A Special Note From The Grief Recovery Insistute:
This article is appearing on both the Griever Blog and the Education Blog at the same time. This is something we have never done in the past. While we have previously run companion articles, we feel that the content of this blog can be of enormous value to both audiences as it is written. Since some grief professionals may not read the Griever Blog, it was decided to duplicate it here for your benefit.
In this fourth article, of our six-part series on Postpartum Grief, our focus is on “Postpartum Grief and Single Motherhood.”
Transitioning into parenthood for new mothers can be very overwhelming in the best of situations. Most new mothers have the support of their significant other during this transition, lessening the amount of responsibilities and stressors they may carry. What about a single mother who doesn’t have the support of the other parent? How does she manage this transition into parenthood?
The incidence of single mothers giving birth has dramatically increased since 1940. Approximately 40% of babies born in The United States are to unmarried mothers; 42% of those mothers are single and facing childbirth alone. A majority of these new mothers are in their 20s, living in poverty, and have not obtained any formal education beyond a High School diploma.
Although statistics provide us with information about national and demographic trends, they tell a colorless story. They don’t provide any context regarding a new mother’s circumstances; every situation is unique and individual.
A majority of single mothers don’t intend on facing their transition into parenthood on their own. In most cases, a divorce, break-up, brief relationship, or death of the father are responsible for this outcome. In many cases, these women are not only grieving the end of the relationship with the baby’s father, they are also left to manage the many stressors of pregnancy, delivery, and bringing their new baby home alone. (Sadly, depending on the circumstances of the pregnancy, they may have also lost the emotional support of their parents, which only adds to their level of stress.)
Women who are grieving due to a death, divorce, or break-up from the baby’s father may experience a number of conflicting feelings including, pain, isolation, loneliness, and fear. These feelings are likely to be amplified when they bring their new baby home.
A small percentage of women become single mothers by choice. Many of these women are over the age of 35, and due to varying circumstances, have decided to become a parent on their own. Even having made the decision to enter into single motherhood, they are not immune to the emotional impact of parenting a new baby. Without the emotional, physical, and financial support of a significant other, this transition could be very overwhelming for them too.
In our two previous articles we discussed “The Baby Blues” and “Postpartum Depression.” Given all of the factors we have discussed, single mothers are even more prone to facing these conditions. It is imperative that they remain aware of the symptoms, regardless if they made the choice or not, so that they are prepared to take action if it is needed.
Single Motherhood and Grief
As discussed in previous articles in this series, every major change in life can bring forth the emotion of grief. We are certainly not saying that motherhood is a grieving experience, but rather, the transition from pre-birth to after-birth can create the feelings of grief. Where life may have once revolved around work, friends, and going out, it now revolves around feedings, nap times, and changing diapers. Every element of a woman’s life changes with the birth of her child. Without the support of the baby’s father to lighten the load of the new responsibilities, the mother’s loss of self, loss of independence, and loss of freedom may be significantly heightened. Her grief may deeply impact her ability to be a functional and emotionally stable parent.
Taking New Action
Parents.com offers a number of helpful suggestions to help single mothers deal with the grief and stressors of motherhood. Here are a few:
- Manage finances accordingly
- Create a support system
- Maintain a daily routine
- Be consistent with discipline
- Abolish “guilt” from their vocabulary
- Take time for their children
- Take time for themselves
Another valuable tool to help process and address the mass of emotions experienced through this transition is the Grief Recovery Method. This method provides the tools on how to effectively grieve and complete relationships that have ended or changed due to death, divorce, break-up, or any other circumstance. This approach would be especially helpful in addressing any unresolved emotional business with the baby’s father. Saying goodbye to the hopes, dreams, and expectations of that relationship would not only benefit the mother but also the child. It would allow her to be emotionally present for her child and fulfill her capacity for happiness in her new role as a parent.
In taking the actions of the Grief Recovery Method, new mothers would also be equipped with the tools to teach her child correct information about grief and to help her child learn how to effectively grieve and complete relationships in his or her life that end or change.
How You Can Help
Most single mothers have their hands full, adjusting to motherhood and accessing available resources and supports on their own. If you are a friend or relative of a mother in this situation, we encourage you to reach out to her to offer any support available. Some small but significant ways in which you could help out include bringing her groceries, preparing meals, offering to watch the baby while she showers, takes a nap, or a runs an errand, and helping with household chores like laundry and dishes. Even the smallest gesture can make a significant difference in her day.
We also encourage you to become familiar with the signs and symptoms of the Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression so that you can be aware of them, should they become apparent to you. New mothers want and need the emotional support of significant others in their lives, especially during the tough times. Engage in honest conversations with her and tell her you will be checking in with her every week to see how she is managing. Express to her that she is not alone, that her feelings are normal and natural, and that you care about her emotional well-being.
You may also encourage her to take the actions outlined in the “Grief Recovery Handbook”. One of the foundations of The Grief Recovery Method is to provide assistance without analysis, criticism or judgment. Many single mothers experience all three, sometimes from the people they thought they could trust the most. This may be another way to support and connect with her on a heart-to-heart, emotional level, while she transitions into her new role as a mother.
Over the years I have had the honor of assisting a number of single mothers deal with the emotional losses of their past so that they would not transmit those issues to their children. Each of them has told me that it was one of the best choices that they had ever made for themselves!
A Special Note About The Authors
This series is being co-authored by Steve Moeller and Ashley Mielke, both of whom are Certified Grief Recovery Specialists & Trainers for the Grief Recovery Institute; both authors have a profound passion for helping others heal thier broken hearts. Steve's biography is included below for this article. Ashley's biography can be viewed at https://www.griefrecoverymethod.com/about-us/ashley-mielke