Parenting is difficult. Anyone with kids—or even without them—would tell you this. Parenting as a single, especially of more than one child, is downright exhausting. We see each other struggling regularly, but it’s hard to know how to support one another and it’s harder still to know how to ask or even accept that help. To ask someone for help might seem like inconveniencing others, and so it is easier to just keep on keepin’ on and striving on your own. As a single mom of two boys, I know what it’s like to struggle daily, but I am also blessed to be surrounded by support from my community and family. Dear reader, if you’re seeing this blog, I suspect that you genuinely want to support a single mom. I want to help you do that. Here are a few ways that my community has supported me that may be helpful to other single moms, as well.
Be intentional. Have you ever been on the receiving line of the well-meaning statement, “Let me know if you need anything”? If you have, you might be like me and never took them up on their offer. The statement might be completely authentic, but it is so vague that you’re not really sure if they mean it or are just trying to be cordial. For me, it has been vitally important that people eased me into being helped by offering specific things they would like to do for me and then following through with a date or time they’d like to do it.
Be kind. A couple of years ago, I attended a brilliant event where moms got to be pampered while their cars and kids were cared for. What the volunteers provided was valuable support, but the amount of time it took anyone to make eye contact honestly had me feeling less like a person and more like a project. If you are hoping to support a single mom, or anyone for that matter, I urge you to look them in the eye. Let them know with your body language that they are valuable.
Offer your presence. Being a single parent can feel lonely and isolating. What many moms need is someone to talk to or someone to do something with them. It can be difficult to find time to get together with friends when you’re solely responsible for caring and providing for your kids, so it’s helpful to be creative when asking a single mom to get together. Practically speaking: Set up time to hang out at her place after the kids are sleeping, invite her and the kids over for a playdate, or bring her to a moms group with or without childcare.
Love on her children. I think it’s safe to say that the key to any parent’s heart is through his or her children. When someone clearly cares for my children, it’s a thousand times easier to allow them into my bubble and let them help me. Practically speaking: Engage her children with a smile and help with small tasks like putting on coats or playing games while mom is doing something else. Offer to take her kids while she goes to an appointment or has time to herself. One friend offered this by saying, “My girls would really like a playdate with your boys. Can I take them for the day?” That offer made me feel as if I was helping her by letting her help me.
Help her serve. Serving feels good. Generally, it feels good to be able to give of time and resources to people who are in need. Many times, when you’re the person in need, it’s difficult to even be able to do things for people outside your family. Practically speaking: Offer to provide or pay for childcare so she can do a service project.
Give of your time. Sometimes a mom doesn’t need anything that she is not already capable of providing herself, but it’s just helpful for someone else to do it once in a while. Practically speaking: Provide car maintenance, transportation—especially picking up or dropping off kids—cleaning, grocery shopping, or babysitting.
Give her some time. With the demands of caring for others constantly on her mind and hands, a single mom rarely finds time for herself. One of the most special things given to me has been an opportunity to get away by myself or with other women for an entire weekend. Practically speaking: Sponsor her trip to an event like Bridging the Gap’s Single Moms Retreat financially, offer to care for her kids for one or all of the days she’ll be gone, or offer transportation to and from the retreat. BTG is hosting the retreat in May; you can click here (scroll down until you see the “Donate” button alongside the other ticket options) to support a single mom by sponsoring her trip.
Ask again. Sometimes it’s almost as hard to ask for help as it is to accept it. Have you ever been at a table when everyone goes around with a plate containing only one more cookie? “Would you like the last one?” asks person one. Person two declines and offers it to person three. Person three also declines, and the cycle goes around and around the table until someone finally takes that last cookie. I’m often the person rejecting the help, not because I don’t want it, but because I don’t want to take it away from anyone else who might be more deserving and I don’t want to inconvenience the asker. The friends and family members who have helped me the most are those that have asked intentionally, authentically, with kindness, and more than once. If the single mom you want to help turns you down, it may be that she is also trying to be polite. Consider changing your approach and asking again.