Looking after your emotional health

You and your child's wellbeing

Being a single parent can be very rewarding, but it can also have its ups and downs. This information page focuses on your wellbeing, with ideas to help improve how you feel, boost your confidence and manage difficult situations.

If you’re worried about your child’s wellbeing or are looking for resources to support your children, read our resource: Support for children and young people.

We’ve signposted to a wide range of organisations offering support to single parents below. Whatever services you choose to use, make sure the organisation is suited to your needs and that you are clear about any charges.

Separation can feel like the start of a daunting journey, and it can be difficult to know what to do next. With so much change happening, it's important to not only take care of your children, but yourself too. Kate separated from the father of her eldest daughter when she was a few months old. She discusses her experience of being a single parent and the support which boosted her wellbeing throughout a difficult time.

Recognising how you feel

No one expects you to be at your best all of the time, and you may find that you feel undervalued, or forget that you’re doing a great job. Changes in your life can be very stressful and it’s easy to underestimate the burden of day-to-day responsibilities that being a single parent can bring. Everyone worries from time to time, but problems and challenges can sometimes feel overwhelming. They can build up without you realising, especially as a busy parent.

Part of being an effective parent is looking after yourself. It can be more difficult to parent well and enjoy being a parent if you’re distressed or anxious. Recognising how you feel and the possible causes is an important step to addressing your worries, but it’s equally important to get help when you need it.

Anxiety and Depression/Post-Natal Depression

If you’re unsure if what you’re feeling is depression/post-natal depression, anxiety or perhaps something else, it’s worth speaking to your GP, midwife, health visitor or one of the organisations listed below. Asking for help takes courage. It’s important to remember that you’re not alone, and that taking steps to look after yourself will help you to look after your children.

  • Mind
    0300 123 3393
    Information, advice and support on all aspects of mental health including postnatal depression, common signs, self-help tips, treatment and support.
  • NHS Choices
    Provides information on what depression is, its causes, how to spot the signs, where to get help, and treatment.
  • Samaritans
    116 123 (Freephone number)
    Provides confidential emotional support for those experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including suicidal feelings. The helpline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and you can also contact them by email (jo@samaritans.org) or letter. In some areas, face-to-face appointments are available.
  • SANE
    0300 304 7000
    Runs a national helpline offering emotional support and information to anyone affected by mental illness. Open 6pm to 11pm every day of the year. Support is also available via email and online forums.

Talking can help

Friends and family may be unaware of how you really feel. Talking to someone you trust can really help. If you don’t have family and friends that you can talk to, or you would prefer to speak to someone outside of your family and friends, try social networks such as Gingerbread’s online forums, Netmums or Dad.info, where you can chat to other parents.

You could also consider counselling. Your GP can refer you to free counselling sessions. You can also refer yourself to a private counsellor or therapist, but you may have to pay for the sessions. It’s always worth checking to see if a counsellor or therapist offers reduced fees if you are on a low income.

  • Counselling Directory
    A comprehensive database of UK counsellors and psychotherapists, with information on their training and experience, fees and contact details.
  • BACP
    01455 883 300
    The British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) provide confidential information and advice for anyone considering counselling. They can find a registered counsellor in your local area, and produce information to help you to find the right counsellor for you.
  • Relate
    0300 100 1234
    Relate is the UK’s largest provider of relationship support to families, couples and separating parents. The website contains online guides on topics such as having a healthy divorce and helping your children cope with separation. There is an interactive tool to explore your family relationships, as well as telephone and online counselling.

Bereavement

The death of a partner or loved one can be the most devastating and overwhelming experience. As well as sorting out practical arrangements and immediate financial concerns, you also have your children’s needs to think about. There are many organisations that can provide support, a listening ear, advice or friendship.

  • Cruse Bereavement Care
    0808 808 1677
    Provides bereavement counselling and support for both children and adults, by telephone, in your home or through local groups.
  • Way Foundation
    Membership is available to widowed men and women under the age of 50, although they do have a group for those widowed after this age. Activities include local social groups run by volunteers, group holidays and activities for both adults and children. Their website contains a list of useful books and resources for adults and children coping with bereavement.

