Top tips from single parents

Going through separation? We've collected practical tips from parents who have been there to help you through. Filter by topic or find out more by following the links.

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I got legal advice soon after we broke up, which helped me feel in control. If I had to change contact arrangements I felt empowered having that information.

Mum, 1 child aged 6

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It gets easier

At the time it would have been helpful to know that there is an end to it, it does get better, and it does get easier to control. We’re both with other people now, my daughter's happy, we don’t argue anymore. He used to drop her off and wouldn’t go near me, give me evil looks. Standing 20 metres away and leaving her to run to me. It would have been nice to know that you will come through this.

Mum, 1 child aged 6

Information on communicating with your ex

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Helping my son trust men

My son finds it really difficult to connect with men. He always feels like they’re going to abandon him. I’ve done my best to support him however he needs. We watch films like Star Wars together and I play football with him – me and all the other dads! On Fathers’ Day we always make a card and it’s for whoever he wants it to be for – one year it was a teacher at his school, another it was our neighbour. I just try to help him understand that what he feels is justified and it’s fine to be angry sometimes.

Mum, 3 children

Information on supporting your children

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Let some things go

You may be strict on sugar and TV but they may not, which can create a very wobbly line for a child that is growing up and starting to push the boundaries. I have tried involving my ex-husband in conversations but it always ends in a disagreement or fight, so I have had to just accept and embrace that this is what happens in mummy’s house, and that is what happens in daddy’s house. Yes this is insanely frustrating, but honestly my advice would be to let it go. As long as your child/children are happy, being spoilt a few days a week isn’t the end of the world as long as they know the rules and boundaries in your house.

Mum, 1 child

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Asking for help is hard but important

I talk to my son's teacher and my mum, being frank about not being able to cope. Admitting I need help has been a massive thing for me to learn. It’s a gradual thing, being able to ask for support. But things are a lot easier now.

Mum, 1 child aged 9

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Try looking at lawyers on LinkedIn

To find legal advice I first just googled solicitors. But I didn’t know what I needed so I spoke to a friend who’s a corporate lawyer. She said look at their LinkedIn pages, to see who’s credible.

Mum, 1 child aged 6

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Remember stigma can be self-imposed

One thing I’ve learned, I went to work full time thinking people were looking at me - 'single parent on benefits'. I pushed myself to work full time and pay my way. Actually no one cares what I do, the only stigma was what I put on myself. I could have saved myself some stress.

Mum, 1 child aged 9

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Ask school to keep an eye on the kids

After we told them about splitting up, the kids were just constantly upset. My 5 year old was crying nonstop and not coping at school. The school staff are really kind so I straight away went and told the teachers. Everyone’s keeping an eye on the girls and they’ve been amazing.

Mum, 3 children aged 1, 5 and 10

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Try syncing your free weekend with other single parents

At the weekends they’re with their dad. Then it’s for me to find things to do. That’s where the single mums at school have come in handy. They have their weekends synced so that they have their time off from the kids together. It means when you haven’t got the kids, you’ve got someone to ring and ask to do something together.

Mum, 3 children aged 1, 5 and 10

Meet other single parents at a Gingerbread group

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Check if you can get extra financial help

When you change from a single benefit claim to a joint claim things change and you can get more help sometimes. I got help to pay for nursery fees – they paid 70%. If I didn’t have help with that, I wouldn't have been able to work. And a lot of people don’t know about those things.

Mum, 3 children aged 1, 5 and 10

Information on finances after separation

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Try the Turn2Us calculator to work out your benefits

I want to work and if I thought I might get a job, then I need to be ahead and work out my benefits. If I know everything’s in place that makes me feel organised and structured. I go on the Turn2Us calculator to get a rough estimate of money when I'm going back into work – you can see what you’re entitled. It’s really beneficial.

Mum, 1 child aged 4

Use the benefit calculator

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Let the right people know about your split

When you separate, you have to inform everybody for benefits. I got on and told all the different places – housing benefit, council tax. The process was easy.

Mum, 3 children aged 1, 5 and 10

Find out more about claiming benefits

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Speak to someone not involved if you can

I chose to have counselling. I just knew I needed to speak to someone who was away from my situation, wasn’t involved emotionally or personally with what’s happened and to have someone to speak to. Once it’s out your head, you’re not mulling it over.

