The one thing single parents wish you knew

Wednesday is Single Parent Appreciation Day. The 12 million single parents in America are no different than you. We have just been dealt a crappy hand in life, regardless of fault.

“Sympathy drives disconnection.” Research professor and bestselling author Brene Brown’s statement defines the exact problem in our culture regarding single parents: sympathy only magnifies the difference between them and the rest of society.

Sometimes through divorce or abandonment, sometimes by the death of a spouse or an unplanned pregnancy, many of us are living in a condition we did not choose. We are embarrassed by the mistakes we have made and the failures we represent.

We are traumatized by incredible loss. We are trying our best to hold on to any shred of dignity we can muster. All the while, we are mere humans with needs, just like you.

I am 100 percent certain that you know someone who is trying to be both mom and dad, while feeling much less than one person. So on this Single Parent Appreciation Day, I’d like to challenge you to please do more than just express sympathy.

We are not looking for you to feel sorry for us. We often do enough of that ourselves. What we do need is your support. We live in a first-world culture where throwing money at problems can offer a quick fix for the issue and a feel-good-moment for the giver.

And though – let’s be honest – money is always appreciated in a single-income household, what we really need is to know that you see us and you stand with us in our condition.

We don’t expect you to understand all the complexities, because even we don’t comprehend all the contradictory feelings we have on any given day. We want to know we are not castaways, but still a valued part of your community.

I found myself a single parent to my three young girls and raised them that way for eight years. We were one of the one-in-three U.S. homes that are parented by a solo parent. I learned a great deal the hard way.

I learned that when the bottom drops we are forced to face who we really are as people, without the labels we often cling to (successful executive, perfect parent). I learned that highlighting my girls’ hair is not as simple as it says on the box.

I learned that facing tough times together forged a deeper bond than I could have ever imagined with my girls. I also learned there are really, truly never enough hours in the day to get all the things done.

A solo mom or dad is typically juggling so many seemingly menial tasks all at the same time that lightening the load in any way makes a huge difference. First and most importantly, if you decide you want to help a single parent, casually reach out to let them know you admire all they are doing on their own. Tell them you would like to help if they would allow it. Reassure them that while they aren't giving the impression they need assistance, you can’t imagine doing everything that they are.

Next, think of some simple ways you can offer real help to a single-parent home. I offer some of my favorites below. And though at first the person might not seem open to help in these ways, be persistent from a posture of doing this as much for yourself, out of respect for someone that inspires you.

While there are many paths to help, the most important thing is to reach out and offer your helping hand.

Here are a few practical suggestions for standing offers:

  • Give rides for the kids to and from school, events and practices, etc.
  • Help with yard work, house repair or maintenance.
  • Watch the kids to give the parent an evening or day off.
  • Be willing to drop by the house to check on things, for times when the parent is running late getting home.
  • Wash/detail the parent’s car or have the oil changed.
  • Run to the grocery store for the parent.

I am 100 percent certain that you know someone who is trying to be both mom and dad, while feeling much less than one person. So on this Single Parent Appreciation Day, I’d like to challenge you to please do more than just express sympathy.

Appreciate the enormity of what these parents are experiencing. Bridge the gap they feel in society. Let them know you see how much they have going on in life and then lighten the load by offering relief in what might feel like a very small gesture. I promise, the impact will be more significant than you will ever realize.

Robert Beeson found himself a single parent to his three young daughters and raised them by himself for eight years. He is the founder of Solo Parent Society, a nonprofit devoted to helping solo parents thrive, and the author of “Going Solo: Hope and Healing for the Single Mom or Dad.”