Through my own experience and through the single parents I have spoken to, it seems most of us tend to find our own way. But are there resources out there specific to the needs of single parents?
I knew my friend wasn’t OK as soon as I looked at her. I still said, “Hey, nice to see you. How are you doing?” But before she answered, I knew I wouldn’t get the usual response. “My husband and I have decided to get a divorce. We’re living apart.”
If you find yourself in a similar situation with a friend or acquaintance telling you something along the lines of, “Well, my husband/wife/partner/girlfriend/boyfriend/ significant other and I have decided to separate/divorce/breakup,” and children are involved, having gone through this kind of life event yourself, how would you respond? What, if any, advice, tips or resources would you impart?
When my friend shared her news with me, another friend was in the room. When I asked during our ensuing conversation, “Have you spoken with a lawyer yet?” the third party jumped in, “That’s what I said!” It doesn’t have to be your first port of call, but you need to address those needs at some point. You may already know a family lawyer or mediator, or you may feel comfortable inquiring for references from a few select friends or family members. However, if you don’t feel comfortable with the latter option, what alternatives do you have?
The Calgary Legal Guidance Centre (403-234-9266; website: www.clg.ab.ca) offers a lawyer referral service and also provides free legal advice to people on a limited or low income but who do not qualify for legal aid. If your legal issues turn into a long, drawn out process and you are looking for advice in regard to housing, Calgary Housing Company provides housing information and referrals as well as subsidized, affordable housing and a rent supplement program. The Calgary Housing Company can be contacted at 403-221-9100.
Emotionally, at any point during a single or partnered parenting journey, parents can feel the need to talk to someone about parenting issues they are having relating either to their child or ex-spouse, or perhaps both. Again, asking someone you trust for a referral can be great. But if you prefer not to seek out a counsellor via that route, your family doctor might be able to offer you some advice or a referral. I appreciate that finding a family doctor can be difficult in Calgary but if you do have one, it might be worth mentioning that you have recently become a single parent, if your life circumstances have changed. It provides them with a little more information about their client, and it can be nice to know that the person helping you to look after your health knows some of the potentially stressful factors that could affect your general well-being.
If you are looking for an individual or family counselor, the Calgary Counselling Centre can be found at Suite 200, 940 - 6 Avenue SW (403-265-4980; website: www.calgarycounselling.com). They offer individualized counseling in over 15 languages as well as referrals to other organizations. The centre also facilitates a program entitled “Children of Divorce” where both children and parents can participate in a program to help them navigate the process of divorce.
Renee, a single parent of three young children in Calgary, found that reading both single parent experience-related text and spiritual or well-being related text was key in helping her to stay grounded when she became a single parent. “I just went with what worked for me,” she explains. “But my advice to a newly single parent would be to make an effort not to isolate yourself. It’s easy to not make the effort to get out because it can be difficult, but try to nurture yourself and your relationships, even when you don’t feel like it.” One book I have just come across is Fifty Wonderful Ways to be a Single Parent Family by Barry G. Ginsberg, Ph.D. (New Harbinger Publications, Inc. 2002).
What does Dr. Ginsberg list as his No.1 tip? “Look for Positives: No matter how bleak situations may appear you can always find positives… Remember that nothing is permanent. Life is always changing. What happened to us today will be understood differently tomorrow,” he advises.
Robin, a single parent living in the Calgary area, agrees that you have to find what works for you to help you cope in your role as a single parent. Robin explains, “I can’t think of resources specific for me that I need as a single parent... except another set of hands and eyes! I know some of my friends who are single parents enjoy meeting other single parents but that isn’t really something I’m too interested in.”
If you are the kind of person that wants to connect or meet with other single parents in your area, your local community centre can be a great place to start. The Single Parent Support Program located in the Huntington Hills Community Centre in Calgary’s NW (403-275-6668; website: www.weconnectyou.ca) offers support, information, referrals and assistance to single parent families and their children. The program facilitates a Support Group featuring guest speakers as well as a less formal Wellness Group that enables single parents to meet and network with other single parents in their community. Similarly, the Southwest Communities Resource Centre organizes a Single Parent Support Group meeting on the first and third Wednesday of each month (403-298-9222; website: www3.telus.net/swcrc/index.html).
If you have no other single parents in your immediate support network, these kinds of groups can offer a great opportunity to expand your social circles; but it can also supply you with a venue to let off some steam about issues pertaining to being a single parent (e.g. Why is ‘divorced’ an option in the marital status section of so many official forms?).
Other than maybe your tax return, why don’t you simply return back to ticking ‘single’ status? Robin also makes another great point, “Single parents should be provided with priority when trying to make weekend or evening appointments for things such as doctors or dentists because there may only be one parent (who is working full-time) to take them.” Even if your local community centre doesn’t offer such a group but you think there might be a need, you can always contact them about starting up a single parent meet-up or support group.
If you are looking for something more social, Calgary Single Parents Meet-up Group connects via the meet-up website at http://singleparents.meetup.com/
14/?gj=sj3. Membership of both the website and the group is free and members chat via the message board, share resource news via the site, and also organize group get-togethers. Members of the group have children from newborn to college-aged and ‘meet up’ either online or at one of the events or day trips organized at local venues. During the summer months, activities typically include many outdoor get-togethers, e.g. an afternoon at Sikome Lake or a BBQ at Bowness Park.
What do single parents in our city need? More than anything, the resounding issue I found in terms of lack of resources when talking to single parents in the city is the lack of appropriate and/or affordable childcare. As Renee explains, “The city really needs a location that provides flexible childcare, or a drop-in centre. It’s hard to find a childcare spot in the city when you might only need that support for a few hours in the day.” Renee firmly believes that the government has a role to play in subsidizing daycare. “If childcare facilities could be subsidized in such a way that they could function as drop-in centres, finding childcare wouldn’t be such an issue.” Renee explains that paying a babysitter, if you have more than one child, can be a very pricey option and goes onto suggest that a kind of drop-in service could be offered outside of work, too. “It would be great to have a drop-off centre in the malls so that you could run your errands while your children play.”
If you find yourself at crisis point though and need your children looked after for a short period of time, the Calgary’s Children’s Cottage (403-283-4200; website: www.childrenscottage.ab.ca) provides 24-hour childcare for up to 72 hours for children from newborn up to eight years of age.
One challenge that Robin feels needs to be addressed in our city is the bussing of children to school. As she explains, “The major thing I am struggling with right now is my child’s daycare and school being so far from my home. It is close to her dad’s house, but a 20-minute drive each way for me, twice a day. There are no services that help to re-coup the costs of transport… I drive 100 kilometres a day during the days I have her, to get her to and from school. I think that the school board could help with subsidizing travel costs or providing bussing for parents who are separated and live in different neighborhoods from where the child attends school.”
This lack in resources that Renee and Robin describe is surely basis for at least some consideration for a community service organization, marketing team or entrepreneur. With over 46 per cent of marriages ending in divorce, and adults choosing to adopt or have children on their own more and more in Calgary, surely our community has to start to meet the needs of our residents. However, until then, just as our children change and grow, our needs and abilities as a parent alter and transform. There’s more than one way to be a successful parent and you’ll find your own way, getting help when and where you need to. Besides, as Dr. Ginsberg advises, let’s look to the positives, you already are.
Victoria lives, writes and works in Calgary. She is a single Mum of two young children.
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