Single moms, the (beautiful) challenge of raising a child alone

Who I am
Marie-Ange Demory
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Whether it is by conscious choice or by chance (due to a tragic event or simply the breakdown of the relationship), there are more and more single mothers, who find themselves giving birth and raising a child by themselves. A path that can be magical and exclusive, but at the same time punctuated by many difficulties. We talk about it with the psychologist and psychotherapist Francesca Benigno, which underlines: “I will provide general answers which have a theoretical foundation, but which do not necessarily reflect the singularity of each life experience. Each person is as unique as each experience they live and go through. 'Every life deserves a novel' writes E. Polster in his book, precisely to indicate the complexity and beauty inherent in the experiences of each person, the answers I provide must be a stimulus for further reflection and are not intended to pigeonhole personal experiences are rigid schemes ".

Dr. Francesca Benigno

    Dr. Benigno, let's start with a premise: there are single mothers by choice and others who instead find themselves unintentionally. How does the question change from a psychological point of view?

    “Whatever the motivation, it is necessary to underline how all single mothers have to face a series of difficulties related to the economic, social and above all psychological aspects of having to manage everything independently. Whatever the reasons for which the father is not there, a single mother not by choice will have to face the loss of her partner from a psychological point of view, experienced as a traumatic experience, a bereavement. The term mourning refers to the emotional reaction that is experienced when a significant person in our existence is lost. Mourning is a wound that requires a time of elaboration and crossing of the different experiences that characterize it (sadness, sense of abandonment, anger, loneliness) in order to overcome it and reach a possible reorganization of one's life. There are several possible psycho-physical consequences of bereavement on adults. Among the psychological ones we can find anxiety problems, panic attacks, phobias, addictions, eating disorders, post traumatic stress disorder; among the physical ones, fatigue, sleep and eating disorders, digestive disorders, increased blood pressure, interruption of the menstrual cycle, headaches, lowering of the immune defenses may occur. To deal with this painful experience it is necessary to allow yourself adequate time to be able to process the trauma of detachment, face the situation, accept the pain without denying it, and give yourself the time necessary to ensure that the "wound" can heal, without feeling guilty for what you are experiencing. A psychotherapeutic path can be of great help, in these cases, to be supported in the elaboration and crossing of this painful and traumatic experience, to open up with confidence to life and to the possibility of spontaneously caring for one's child by facing all the difficulties that may arise ".

What can be the hardest times for a single mom?

    “Single moms have to provide for the family from an economic point of view, and they have to take care of the children and themselves. This can create some initial difficulties in being able to manage all these aspects alone, without the support of a partner. You can experience moments of strong stress and fatigue that will inevitably have repercussions also on the children, who in turn could manifest aggressive behaviors and stress. In addition, single mothers may have less time and close relationships, since they will have to deal with financial management it is likely that they will have to spend most of the day at work, this leads to a reduction in the time spent with their children and for self-care. . Added to this is the need to make all the decisions or educational choices that affect the child without the possibility of a comparison and support from a partner. However, despite the difficulties that can arise in the management of family life as single mothers, what can be very useful is being able to abandon the myth of omnipotence and ask for help. There are uncles and grandparents, babysitters, other mothers. It is important not to isolate oneself, but to build a social network of solidarity where one has the opportunity to feel supported, to discuss, exchange advice, favors, chat. Furthermore, it is essential not to forget about yourself, although between work, children, home it is difficult to have the desire and time to take care of yourself. However, carving out time for yourself, whether it's a walk for a few minutes, a coffee with a friend, a relaxing massage, is very important, to remember that you are also a woman with your own needs and not just a mother. Having the opportunity to carve out time for yourself allows you to "recharge", taking care of others inevitably passes through taking care of yourself ".

    Let's talk about the mother's family environment: how can it help or, on the contrary, be an obstacle to the child's education?

    “A single mom knows she will have to take care of raising her child, but that doesn't mean you always have to do everything yourself. It is important to ask for help and delegate when possible, activating all family resources, involving grandparents, uncles, brothers. You cannot rely on your own strength alone. The role of the family as a support is fundamental, both in the event that economic problems arise, or in the management of daily life with one's children. Finding points of reference in the extended family for both mothers and children is an important opportunity. It is clear that to avoid obstacles in the child's educational process it is necessary to assist the mother in respecting her educational principles, letting everyone play her role without creating confusion or opposition. To be clearer, for example, the mother will play her role by imparting the educational rules most suited to her family system, the grandparents will follow these rules but by playing a different role they will also be able to allow themselves with their grandchildren different educational spaces and moments that will reflect the diversity of the mother / child, grandparent / grandchild relationship. It is necessary that everyone plays their role respecting the peculiarities inherent in this and providing the child with the opportunity to experience the diversity of meaningful relationships, from which to draw an enrichment for their life. Furthermore, the possibility of dealing with male figures is important to give the child the opportunity to find an adult male reference point ".