Mum, 2 children aged 7 and 4

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You can change contact arrangement as kids get older

No matter what’s happened between us, I want my son to have a dad. When my son was younger we didn’t have a set routine, but when he got older we needed a routine. We both just agreed to every other weekend. It works fine.

Mum, 1 child aged 6

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Write down how you're feeling

Writing down how you're feeling really helps. I write it on a piece of paper and screw it up. It feels like you’ve spoken to someone and not been judged. You’ve thought about it.

Mum, 1 child aged 4

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Going along to parent groups can help

I feel like there’s a lot of things I realised afterwards that I didn’t know about, like the parent groups that I’m attending. I was a bit isolated, so if I found out about the parent groups earlier, it would have been better. I would have probably healed quicker.

Mum, 1 child aged 18 months

Join a Gingerbread group and meet other single parents

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Try to chat to other single parents

I felt better about everything when I started meeting other single parents; started talking to others in the same situation.

Mum, 2 children aged 9 and 13

Speak to other single parents on the Gingerbread forum

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Make a list - include what you'll do for you

I would make a list, just to tick off so you feel like you’re achieving something and making progress. I think it should be a mixture of things: what I need to do tomorrow or today, and include what you’re going to do for yourself like read a book for half an hour - it’s good to include those things. It’s a visual tool to see progression, that you’re doing something.

Mum, 2 children aged 13 and 20

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Focus on the positives

I used to keep something called a blessings jar. Every time something good happened - the smallest thing like your kid saying ‘I love you’. At the end of the year or whenever, you take them out and see the positives not the negatives. In the situation, all you can see is negative. Trying to focus on positives is really important.

Mum, 2 children aged 4 and 7

More on getting support

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Give yourself time

Take time to grieve. You will go through so many emotions at the strangest of times. Let them come.

Single mum

More about bereavement support

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Remember you're not alone

It happens, it's normal and it's ok to feel and be who you are. You are not alone and do ask for help and support if you need it. There are lone parent support groups available, where just sharing your experiences makes your load lighter. Remember with every end there is a new beginning. We are all here.

Single mum

Find out about Gingerbread groups

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Try not to put pressure on yourself

If I can get up in the morning and get the kids to school, myself to work, and pick the kids up from school, then I feel like I’ve achieved in the day. It’s about small achievements - don’t put too much pressure on yourself to make everything ok because you can’t. You’re only one person.

Mum, 2 children aged 4 and 7

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Remember, everyone needs help

It's ok to accept help. Everyone needs help in different ways, money or you need a break, school run, a bit of a system, talking to someone.

Mum, 1 child aged 4

Information on supporting yourself

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Your kids will still thrive

Don't feel you need to rush into a new relationship trying to fill the gap. Children thrive just as well, if not better, with one amazing, attentive parent.

Single mum

More on supporting your children

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Try CAB for legal advice

If you need legal advice makes sure you get it and don't make any decisions alone. Citizens Advice Bureau were a great help for me.

Single mum

More on getting legal help

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Don't feel bad arranging 'me time'

Know when to ask for that extra bit of help if needed, maybe from a family member or friend. Everyone needs 'me time' now and then, so don’t feel bad for asking for that helping hand to give you a break.

Single mum

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Try to face up to money problems

It's no use trying to avoid money problems by not seeing it in black and white; always open bills, bank statements, etc., so you know what's happening. If you’re struggling to pay bills you could go to your local free advice centre for help.

Single mum

Information on managing money and debt

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Try a credit union

If you have one in your area, you could try joining a credit union. It helps to save and they have good interest rates for kids. And if you do need a loan they are often the cheapest, safest option.

Single mum

More on managing money

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Try to put your feelings aside

I try to be as calm as possible, talking to my ex about contact with my daughter. I have even invited him to her birthday. It’s going to be a really difficult period having him there but at the same time she wants him there, so you have kind of got to do the right thing by your child.

Mum, 1 child aged 3

Information on making contact arrangements

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Single parent groups and holidays are worth it

You might not know it, but there are lots of groups and holiday companies out there just for single parents. Some single parents I've met are so on it they have joined up before the baby is out of the womb. For me, it took a while before I had the energy and confidence to join any but they really are genuinely fab.

Mum, 1 child

Join a Gingerbread group

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Try not to blame yourself

The last thing you should do is blame yourself, you’re in no control over how somebody else behaves.

