No one knows better than single parents the importance of having a team of people to handle the day-to-day demands of life with kids. Call it a team. Call it a village. Call it a tribe. Whatever you call it, the benefits of belonging to a supportive community of people extend far beyond daily survival. A tribe fills the gaps when a parent’s energy, expertise and resources are stretched to their limits. Children experience the values of kindness, compassion and generosity. Best of all, it’s not just you and your children who benefit. When giving and receiving become a way of life, everyone experiences the joy of belonging — single-parent families and those who come alongside to help.
Growing a tribe takes time and energy, two commodities in short supply for single parents, but with a little work and the right approach, you can find your people. Here are ideas that can help.
First things first. Let’s talk about what “single” means when growing a tribe. Of course, it is helpful to seek out and team up with other single parents. “Me too” conversations go a long way to soften the edges on days when you need reminding that you’re not alone in your solo parenting efforts. Yes, similar circumstances create a common bond, but don’t limit your tribe to only single parents.
Every family with children faces challenges, and even those with two parents get stretched thin with long hours at work, a spouse’s deployment or a child with special needs. All parents need help with carpooling, an emergency contact, or a backup babysitter when life goes off the rails. Make note of other parents with similar lives and schedules at the park, in playgroups or at your child’s school. Say hello and make a connection. Single or not, parents bond over helping each other carry the load.
Let down your guard. “Sometimes it feels easier to just hunker down on my own,” says military wife and mom Noëlle Boyer of Tierrasanta. “I’ve learned I can’t do that and actually be happy. At every stage, I need to find people who ‘get it’ and understand.”
For every strong parent who is quietly white knuckling it, there is a strong (and willing) helper who thinks silence means help isn’t needed. For every shy parent who doesn’t want to burden others, there is a shy helper who respects privacy. There are people waiting to be asked and it’s OK to let others know that you need extra hands. The response might be surprising, as it was for Debby Thompson of Rancho Penasquitos when she started asking for help. “I saw a side of human nature I never knew existed,” she says. “I didn’t know people could care so much for people they barely knew.”
Add diversity. Single parents and their children benefit from spending time with people whose lives look different from theirs. Think about inviting other family members, friends and neighbors with experience and perspectives that demonstrate what different family relationships look like. Don’t be shy about asking people at different stages and seasons of life (like empty nesters or seniors) who may have extra time to spare. You might discover that your family brightens their lives as much as they brighten yours.
Use technology. A search for parenting groups on Facebook or Meetup.com yields a variety of groups meeting regularly all over San Diego County. Some are specifically for solo parents and others for just about every subgroup of parenting imaginable, including geographic area, birth years of children and specific interests like baby sign language. Remember that parenting is the common bond and “single” parent is just one descriptor. Try a couple of groups based on shared interests to find which feel like the best fit.
Keep the tribe growing. As kids grow, the issues in their lives become more complex. The stakes can feel very high for a child who doesn’t want to disappoint or hurt a single parent, but needs to talk to an adult about something difficult. To help reduce this pressure and save your sanity when you are emotionally maxed out, it’s a good idea to include other caring adults in your growing child’s life. Keep adding layers of support by involving trusted teachers, coaches and other mentors. Kids will benefit from the expanding network of care and learn by example how to one day grow a tribe of their own.
Finding a tribe does much more than help single parents get through the day-to-day challenges of parenting solo. Growing a tribe means creating a caring community of parents, kids, and helpers who do life together and enjoy a greater sense of belonging.
Support and Tribe-Building Resources
The Parent Connection
MOPs (Mothers of Preschoolers)
Jewish Single Parents Program
Big Brothers Big Sisters
Apps that Connect Parents
Jody Lee Cates is a local single mom and blogger who writes about healthy relationships at www.jodyleecates.com. She has been the author of our "Parenting with Purpose" column for several years. Read more of Jody's articles by putting her name in the search bar.