    How to face the questions of your child who, once he grows up, understands that his father is not there?

    “A child's questions about his father's absence can cause mothers to feel anxious or have difficulty providing adequate answers. Whatever the reason why the father is not there, it is clear that this absence has created a wound upstream, a bereavement that must have been worked through by the mother, even before these questions arise from the son. As soon as the child begins to confront his peers and their fathers, he will ask himself questions and ask "where is my dad?" or "who is my dad?". Children need to ask questions and receive answers that are clear and appropriate to the situation in which they find themselves. It is necessary to tell children exactly what happened around them, using language and explanations that are understandable according to their age, this helps them to have a correct understanding of the events. The risk of not answering the questions clearly is that of leaving the children the opportunity to give themselves explanations. Children faced with situations that they cannot understand can blame themselves, thinking for example if "I don't have a dad it's because I've been bad or something else". It is necessary to answer the questions of the children in an honest and spontaneous way, carefully choosing the words to say with respect to the father figure. Make it clear to the children that they are in no way responsible for the situation in which they find themselves. Listen to your children and encourage them to talk and express their feelings to try to understand how they experience this absence and what they think about it, as it is not uncommon for them to get misconceptions about what is happening. It is necessary that the paternal function can continue to exist on a symbolic level for the children. The single mom must have taken care of her emotional and psychological wounds related to the absence of the partner, avoiding finding herself unprepared to answer, or giving hasty answers, discrediting answers about the father figure or making the topic taboo. Only after having gone through and integrated these lived experiences into her own life, will the mother be able to carefully choose the words to say and not to say, depending on the age of the children, about her father figure. It is essential to put this step into practice that the mother is able to differentiate her experiences of hers, which can be anger, disappointment, frustration, fatigue, from the need of her child to grow up and understand his own story ".

    When a mother decides to "rebuild her life" by finding a new partner, how can she make him "accept" by her son?

    "When the mother decides to rebuild a new life it is good that the children are aware of it, however I believe that it is good to introduce the new partner only when the relationship is experienced by the couple as stable and important and not a superficial relationship . Babies, even very young ones, are good at picking up on mom's mood swings, so they might sense that there is a new person who makes her feel good. The reaction of the children may also be different based on their age: for example, adolescents may show more difficulty in accepting this new figure and may assume attitudes of challenge towards the new partner, sometimes making the couple's relationship very complex. We must never neglect the conflicting feelings and experiences of the children with respect to the new partner, some may perceive him as a sort of intruder in the relationship between mother and children, or that he is somehow stealing the father's place. To avoid these thoughts it is necessary for the mother to clarify and reassure her child with respect to these hypothetical fears by emphasizing the diversity of their relationship, compared to that of her with the new partner. Some may fear that they will be abandoned, especially by observing an increasing complicity in the new couple, from which they feel excluded. It is not uncommon for children to simulate physical discomfort to prevent the parent from spending time outside the home, away from them. There are many emotions and experiences that come to the surface, so it is advisable to always proceed step by step, respecting the times of the children, without forcing the birth of a positive bond. We must be patient and understanding, even in the face of openly hostile behavior ".

Can a woman be both mom and dad to her baby?

    "To answer this question, I will briefly mention psychological concepts on the paternal and maternal role, summarizing as much as possible with respect to in-depth theories on the subject, trying to provide an adequate answer with respect to a complex issue that clearly needs to be looked at and contextualized by a person per person. In classical psychoanalysis, on a psychological level, the father had the role of pushing the children towards relationships with the world, with the outside world, promoting their autonomy and knowledge of the world and also representing the rules and the relationship with the world. authority. While the role of the mother was more oriented towards the care, care and development of her own internal world. Today, clearly, the roles are no longer so defined, there is no clear division of the parts, the mother who has the most affective function and the father who gives rules, however, in the child there remains the need to experience this double parental function. , that is the normative and the affective aspect. A mother can make up for some shortcomings and embody the double parental role, a mother, for example, can devote herself to other activities and not just be a mother avoiding the development of a fusionality of the relationship with her child, pushing him towards his own autonomy and towards the world, giving rules and taking care of them in an affective way. The paternal absence leaves a void in the growing child, however, it can be compensated in part by other reference figures, an uncle, a grandfather for example can represent important figures to which the child will refer in the course of his growth. For this reason, as already mentioned, it is important to create a network of intimate social relationships that can be a resource and enrichment for the growth of the child. Another important aspect to underline is that each story is unique and it is not certain that children grown up without the affective presence of a father will have psychological consequences, they will be able to feel a sense of emptiness with respect to this absence but learn to integrate it into their own life, adapting creatively to absence and developing resources to deal with the situation spontaneously by building authentic relationships with other reference figures ".

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