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Parenting in general can be overwhelming, but research does show that single moms and dads are more likely to be really stressed. What can you do to prioritize self-care when you're used to always putting your kids first?

As a single parent myself, I really don't like to write stuff that "otherizes" us folks raising kids alone, or paints us in a bad light. But research doesn't lie. Statistically, single parents are more likely to be stressed and have lower levels of emotional wellbeing. This may be due to a wide variety of factors, including:

  • Being more likely to face financial worries than coupled parents
  • Having less social support than coupled parents
  • Being stressed because of the events that made you single, something coupled parents don't face by definition, or worrying about your and your child's relationship with the other parent

Single parents also, research unsurprisingly shows, tend to spend more time with their kids than do coupled parents. Juggling parenting responsibilities — as well as just wanting to make sure you have quality, fun, time with your children — with other things, especially work, can be tough on even the most experienced multi-tasker.

You'll also have heard that having a stressed parent negatively affects your children's emotional and cognitive development. In fact, very stressed parents and those who have had traumatic experiences are more likely to use harsh, damaging, discipline, too. The saying "ain't nobody happy if momma ain't happy" really does hold true. In this situation, there may be some serious meta-stress going on; not only are you stressed because you're overwhelmed, you're also stressed about being stressed. Because you don't want your stress to mess up your children. 

If you've placed your children's needs first for (what feels like) a very long time, it may be time to make a change. Being as happy, rested, and mentally stimulated as possible will make you a better parent, yes, but don't just explore what you can do to de-stress because of your brood. You matter, too, and deserve to make self-care a priority just because you're a person with needs and dreams.

What can you do to better juggle your child's needs with your very own — for a happier, less-stressed, life?

Identify your stressors — and see if any of them can go bye bye

Anything that causes stress is a so-called "stressor". Some of the possible candidates are pretty obvious. Money. Work. Too much to do, too little time. People in your life who annoy you, and people in your life you care for and are worried about. (Yes, that one includes your children.) Health issues. Some of them may be modifiable — that is, you can do something to change them, to make these things not cause you as much stress — but others are an inevitable part of life. 

Your own thoughts can be another very potent source of stress. You may feel, for instance, that you're not a good mother if you find yourself unable to make family dinners from scratch every night. If you have young children, you may feel guilty if you need to work to provide. You may feel immense pressure to be a strong person who doesn't need anyone's help. You may be immensely worried about how your divorce makes your children feel. The exact thoughts that plague you will be unique to you, but their impact isn't. Among many other challenges that you face, your own mind can become your enemy. 

Eliminating stressors from your life is one way to prioritize self-care and feel more satisfied in life, so take a good, constructive, look at how this may be possible. We don't want to make light of very real struggles here. Suggestions to "just" get a better-paying job that involves working fewer hours, to "just" hire a cleaning lady to help around the house, or to "just" ask for support from your social network are often shared, but not generally very useful. If it were that easy, you'd probably be doing it already, after all. 

Simple steps have made a huge different in my life, however, and they may do the same for you. For me, they've included psychological things like focusing on the present rather than worrying about the future, and holding family meetings with my children regularly to discuss anything that bothers us in a positive environment, before those little naggy things get out of hand. They've also included practical steps, like being realistic about how long a task is going to take me so I don't have to rush as much, and committing to going to bed earlier to make sure sleep deprivation didn't add to my stress.

Identify your self-care needs — and see how you can meet them

Anything you realistically need to feel like a full, content, human can be classified as a "self-care need" — something you do to counter the impact of stress by doing something that helps you feel happier. These will vary from person to person, too. Some single parents will crave adult social interactions they're not currently getting, while others really need that alone-time, without the kids, to recharge their batteries. Some miss intellectual stimulation, particularly during the baby and toddler stages, while others are really down about not being able to work out like before. 

Among the things science has shown to relieve stress are:

  • Eating a healthy and balanced diet. Family meals, too, have an important impact on the wellbeing of both parents and children. 
  • Getting enough sleep! While this can be really tough if you have an infant, it will hopefully be workable for parents of older children. 
  • Working out regularly boosts your endorphins and makes you feel good. If you can't make it to a gym, chasing your toddler around the park, doing yard work, or going jogging with your teens are all things that totally count. 
  • Listening to music that makes you feel good. 
  • Socializing with friends. 
  • Spending time with your children doing things you all really enjoy — if you enjoy a movie, board game, throwing a potluck dinner, going for a manicure, or whatever else, and so do your children, you're both getting self-care needs met, but at the same time, you're also doing important bonding. 
  • If you do crave time to relax without your kids, totally alone or with other people, don't feel guilty! You're not a bad parent for needing this, and your kids will benefit from having a parent who takes their self-care needs seriously. 

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