By Liangzi Xu
A single woman with children requires more income to meet basic necessities and more time to juggle daily routines. Single mothers have their hands in everything, from doing the laundry and fixing a broken light bulb to making decisions for their children’s lives. It is double the work for single mothers compared to parents who can share the burden with their spouse or partner.
Common Mental Health Issues Among Single Mothers
Single mothers may be vulnerable to some mental issues because their situation keeps them alone and lonely.
The executive director of Jeremiah Program-Boston, Emilia Diamant, said the moms with whom the program works may face social isolation because they spend all their time being a parent. “A lot of moms in this situation become isolated because they are so overwhelmed with the responsibility of just being the parent,” said Sendy Suazo, a family coach at the program.
The social isolation also shows in their communication. Their friends can’t understand their feelings because most of the friends of single moms don’t have a child yet, explained Claire Rickenbach, family support advocate at Healthy Family program Jewish Family & Children’s Service, they also feel it is difficult to connect with fellow parents who are typically older.
“All their friends will stop talking to them, or they don’t want to hang out with their friends anymore, because they do drugs or they are partying all the time,” said Rickenbach. “They just don’t understand what it is like to have a baby.”
Some new moms are prone to postpartum depression after pregnancy. “After a woman has a baby, she can often feel the blues. She can cry and have a period of that type of thing,” said Maria Rader, the program supervisor of Healthy Family at JFCS. “Postpartum depression is when that goes on for quite a while. Studies show that actually is directly related to lack of support.”
Money problems may also cause anxiety. Rickenbach explained that the federal Women, Infants and Children program supplies baby food for low-income moms. However, it doesn’t provide diapers, which is a basic need for babies. She said, “It could be stressful, if you don’t have diapers for your baby. You have no income and you don’t know how to get the money. The father is not giving you any money to help with the diapers.”
The Healthy Family program at JFCS helps single mothers get resources, refers them to psychology clinics and assists them with developing a healthy relationship with their babies. The family support advocates do home visits to reduce the mother’s isolation.
“Having a crying baby is really overwhelming, if you don’t know what to do. If we teach them how to try all different things if your baby is crying, it will make them feel capable as a parent and they feel less desperate,” Rickenbach said.
Group Meetings Connect Mothers Together
Both the Healthy Family program and Jeremiah program offering group meetings to help single mothers come in contact with other people in similar situations. In this way, they can hang out and make friends with others who have children the same age, to show that they are not alone.
“There are other people that are going through this. They are also having camaraderie, people around you to be able to make you feel better,” said Rickenbach.
Diamant from the Jeremiah program agreed that having someone who knows what you experience and who understands your struggles as single parents is a big support.
“They also take care of each other’s kids sometimes,” she said. “They go out together as a group. They are friends, not just regular friends, but friends who are experiencing the struggles. We all need that.”
A young single mother, Ashley Lallo, who delivered her son when she was 17, said, “You don’t have to tell them your business, but communicate in a certain way, we understand eye to eye — ‘you will get through it.’ That person can help you with that, or they may know resources to help you with that. Just grab each other’s hands and help each other, because it is not even about us, it is more about the kids.”
Children Motivate Mothers to Advance
For single mothers, despite the difficulties of raising a child alone, their children are the backbones of their lives. Lallo said without her child, she would never have gone to college or found an advocate group to elevate herself. “My son means a lot to me. He means basically the whole world,” she said. “It is basically like your child inspires you to do things and better yourself, so you can better them.”
Children also can serve as support when their mothers face a predicament. Susan Dwyer, a single mother who is managing her marketing business, said It happened to her when she lost her job. Her son was diagnosed with diabetes at 3.
She said she didn’t have time for vacations, and she needed income and health insurance for her son. Even though she was drowning with anxiety, her son’s belief in her cheered her up. She recalled him saying, “You will be okay, and we will be okay.”
“Of course we will,” Dwyer answered him, though she knew the situation wouldn’t change instantly, but her feelings changed. “Having that ‘not to let him down’ feeling was really interesting,” she said. She also said being a single mother means she gets to know more about her child, adding that every day with her son brings a surprise.
It is no tiny task to be a mother, especially a single mother. However, single moms say children are always their motivation to move on, and family support can help them reduce the burden.