Make single parenthood work for you
You can’t do it all alone. That’s the reality of having children – not just single parenting. But there’s certainly no denying that the old African adage, “It takes a village to raise a child” applies especially to single moms. There are three legs to the endlessly complex job of being a single mother: the emotional aspects; the hands-on realities of the everyday needs of your child; and the money side.
BE EMOTIONALLY PREPARED
Getting ready for single parenthood begins the second your pregnancy is confirmed. “Whether the pregnancy is planned or unplanned, the journey ahead can seem daunting,” says clinical psychologist Thandazile Mtetwa, who practises at Ngezwi Psychological Services in Gauteng. “But when the child is unplanned, the pressure may be even harder emotionally. The mother needs to allow herself to bond with her child despite what may have transpired between her and the father – and for that to be possible, she needs a strong support system, whether through family or close friends.” This self-appointed support system is vital for all single mothers who, Thandazile points out, can feel quite lonely in their journey. “Having someone to share the special moments with, the visits to the doctor, physical changes, and buying the baby’s clothes, may help the mother mentally prepare and even help with bonding,” she says. And when you go back to work – which for many South African mothers is when their baby is just six weeks old – it can be a huge wrench to leave your littlie with a caregiver. “Moms may even feel a little jealous of the daily caregiver, who may get to see a lot of your little one’s firsts – a first word or first step,” says Amanda Rogaly, mom to two little girls and founder of online resource BabyYumYum. “Know that this is normal, but be aware of your feelings, and separate your emotions and your needs from what’s good for your child’s welfare.” And be prepared to feel that ever-present workingmom emotion: guilt. “Single mothers may feel overridden by guilt, and therefore want to be an all-in-all for their child,” says Thandazile. “This is a sure road to burnout.” She says it’s important to take breaks from the baby, and Amanda agrees. “Guilt may make a mom overcompensate by being with the little one every moment when she isn’t at work or perhaps buying the child toys and treats,” says Amanda. She cautions against this, and advises single working moms to rather concentrate on quality time. “Really engage with your child and focus on enriching activities and family traditions, rather than just rushing from one activity to another or from one meal to another,” she says. Most important of all, if you become overwhelmed or exhausted, ask for help from friends or family.
BE PHYSICALLY PREPARED
“The mother needs to think about how she’ll take care of her child after birth,” says Thandazile. “Does she have a job? If not, who would be willing to help her financially until she gets on her feet? If she’s working, how long can she stay away from work without feeling the financial
pinch? If she goes back to work, will she have a nanny at home, or is there an option of a reliable day mother, and which of these options is viable financially and physically safe for the baby?” Along with these longterm issues comes a more immediate wake-up call – literally. “I never knew it was possible to be so tired,” says Isabella Kyle, single parent to Rose, now three years old. “Of all the adjustments I had to make when Rose was born, seeming never to get enough sleep was the biggest.” While you can’t stockpile sleep, you do need to make sure that you don’t become so rundown and exhausted that you’re unable to operate. Most newborns do actually sleep a great deal of the time – up to 16 hours in every 24 a day – but the kicker is that they tend not to sleep for stretches of longer than about three hours. This means that your sleep is forever being interrupted. The solution? Sleep when your baby sleeps. There are also things you can do ahead of time that will help you get some down-time once baby arrives: Cook a whole series of meals ahead of time and freeze them. Stock up on at least three months’ worth of nonperishables, including tinned and/or dried foods, cleaning supplies for your house, and toiletries. Stock up on everything you’ll need for the baby for the first few months – nappies (lots of them!), wet wipes, aqueous and bum creams, onesies, blankets, etc. Speak to your doctor about what medications you should have on hand for you and the baby, and buy them ahead of time too.
Look after yourself first – you need to be healthy and happy in order for your baby to be healthy and happy. “And if you’re unsure about anything, ask,” adds Thandazile. “Married mothers also don’t know it all.”