ParentLine

Dear ParentLine,

I’m stressed out.  I am now a single mother.  Husband left us about five months ago.  Have two young children, ages six and two.  Need help with everything…managing daily life, paying my bills, scheduling kids’ activities, cooking/cleaning, child care, healthcare and after school programs.  You name it!  I have little financial support from the Ex but no emotional or physical support in taking care of the kids every day.  No family is around here either.  Please help. 

Signed, Stressed in Central NH.

 

With all that’s on your shoulders right now, how can you be anything but stressed?  The sheer weight of “bring-home-the bacon-cook-it-up-in-a-pan” plus being both mom and dad for two young children is way more than anyone can carry all by themselves.  It’s to your credit that you recognize that you feel overwhelmed, are able to identify some of the areas in which you need help and to ask for it.

Contact the NH Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to see what assistance you may qualify for in terms of food stamps.  You may also qualify for utilities assistance and child care support.  Call your local food bank to find out about their programs.  Also, check to see if you may be eligible for Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) and Medicaid.  See the end of this article for a phone number.

In addition, many communities have agencies that provide parenting type services, such as Families First on the Seacoast, The Hub in the Dover area, The Upper Room in Salem/Derry, and of course, Child and Family Services.  Check with your utility company to see if you qualify for their heating fuel assistance program.  When it comes time for warm winter clothing for the kids, visit your local Goodwill Industries or Salvation Army stores.  They have good quality clothing at very reasonable prices.  You also may want to consider talking with the folks at the NH Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) about voluntary services that may be available through them such as respite, for example.

Any one of the issues you face—a divorce, being a single parent, young children, limited resources—are a cause for stress.  Taken all together, the load you carry is too much.  Sadly, you’re not alone.  The experts at Duke University in an article titled, “Success Over Stress,” (Live for Life at Duke, www.hr.duke.edu) spell out the “bad news” factors:

  • Over half of women with children under one year of age are now working outside the home.
  • Only a little over a quarter of families with children are in a “traditional model” with a working husband and a homemaker wife.  Working couples and single parents are now the norm.
  • 70% of all women with children between the age of 6 and 17 work outside the home.
  • In 62% of marriages, both spouses hold paying jobs.
  • Working parents have the equivalent of almost two full time jobs when you take in to account time spent on work and home responsibilities.

The good news in these statistics is that with just a bit of ingenuity on your part, you can locate other single moms and dads who might be willing to form some sort of parent-support cooperative.  Talk to folks at the schools or your local church to find other single parents and at the same time, ask about programs the church might offer.

Organizations like Big Brothers and Sisters or the local Y can provide invaluable support.  Find out about your local child, family and elder services programs.  Elders in good health may be very willing to partner with you in a mutual support venture.   Check with your local county extension office.  This is a terrific resource that offers all kinds of great family support and development programs.   CFS alone offers many parenting support and parent education groups throughout the state.

To reduce the stress levels in your life, you’re going to have to be your own fairy god-mother.  We’re not talking magic here, just a plan of attack.  After the kids are fed, in bed, and before you crash, sit down with a pen and paper.  Figure out where your energy goes.  Break the list down in two columns.  One’s for “external” factors that contribute to your stress.  These can be things like requirements of the workplace, inadequate resources in the community, household obligations, unpredictable events, like when little Johnny trips over his Big Wheel and knocks out his two front teeth.

    

Then, take a look at the “internal” factors.  Do you have unrealistically high expectations for performance?  Do you need to do it all and have it all?  Do you have any ineffective behaviors or poor health habits?  Do you have any negative attitudes and feelings?  Given your situation, you may, but try not to let this stuff keep you in a spin cycle.  Be objective when you identify the things that cause you stress.

The qualities that make you a productive employee and a good mom are also the ones you are going to call upon to help you through this tough time.  According to the folks at Duke in the article mentioned above, these strategies are:

  • Plan – Set goals and priorities and establish a plan of action.
  • Organize - Save time and energy by making “to do” lists, combining activities and errands, and easing transition times between home and family.
  • Communicate effectively – build and strengthen relationships.
  • Set Limits – Decide what you can and can’t do and learn to say “no.”
  • Delegate – Share the load.
  • Establish Support Systems – Reach out to others both professionally and personally.

An article titled “Stress Management for Parents,(www.childdevelopmentinfo.com)

lists 52 proven ways to reduce stress. A few of these are:

  • Get up 15 minutes earlier in the morning.  The inevitable morning mishaps will be less stressful.
  • Prepare for the morning the evening before.  Set the breakfast table, make lunches, put out the clothes you plan to wear, etc.
  • Don’t rely on your memory.  Write down appointment times.
  • Make duplicates of all keys.
  • Practice preventative maintenance: your car, appliances, home and relationships will be less likely to break down/fall apart “at the worst possible moment.”
  • Procrastination can be stressful.  Whatever you want to do tomorrow, do today, whatever you want to do today, do it now.

Finally, remember we are either time’s master or its slave.  This is a choice we make in each moment of each day, no matter how harried and stressed we feel.  The easiest way to get on top of any and all stress in our lives is simply to stay present in each breath we take.  When the pressure starts to build, stop and exhale completely.  As we breathe in, it’s up to us to rest in the knowledge that in this moment, nothing’s happening that we can’t handle.  Give it a try.

Contact Information:

NH Temporary Aid for Needy Families:  800-852-3345 Ext.  4961

NH Department of Children, Youth and Families: 800-852-3345 Ext. 4238

 

ParentLine is a free and confidential service of Child and Family Services, a statewide, independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the well-being of children and families.  Call ParentLine, 1-800-640-6486;  write ParentLine, c/o Child and Family Services, P.O. Box 448, Manchester, NH; email parentline@cfsnh.org or visit our website at www.cfsnh.org.