Single Parenting Stress: How to Beat Burnout

Father working from home while holding toddler

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Single parenting has become increasingly common as more single mothers, fathers, grandparents, and other caregivers raise children without a co-parent. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, almost a quarter of all children in the U.S. under the age of 18 live in a single-parent household. Single parents often face unique stresses, which can often contribute to feelings of exhaustion.

There are a few things single parents can do to help manage their stress and avoid burnout. For starters, it is important to make time for yourself. This may include taking breaks throughout the day, scheduling regular outings or activities just for you, or reserving some time to yourself if possible.

This article discusses some of the different types of stress common for those who are single parents. It also covers steps you can take to manage this stress and avoid burnout.

Single Parenting Stress

Single parents have all of the normal parenting anxieties that every parent faces. Is my child developing normally? Do they have enough friends at school? Are they eating healthy enough? Are they getting too much screen time? What makes these anxieties even more stressful is that single parents often have to bear the burden of making difficult parenting choices all on their own.

Single parents have to juggle multiple roles along with other challenges like shared custody arrangements, financial concerns, and complex family relationships. Other stresses that single parents must deal with include:

  • Lack of social support: Single parents can often feel isolated, particularly if much of their time is spent caring for children with little time to interact with other adults. Such feelings can contribute to loneliness and depression.
  • Shared custody arrangements: When single parents have to share custody of their children, it can be difficult to manage time and co-parenting responsibilities.
  • Emotional stress: In cases where a parent has full custody or there is not a co-parent, single parents often bear the full responsibility of raising their children. In addition to dealing with the challenges of parenting kids alone, single parents often face other personal issues that they must deal with without a partner’s support.
  • Financial concerns: Single parents are often responsible for household finances without the contributions of a partner. While some single parents may receive child support, others may feel the financial pressures associated with living on a single income. Research has found that single parents tend to be at a higher risk for experiencing financial hardships, which can have a negative impact on psychological well-being. It increases the risk for isolation, anxiety, and depression.

Divorce, separation, and bereavement are already stressful on their own. Being a single parent while going through this type of life change can compound stress further.

If parents aren't able to cope with the stress caused by single parenting, they run the risk of experiencing burnout. This is a common condition among single parents that can often lead to increased anxiety, depression, and physical health issues. Parents who are experiencing burnout may also struggle with loneliness or relationship problems.

Recap

Single parenting involves all of the stress that other parents face, but with the added challenges of coping with shared custody, poor social support, and financial strain, among other things.

Effects of Stress on Single Parents

Stress can be motivating at times, but if left unchecked, it can become chronic and detrimental to your well-being. It can also have a negative impact on your physical and emotional health. The effects of stress are different for everyone, but there are some common problems that many single parents may face.

Some of the physical and emotional health effects of stress you might experience include:

  • Irritability, anxiety, or depression
  • Decreased immune function and lead to frequent illness
  • Lower motivation and creativity
  • Decreased energy and productivity
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, physical aches and pains, and dizziness
  • Gastrointestinal and digestive problems
  • Sleep problems
  • Changes in mood or appetite

When the impact of chronic stress is combined with other risk factors like smoking or alcohol use, it can make single parents more likely to develop health problems. Studies suggest that the increased stress that single mothers experience, for example, might be linked to unhealthy behavior such as an increased risk for smoking.

Some of the major health problems that are linked to stress include diabetes, heart disease, obesity, ulcers, hypothyroidism, and sexual dysfunction.

Research also suggests that parental stress can have an impact on children’s mental health. One study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that maternal depression caused by parenting stress increased a child’s risk of developing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Recap

It is not always easy to recognize when you are experiencing stress. It is important to learn how stress affects the health and well-being of single parents in order to take steps for mitigating its effects.

How to Manage Single Parenting Stress

When single parenting causes you to feel overwhelmed by the pressures of caring for children and managing a household, it is important to reach out for support. The following tips can help single parents cope with stress and stay mentally healthy:

Make Time for Yourself

Single parents should try to set aside some time—even if it is just short periods of time here and there—to do something they enjoy, such as reading a book or visiting with friends.

That said, finding time to yourself when you are raising kids alone isn’t always easy. You might ask a friend or family member to watch the kids while you take a break, or let the kids enjoy a movie while you relax with a book. Do what works for your family and your specific situation.

Skip the Guilt

Try not to feel guilty about taking time away from your children. For single parents struggling with their mental health, finding fun and relaxing activities that are centered on the things that they enjoy can help them feel balanced and fulfilled outside of their role as a parent.

Don’t think of these activities as indulgences that are taking things away from your kids. Your mental health affects your children’s mental health as well. Protecting your well-being is also important for your kid’s well-being. 

Keep a Positive Outlook

Negative self-talk can have a detrimental impact on your confidence as a parent and undermine your mental well-being. According to research, anxious parents tend to pay more attention to threats and negative information. This anxiety and negativity may then spill over into their interactions with their children.

Make an effort to avoid negativity, whether it's coming from yourself or from outside influences.

Build Your Support System

Single parents can build a social support network by reaching out to friends, family members, or online groups. It can be helpful to have people to talk to who understand the unique challenges of being a single parent.

You can also look on social media sites for groups and pages devoted to single parenting. It can be a great way to connect with other people who have been through similar experiences as you have.

Set Boundaries

It is important for single parents to set limits on what they can and cannot accept. Don’t allow other people to take advantage of your time or energy.

Single parents are sometimes subjected to greater judgment regarding their choices and parenting decisions, so it is important to make it clear to others that you don't welcome or accept such scrutiny.

Setting boundaries for yourself will help you manage your time and energy so that you don't get overwhelmed. It will also help you find more balance in your life.

Recap

In order to avoid experiencing burnout as a single parent, it is important to find ways to manage stress. Finding time for yourself, avoiding negativity, establishing boundaries, and having a support system are just a few strategies that can help you cope.

Stress Management Strategies

Stress management techniques can be helpful for single parents who are coping with feelings of stress and anxiety. In addition to relaxation strategies, practicing good self-care and looking after your mental health is essential.

Make Healthy Lifestyle Choices

Because of the stress you face as a single parent, it is often easy to overlook your own health needs. Single parents should make every effort to eat well, stay active, and get plenty of sleep. Sticking to healthy habits can ensure that you are taking care of yourself even when things get hectic.

Create a Relaxation Routine

Incorporating effective relaxation techniques into your everyday routine can also be helpful. When you find yourself getting stressed out by the day-to-day challenges of parenting, you can turn to these strategies to unwind and get a handle on the pressure.

A few helpful tactics you might want to practice include:

Take Care of Your Mental Health

Increased stress levels may mean that you are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. If you are struggling, consider talking to a mental health professional for help. There are many resources available to single parents, including counseling, therapy groups, and medication if necessary.

A Word From Verywell

The challenges of single parenting can be stressful but with planning, support, and effective stress management strategies, you can ensure that you have what you need to thrive. Single parenting can be tough, but with the right tools and strategies, you can manage stress and avoid burnout.

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5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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