Practicing Sole Parenting Self-Care

This is an edited version of a post originally published on Respectfully Connected

I’ve been wondering how to address this topic or whether I even should, but being a sole parent is as much a part of my identity as any other facet.

This time of year can be difficult for me. It’s the festive season. Things are supposed to feel light and bright and happy, but it can be challenging to balance out my needs with those of my son’s. I know that that difficulty is shared by parents in similar positions, so I wanted to share four things that I do to minimise the experience of overwhelm that I often feel at this time of year.

1. Be kind to yourself

Parenting on your own can be challenging. There is no doubt that it is, but have you ever considered the reasons why it is so challenging?

For me, one of the things I notice is that society tends to expect families to still be nuclear families (one father, one mother, 2.4 children). Society clings to this belief despite evidence which shows it to be a myth.

What does this mean for the parents who are parenting on our own? It means that we need to accept that we probably won’t parent in the way in which society expects us to parent.

That’s ok. We’re one person trying to do something that society generally expects two people to do. We can create our own version of parenting without evaluating ourselves against societal expectations.

Be kind to yourself by not evaluating yourself against societal standards. You’re doing better than you think you are.

2. Develop restorative rituals

As a sole parent, I know how hard it is to carve out time to do something for myself, but this is an imperative thing for me. It doesn’t have to be an entire day out. It doesn’t have to be extended time away from my son.

It’s little things. For me, I like to wallow in the bath for a few hours once a week. Often, it is wallowing in every sense of the word. I know that this suggestion may come across as a bit precious, and there are times when I can’t really manage a good wallow.

Another thing I like to do is for a walk under some trees. My son accompanies me on these walks, so I don’t even have to arrange anything to do that.

Find what restores you. Focus on the little things that help, and figure out a way to do them regularly.

3. Parenting is reciprocal

This applies to all parenting relationships, but it is especially important to be mindful of this when we’re sole parenting.

The relationship with your child (or children) is reciprocal. I was brought up by parents who didn’t subscribe to that. They believed that parents set and enforced “the rules” and children obeyed them. It hasn’t worked out that well for my long-term relationship with them.

Parenting children is a two-way relationship. Sure, you set some boundaries, but you don’t need to do that – or enforce that – from a position of authority. Our children are growing and developing. The boundaries that we set for them need to grow and develop with them. Their input into those boundaries is vital so that you are don’t end up using valuable energy fighting unnecessary battles.

Trust your children. They know more about themselves than we give them credit for.

4. Accept that sometimes none of it works

Being an autistic parent of an autistic child means that sometimes none of the above works. It means that sometimes the feelings of overwhelm still creep in. When that happens, when my systems of getting things done break down to the extent that I don’t get things done, I accept that I’m doing what I can.

Sometimes none of it works, and that’s ok. I am not a perfect parent. I’m just another perfectly imperfect person, and sometimes I can’t be at my best. Sometimes, I am simply good enough and that is ok.

When that happens, we might have takeaway food more often than I prefer. That’s ok because we’re still eating. The apartment may be messier than I would like. That’s ok because we still have a home. My son may spend more time on screens than I would like. That’s ok because we’re still spending time together.

Those are my four things. I would be interested in hearing thoughts from others too because parenting is not something that we can ever truly master. It’s a developing process, and I’m always learning.