Single dad

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Try not to influence your kids' views of your ex

Try not to call your ex-partner names in front of your children. Tell them the best parts whenever possible and leave it up to the child to decide if the other parent is worth it.

Single mum

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It might help to explain your situation early on

“So what does your husband do?” When another mum asked me that out of the blue one day, it threw me and upset me. Now when I meet new people, I explain early on in the conversation that I am bringing up my daughter alone. Just to get it out the way.

Mum, 1 child

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Try to be brave

Since splitting with my husband, I’ve just got loads more confidence. I’ve joined lots of clubs and try to be brave and get out there. It can be really hard to make yourself go to a new group or activity for the first time as you don’t know what to expect, but I’ve ended up with loads of friends out of it.

Mum, 1 child

Speak to other single parents on our forum

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You can challenge benefits decisions

I followed some advice given to me by the Gingerbread helpline who advised me to go back to the benefits agency to ask them to review my claim, which ultimately proved successful and reduced my rent payments by half.

Mum, 2 children

Find out more about benefits

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Try to remember what you've got

My advice to other single parents is just to stay strong and try not to think about what you don’t have. I lost a lot when my husband and I split – both emotionally and financially. It’s a bit of a shock at first trying to get by on less. But I’d say, try not to let it get to you – look for the positives and remember what you do have.

Mum, 1 child

Information on supporting yourself

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A detailed budget does help

I worked out a month by month budget and recorded every single penny coming in and out, if I spent a bit extra on school uniforms or some other essential, then I made sure the same amount came off the food budget so that I wouldn’t go overdrawn.

Mum, 2 children

More on managing money

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Forums can be reassuring and supportive

I find reading the message boards where single parents support each other uplifting and reassuring. When I posted my story, another mum replied to say she’s been through something similar.

Mum, 3 children

Join our forum and speak to other single parents

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See this as a time of change

My words of advice? Each situation is different and carries its own problems... see this horrible time as one of change rather than utter disaster, new opportunities and adventure rather than darkness. Impossible? Maybe. But for the sake of the children you have to force yourself to see another dimension to the experience.

Dad, 2 children

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There is a rainbow after the storm

I'm so glad I took the steps I did to make my life better. I really want to show other victims of domestic violence that there is a rainbow after the storm. Life does get better. And the only person who can change the situation is you.

Mum, 2 children

Information on keeping safe

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Focus on what you can control

I've learnt to accept that I can't control anyone else's behaviour and I focus purely on doing a good job when my little boy is with me.

Mum, 1 child

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You have an in-build survival mechanism

We were moved into a B&B after I left and I did my university finals there, writing essays in our little room with two kids playing around me. I don’t know how I did it. Single parents have an in-built survival mechanism that just kicks in. You dig deep and you keep going for your kids.

Mum, 2 children

Information on keeping safe

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Things can turn out ok

Every day I’m grateful I’m no longer in an abusive relationship, the boys are happy and doing well, and I’m really proud of them. And I just manage to do things, because if you don’t then no one else will.

Mum, 2 children

Information on keeping safe

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Ending it might be the best thing you do

The relationship I was in with my children’s father wasn’t good, he was emotionally abusive. It took me a long time to get over things once I’d made the decision to end it with him. Even when it’s really bad, you still want to make it work for the kids. Looking back now, I realise that ending it was the best thing I ever did.

Mum, 2 children

Information on keeping safe

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Put on your own oxygen mask first

If you compare unexpectedly becoming a single parent with being in an airplane disaster (the emotions and sensations can often be comparable), the life-saving instructions are always the same; “put your own oxygen mask on, before attending to those of your children.” Why? Because if you are not in a good, strong, resourceful position where your own essential needs are taken care of, you will not have the strength, energy or capacity to be there for your children in the way that they need you.

Mum, 4 children

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However hard, tell the truth

The only advice I would give any parent is, however hard it is, tell your children the truth.

Mum, 1 child aged 7

Information on supporting your children

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Focus on your kids

Focus on your children - they will not always be as dependent as they are now, and you will kick yourself when you realise you wasted time and energy on a relationship that didn't warrant it. Relationships can all too sadly come and go, but your kids are your kids for life. Show them you are there for them, no matter what.

Single mum

More on supporting your children

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