How to help a single parent

Posted May 16
Updated May 17

Sometimes it is difficult to know how to help a friend or family member who is struggling to parent their children. (Deseret Photo)

I have mixed feelings when I admit that I've been a single parent for 16 years. My emotionally charged divorce left my state of being in a tailspin as I was trying to adjust to rearing two toddlers.

Over time, the new daily routines were established and life as a single parent became more tolerable with each passing day. There were so many occasions when I was depressed over the inability to prevent my divorce, yet, I am very proud and pleased by all the things I’ve accomplished throughout the years.

To remain single for as long as I have is a personal choice, but it has never been an easy one. My decision has afforded me the luxury of knowing I have given my children 100 percent of myself but it comes at a price. I've lived cautiously and frugally on my paycheck and child support. I learned to differentiate a “want” from a “need.” And naturally, I placed my children's needs before my own, frequently repairing my clothing so I could afford to buy my growing children school clothes, a pair of shoes or a winter coat.

I’ve clipped coupons and donated my plasma to buy groceries. And discovered the variety of meals that can be made using flour, eggs and milk. I am and will always be a fiercely independent person. It is not in my nature to ask for help so the best things that were ever done for me as a single parent were often done without asking.

Here are some suggestions on how to help a single parent.


The most important thing you can do for a single parent is listen to them without judgment and free of your opinion, except if asked. Unless you have walked in his or her shoes, it is difficult to fathom the emotions and struggles faced by a single parent.

Perform acts of kindness

There are many inexpensive ways to assist single parents, however, it may be tricky if pride gets in the way. Mow their lawn. Shovel their driveway. Watch their kids for a few hours. Give them a gift card for gas or groceries. Treat them with a pedicure or a movie night. I had an anonymous co-worker leave envelopes with cash and words of encouragement. It was almost as if that co-worker knew I was choosing between a gallon of gas or a gallon of milk that day.

Inspire & encourage

Being a single parent is an emotional roller coaster ride. Sometimes, a mom or dad needs to hear he or she is doing a great job despite the situation.

Don't judge

As a person on the outside looking in, don’t be too quick to judge a situation. For some single parents, this is not a choice. Not knowing my situation, many people have judged me simply because I was divorced or expressed disappointment that I have placed my children in daycare. Yeah, sometimes my kids ran around like hooligans. Most days, I was crying at my desk. Rather than gossip with neighbors or co-workers, ask yourself, “What can I do to be of service to them?”

Don’t recommend marriage

It is unfortunate, but some see marriage as a solution to the challenges of single parenting. I was ill-advised by someone years ago to seek a new husband as being a single parent is “too hard.” Honestly, I want to get married again for the right reason: Because I'm deeply and madly in love with the guy not because I need him to take care of me and my children.

My best friend understood my sense of pride and independence more than anyone in the world. More times than not, I had lacked the budget to go to a movie, attend a concert or hang out with friends at the restaurant. Often, I would come up with an excuse as to why I could not attend. She had a way of convincing me that she owed me or it was her turn to pay the restaurant check. But I knew better. Rather than make a fuss, I graciously accepted her acts of kindness and friendship. It was her unspoken way of telling me she loves me and how much she values our friendship.

Abby Patonai is a Utah native and divorced mother of two teenagers. Contact her at


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