The stress of living with children can be all-consuming when you are not getting emotional support from friends, family, and community. Don’t take this statement as a message that it is unhealthy to have children when the message is that children can be the greatest joys of your life. But it does mean those single mothers in particular need to learn how to manage their stress by first understanding that they may be at a greater risk for higher levels of chronic stress.
Secondly, it is especially important for single mothers to learn techniques that will work for them to help control the chronic levels of stress most of us will experience.
Insidiously, stress and guilt go hand in hand. They feed off one another, gaining strength from each other in a self-defeating, debilitating cycle. Knowing what to do to stop this guilt-stress cycle seems simple enough. It’s actually doing it that seems impossible. There is so much about which single parents feel guilty. Moreover, single parents genuinely feel that this guilt is deserved. We often feel powerless in the face of circumstances surrounding what we believe to be our own unique guilt. To tackle stress, which is nothing more than too many demands on too few resources, we must recognize it as a fact of everyday life. Coping effectively with stress involves not so much isolating its sources but, more importantly, looking at stress in a global way and trying to increase the resources available to cope with its inevitability.
Guilt is a far more insidious enemy than stress. Guilt is private and is not easily talked about. Guilt can even be viewed as deserved because we made poor life choices in the past.
You may already have learned how to sort out your feelings surrounding your reasons for becoming a single parent and discovered that much of your guilt was unearned. As each day presents you with new challenges, you must remember to remain aware of the two types of guilt – earned guilt and unearned guilt.
Simply put, unearned guilt is the unnecessary one – we feel guilty because we don’t make much money, we don’t have a designer home, or we didn’t become the person our mother thought we should be. Earned guilt is conscience. In other words, it’s okay to feel a little guilty if you helped yourself to your friend’s best lipstick and then lied about losing it. It’s even okay to feel a little guilty because you consciously changed plans at the last minute and caused someone special disappointment.
But it’s also okay not to feel guilty if you take some private time by reading or writing instead of watching your child show you for the fifth time that day how she does ten cartwheels in a row. Saying, “Mommy needs to do something for herself right now and doesn’t want to watch you” is no reason to feel that you are a neglectful mother.