Single Mothers Combat Stress by Engaging with Their Children! Who would’ve thought?

Probably one of the most interesting things that has happened to me as a result of my blog. I get a phone call out of the blue. This journalist is writing a story about single motherhood and wants to interview me! Awesome!


Single mothers combat stress by engaging with children, new study finds


By , Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Aug. 19 2012 3:00 a.m. MDT

Christina Robert, a 44-year-old single mother, is headed out the back door of her home in the outskirts of Minneapolis to fill the dog bowl before it gets dark. But before she does, she turns to her 3-year-old daughter, LuaClaire.

“Do you want to come with me or stay here?” she asks.

“Come!” is her daughter’s response 99 percent of the time.

Though it will take her twice as long to finish the task, Robert regards this as valuable one-on-one time with her daughter. And if asked her opinion, she’ll tell you time spent together is not only to LuaClaire’s pleasure, but also her own.

Spending time with children combats the daily stresses that single mothers face, a new study led by a team of doctorate students at Kansas State University found.

“Being a single mother and being a parent in general is very exhausting,” study author Blake Berryhill said. “But if a mother is willing to spend time with her children, it can reduce her parental stress because she will feel that in her role as a mom, she is doing an adequate job.”

Single-handed super women

Compared to married mothers, single mothers are twice as likely to experience a bout of depression and higher levels of chronic stress, according to a study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine in 2001. The study also found that these women have less contact with family and friends and less involvement with church or social groups.

“Single mothers can feel constantly overloaded and overwhelmed at being a parent and trying to fulfill all of their responsibilities,” Berryhill said. Being a single mother brings extra stress, caused by decreased economic resources, longer work hours and a limited social support network.

As a mother with two jobs and a shared custody arrangement, Robert understands the pressures of single motherhood.

“Your life is so stressful,” she said. “I had no clue when I became a mother that my life was going to change as much as it did and I had no clue that being a single mom was going to be as hard as it was.”

The study followed children, ages 1, 3 and 5, to focus on parental engagement, stress levels and child temperament. Researchers found that spending time with a child through daily activities, such as reading stories, playing games or putting a child to bed, can reduce parental stress by instilling confidence that the mother is doing an adequate job in her role as a parent.

“The time that I have with her is really valuable and really meaningful, and in doing that, I try to set aside the negative things that have gone on and I allow that joy to rejuvenate me,” Robert said. “It is healing. Kids are so innocent and unconditionally loving.”

Brittany Phelps, a dental assistant living in West Linn, Ore., and single mother to Peytyn, 3, has found that the most simple of moments can ease her stress.

“I was actually thinking … when I took my daughter to the park how awesome she is and how perfect our afternoons together are after my days working full time,” she said.

Author of “Confessions of a Scary Mommy” and mother in Baltimore, Jill Smokler, says she feels less stressed when she feels her life is not so off-balanced. She enjoys the day-to-day routine that allows her to see her kids before school and several hours after school, before bed and during dinner together. “That is perfect for me, having them in big doses but also having space to myself.”

Consistency, the study showed, reaped benefits far more noticeable than time spent intermittently together.

“Our research showed that those daily things, spending time with the child in a daily routine, putting the child to bed, or reading stories to them were what really made the difference,” Berryhill said.

Creating a family unit

While a single-parent home can be unconventional, mothers such as Phelps work hard to maintain a strong sense of unity.

“We’ll do typical family activities, just the two of us,” Phelps said. They get their family portrait taken once a year and have family prayer together each night.

Robert tries to create a sense of community and a sense of family that goes beyond the two of them. She schedules play dates with other single mothers and their children, and they spend time with other adults she and her daughter have a positive relationship with.

“There’s almost this extended sense of community and family that comes out of this,” Robert said, “because we don’t have that at home.”

“No matter how much I may miss parts of who I used to be,” Robert wrote on her blog, “the little girl who calls me Mommy fills an amazing spot in my heart that no one else can ever replace.”

Beautiful, Wonderful, Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is a wonderful, beautiful and amazing thing. We as mothers have the opportunity to give our babies life and to give it of our own bodies. The images are everywhere. Babies nursing happily at their mothers breast, sidelying moms, moms with twins. They all look so calm and relaxed.

Prior to the birth of our babies we are given loads of information demonstrating the importance of breastfeeding, the benefits our babies will gain from breastfeeding, not to mention how it is a natural experience that will be relaxing and will offer us the time to bond with our babies.

And then the baby comes. For some breastfeeding is easy, just like in the books we read, just like in all of the idyllic pictures that we see.

For others, it does not come easy. A poor latch can result in unbelievable levels of pain, blood in the milk, a child spitting up red milk, gashes in the nipples. Where is the breastfeeding we read about? Where is that wonderful, beautiful experience that we were expecting? Add to that sleep deprivation and a colicky baby and the thought of putting the baby to the breast can become a nightmare.

In the present subculture of women who see themselves as “natural” or “holistic” breastfeeding is endorsed over all else. Lactation consultants are there to spur you on, breastfeeding coaches paired through WICC. No matter what: keep breastfeeding! “The research shows you’ll get more sleep”; “The research shows your baby will get sick less.” All true.

But what if you simply can’t do it or simply choose not to? What if illness or pain or lifestyle issues makes supplementing or feeding exclusively with formula the best or only choice for you and your baby? What then? How will your peers see you? Will you be judged? Will you be perceived as depriving your child of their God-given right to a healthy immune system? Will your child get sick more? Will you be tainting their bodies with the cursed, man-made formula? Worse yet, will you be looked down upon by your family and peers? Will you be afraid or embarrassed to “admit” that you have supplemented with formula? Will you have to wear the scarlet “F”?

Our subculture (and what we wish for broader society) presents a very strong underlying and oftentimes overt message that those who do not breastfeed exclusively, or who choose not to altogether, should be ashamed of their choices. I clearly remember the shame that I felt when I announced to others that I was supplementing. It was clearly not the #1 choice.

I think it’s important for all of us to be sensitive to the messages that we put out into the world and to the reality of life and the reality of raising young infants, especially when raising them alone without a supportive partner, or when physical or life circumstances arise that make breastfeeding a difficult choice.

Breastfeeding is meant to feed and nourish our children. In the absence of breastfeeding what other choices remain? How do we nourish our babies? How do we keep them alive and help them to grown? Isn’t that the ultimate goal after all? Living up to a subculture’s subversive messages is an imposed stress – and one that can be ameliorated by speaking openly about ALL the options available, not just those that may be out of reach for some. And not only speaking openly about them, but accepting them and sending a positive message that formula and supplement, not breastfeeding if OKAY. It may even be what is BEST for your baby.