Domestic abuse

It’s very important to get support if you are experiencing domestic abuse, including physical abuse, emotional and psychological abuse and threats or harassment. Help and support is also there for you if you have left an abusive partner and would like to access help to recover from your experiences.

The following organisations offer information, support and advice for anyone affected by domestic abuse.

  • National Domestic Violence Helpline
    0808 2000 247
    The freephone, 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline is run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge. It is a national service for women experiencing domestic violence or their friends and family. A language translation service is available.
  • Refuge
    National domestic violence charity providing services including a Domestic Violence Helpline, a network of refuges across the country, and advocates for those going through the court process.
  • Women’s Aid
    National charity working to end domestic violence against women and children. Supports a network of over 350 domestic and sexual violence services across the UK.
  • Welsh Women’s Aid
    0808 8010 800
    Provides advice, information and details of local support for women and children experiencing domestic abuse in Wales.
  • Men’s Advice Line
    0808 801 0327
    Confidential helpline for men who have experienced or who are experiencing domestic abuse providing emotional support and practical advice. They also produce a booklet for men experiencing domestic abuse covering topics about how to make yourself safer, where to get legal advice, how domestic abuse affects children and information for gay and bisexual men.
  • Galop
    0800 999 5428
    London: 0207 704 2040
    Provides support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people experiencing domestic violence. Information includes safety plans and sanctuary schemes.

Separating from a partner

Separating from a partner is a huge life change, particularly when you have children. The following organisations and resources offer practical and emotional support for you and your family. There are also details of organisations offering mediation services, which may help you to communicate with your child’s other parent and reach agreements about difficult issues.

Our Separation pages include lots of useful advice and information on getting peer support, sorting out your finances and living arrangements, as well as getting support for yourself and your children.

  • National Family Mediation
    0300 4000 636
    A local network of not-for-profit family mediation services which offers a practical approach to resolving disputes between separated or separating couples. Mediation can help individuals reach joint decisions on issues associated with separation such as children, finance or property.
  • Money Advice Service
    0800 138 7777
    Impartial information to help parents going through divorce or separation deal with finances. Information includes splitting finances and possessions, dealing with the family home and tips for managing money.

Sharing parenting responsibilities

Sharing parenting responsibilities with your child’s other parent can be difficult. You may each have a different style of parenting or different ideas about where your child should spend their time. The organisations below support parents who live apart and aim to help you to reach agreements about the arrangements for your child.

You may find our page on Contact arrangements useful when making effective arrangements for your child.

  • The Parent Connection
    Supports parents through separation and parenting difficulties. It can also be used by parents who are worried about their relationship but have not split. There are a range of resources including articles, videos and support to develop a new parenting relationship after separation, along with practical ideas to overcome problems.
  • Advicenow
    Provides lots of information on your rights and the law. They have a number of information guides and support on child arrangements such as a survival guide to sorting out arrangements for your children.
  • Separated parents’ information programme
    A national course offered to parents who are going through the courts to decide arrangements for their children. A handbook to accompany the course is available on the Cafcass website and gives useful information, even if you’re not attending a course. The handbook covers the court process, how it can affect you and your children, your emotions and ways to improve communication with your child’s other parent to help your future parenting.

Parenting challenges

If you are concerned that your child is troubled by something but is not telling you, or if you’re worried by their behaviour, there are services that can help you. Check out further information on our information page, Support for children and young people.

  • Family Lives
    0808 800 2222
    Confidential, free information and advice on a range of parenting issues including discipline, eating habits and bullying. Their website includes information articles, parents’ blogs, live chat and confidential email support.

Caring for someone else

If you are a full-time carer, you may feel like you have no time to take care of yourself. Your health and emotional wellbeing is just as important, not least because it will help you cope better with the demands of being a carer. The organisations below offer advice to carers on a wide range of issues – both practical and emotional.

