Having a baby on your own may not have been a choice you intentionally made. Separation, death, divorce or a brief sexual encounter can all result in becoming a single parent.
You’re not on Your Own
Single Parenting is becoming more common. In the 2017 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report, single-parent families numbered 949,000 – around 14% of all families. Of these 65% had dependents.
But I Didn’t Think it Would Happen to me!
Since time began, women who are sexually active have been at risk of conceiving, even if they’d prefer not to. No contraceptive is 100% effective and even with the best management there are still times when fertility cannot be controlled. However, many women make an informed choice to have a baby on their own. Fortunately we’ve all evolved in our attitude towards single women raising children and there is no longer the stigma attached which used to be so common.
Currently in Australia, it’s estimated around half of all pregnancies are unplanned. There are many reasons for this but essentially, the outcome for most women is generally the same. Surprise, delight, shock and even disappointment are common responses for women who become unexpectedly pregnant.
Confirming pregnancy has never been easier. Now, women don’t need to wait until they’ve missed a period to find out if they’re pregnant. Home pregnancy tests are highly sensitive and can detect the smallest concentration of pregnancy hormone in urine if it’s present. Remember though, it’s possible to have a false negative result if you do a test too early. A positive pregnancy test is almost always 100% accurate.
This is What I’ve Wanted
You may have made the choice to conceive and have a baby on your own. Many women intentionally conceive knowing that they will be raising their child on their own.
What we Know to be True About Single Parenting
- It can have its strengths and challenges. Parenting is rarely simple but doing it on your own will mean making many more independent decisions.
- A sound emotional connection between parent and child is what is more important than anything else.
- Becoming a sole parent can come as relief especially where there’s been violence, alcohol or drug use. Ending an adult relationship and becoming a single parent can actually be liberating for everyone.
- Children need at least one loving parent and/or caregiver to do well.
- Many children who are raised by single parents have enhanced independence. Resilience is built when kids learn how to do things for themselves and problem solve.
- Sharing care with another parent or caregiver can be challenging. It’s important to prioritise the children above all else. Sometimes relationship counselling is needed for parents to stay focused on working out realistic options for shared childcare and responsibilities.
- The world has changed and so have our attitudes to many things. Families are not always the nuclear hub of the universe - blended, step, same sex, single parenting is more common than it’s ever been. What’s important is that children are loved and wanted.
How Will my Child Adjust?
Lots of very good evidence supports the view that children in single parent households can be just as happy as those living with two parents. It’s all about the quality of the relationship with the existing parent and lack of conflict in the household. Structure and routine, regularity and joy are all important pillars for children’s success.
- Kids are meant to be resilient and although what they’re exposed to may not always be what we choose for them, with the right support most do just fine.
- Give them the facts but not too much information. Kids like to know what’s going on and how it will affect them. Pitch your language to match their age.
- Look after your own mental health. If you’re depressed or anxious there will be a flow-on effect to the child/ren.
- Try to keep life simple. Don’t take on too much if you’re still adjusting to single parenting. Avoid moving house, career or job moves or other big lifestyle changes until things settle down.
- Seek out a support group with like minded adults who are going through similar experiences. Network with other mothers who can give you practical and emotional support.
- Accept that not every day will be glorious. Much of parenting really is tedious and repetitious but it’s in that predictable security that kids thrive.
Characteristics of Children Raised by Single Parents
Tend to be more independent.
Take on extra responsibilities and are often more mature.
Are often more involved in decision making and are frequently given more of a say at home.
May feel a stronger sense of responsibility and alignment with their parent.
Can be very loyal to the family.
Your Own Self Care
- Make time, where possible just for yourself. If your physical and mental health are in good shape, you’ll be better able to manage. Remember, there’s only so much planning any of us can do – many times it’s not until we are experiencing something that we truly understand how best to cope.
- Accept all reasonable offers of support. Most people are kind and genuinely want to help. There are no medals awarded for doing everything on our own.
- Make regular time for exercise, self care and engaging with other adults. Finding ways to manage stress in a productive way is always useful.
- Look after the small things as well as the big ones. Treat yourself when you can and don’t give everything you have to your child/ren. They will benefit by seeing you care for yourself too.
What do I Need to Do?
- Speak with your partner if you can. It takes two people to make a baby and ideally, the responsibility is shared.
- Speak to trusted friends and family members. It’s important you don’t feel alone and isolated.
- Make an appointment with your GP. It’s important to ensure your health is stable and you get the right information about your choices.
- Start taking folic acid supplements. The first trimester (three months) is when the baby’s neural tube is forming. Deficiencies in folic acid can increase the risk of Spina bifida and other abnormalities.
- Consider your financial situation and how you will afford to care for yourself and your child/ren.
- Prioritise your housing, income and security and think about what you and your child/ren will need. Start with the basics and work outwards from there.
- Speak with Centrelink about your (possible) entitlements to Parenting Payment. Every parent has unique circumstances so it’s important to ensure your situation is assessed thoroughly.
Written by: Jane Barry Midwife and Child Health Nurse