Ask Mary Jo: Single parent stress & supporting parent going through divorce

Hi Mary Jo,

Do you have any suggestions on how best to cope with single parent stress?

A recent survey estimates one of four American children grow up in a single-parent home. Although the circumstances vary, it is exhausting to raise children on your own. These tips can help you minimize stress and spend more time enjoying your children.

  • Set up a support system. It’s important that you have people you can call who will take care of your child so you can run errands, keep doctor appointments, or attend events you deem important.
  • Maintain a daily routine. You need to commit to a consistent routine so your children will feel secure, and you can feel organized.
  • Be consistent with discipline. Children thrive and behave better lowering your stress when they know what is expected and what the rules are. If your child has other caretakers, be sure to tell them what the rules are and what is expected.  
  • Don’t expect your kids to be your emotional confidante. Your children are your children, not your friends. Don’t put them in that role. When you need someone to talk to, turn to a friend or counselor.
  • Don’t parent out of guilt. When you feel sorry for your child because they only have one parent stress goes up and  you make bad choices with discipline. Stay focused on the things you do accomplish - the love, support, and security you give your children. The most important gift you can give your child is a well-adjusted single parent who wants what’s best for their child. For additional support in the aftermath of a divorce or death of a spouse, a support group will help you deal with grief, guilt, and loss.
  • Take time for your child. Give yourself permission to enjoy moments with your child. Dishes and laundry can wait. A book at night or prayers before bed can help your child feel safe, protected, and loved.
  • Don’t forget to take time for you. Take advantage of your support team to take a walk by yourself, exercise, have a coffee break, or do whatever makes you feel cared for. Self-care is not a luxury; it’s a necessity, especially for single parents. When parents are emotionally healthy, it benefits the child’s health and environment.


Hi Mary Jo,

My parents have been going through a divorce. What can I do as a son to best emotionally support my mom?



You’re in a position to grow and get to know your mom on deeper level, but it’s important that you set strong boundaries. Make it clear up front that you won’t take sides. That is not your place and the majority of divorces have fault on both sides. Here are a couple of suggestions of what will be most helpful.

  1. Send her an email or text to check up on her, but do not try to be the family peace maker.  
  2. If you do have a good relationship with your father, keep your relationship with him separate from her. What he does or doesn’t do should not be shared when you’re with her.
  3. Do not assume the role as being your mom’s emotional counselor. Your mom will grieve her divorce and get back on her feet much quicker with the help of a therapist. Encourage her to talk to a professional.
  4. Take on small jobs around the house that you may notice need doing – especially those left behind by your father.
  5. No matter how old you are, a parents’ divorce is difficult and can bring up painful memories. Taking care of yourself and prioritizing your own emotional needs is important.