as well as grandparents and dual-parent households.
“Our goal is to provide the resources and programs for anyone in the life of a young child,” he said.
“It impacts parents and children.”
And, it’s important to find time to clock out every so often. Activities that speak to your soul, be it yoga, getting lost in a book or a magazine, listening to music or exercising, are important for everyone, but especially single parents, who might not get a break unless they scheduled one.
Decreasing isolation, increasing self-care and seeking formal support systems – they’re three ways to lower stress and create connections. And that’s good for everyone, including children.
“Anything that brings folks together is helpful,” Lubeck said. “It impacts parents and children. The entire family.”
Arizona statistics updated in December 2019.