  • Carers Direct (NHS)
    0808 802 0202
    Free, confidential information and advice to carers including help with legal issues to do with your caring situation, money, work, study and your wellbeing. The website has stories from other carers and a forum to share experiences and support.
  • Carers UK
    0808 808 7777
    Support and practical information for carers, including parents of disabled children. This includes advice on money, respite care, your rights at work and family relationships. You can also share experiences and get support from other carers via the website forums.
  • Carers Trust
    0844 800 4361
    Provides advice and support to carers including looking after yourself, getting help, taking a holiday and bereavement. You can use the website to find a local carers group and chat to other carers online through discussion boards and forums.

Managing money

Our information page, Making ends meet, has lots of advice on budgeting, as well as ideas from single parents on saving money.

If money challenges start to build up, it’s human nature to put your head in the sand and hope that they will disappear, especially if you’re juggling a busy life. However, the quicker you deal with debts, the easier they are to resolve. For a guide to managing finances and debt, see our page on Dealing with debt.

There are lots of places where you can get free, independent advice on debts and budgeting:

  • Citizens Advice Bureau
    Consumer helpline: 03454 04 05 06
    Information and advice on a range of issues including benefits, employment, debt, housing, immigration, and consumer issues.
  • Step Change Debt Charity
    0800 138 1111
    Provides independent debt counselling and debt management plans. No charge for services.
  • National Debtline
    0808 808 4000
    Free, confidential debt advice over the telephone. Factsheets and sample letters also available via the website.

Ideas from single parents

You might find reading articles written by single parents helps you to feel more supported, including our Single Parent Stories. Lots of the stories are about getting through tough times, coping with challenging situations and dealing with all types of feelings. Everyone has their own ways of coping – here are some ideas from other single parents to help you manage better, along with information about organisations that can help.

Celebrate your successes

Every family has its ups and downs. Try not to compare yourself to others, and remind yourself that you are doing a great job looking after your children. No parent gets it right all of the time, but be sure to recognise that there are things you’ve done really well and that these should be celebrated. Try making a list of all the things you have done in the last week, highlighting the ones that have given pleasure or help to you and your children. You may be surprised at what you have achieved.

If you need someone to talk to, or need advice and information on parenting and family life, Family Lives can help.

  • Family Lives
    0808 800 2222
    Confidential, free information and advice on a range of parenting and family issues.

Look after your body as well as your mind

Eating well and looking after yourself can really help to make you feel better. Check out Mind’s page on Mood and Food, while Netmums’ Budget-Friendly Recipes pages are packed full of useful tips and ideas on keeping costs low and nutrition high.

If you are feeling down or overwhelmed, exercise is often the last thing you feel like doing, but it may be the best thing you can do. It does not have to be something very energetic or take up much time. It can also be a great way to meet other adults. Look around your area to see if there are any low-cost or free exercise classes. You can search for exercise classes and facilities in your area online via the NHS fitness activities search page.

Smoking

Giving up smoking can have huge physical benefits as well as saving money.

  • Smokefree NHS
    Smokefree is a public health campaign website with lots of advice and support to help people give up smoking.

Drugs and alcohol

If you are using drugs and alcohol to help you get through the day, or you feel you may be addicted to either, you can talk to someone from any of the organisations below for support and advice.

  • Drinkaware
    Independent alcohol advice, information and tools.
  • Drinkline
    0300 123 1110
    Free, confidential helpline for people who are concerned about their drinking, or someone else’s.
  • NHS Choices
    Practical information on all kinds of addiction and where to get help and support.
  • FRANK
    0300 123 6600
    Provides confidential advice and support on drug and alcohol use. Supports individuals as well as concerned family and friends. Service is available 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Speak to an adviser by phone or email via the website.

Do something just for yourself

Looking after the needs of your family can take all of your time and energy. Try to get some time to yourself every now and again to recharge your batteries. All busy parents need some adult time away from children, housework and chores. It’s worth contacting your local Family Information Service to find out if there are any crèches, day-care centres or other local childcare provision that may help you get some time to yourself.

  • Family and Childcare Trust
    Contact your local Family Information Service to find out about facilities for young children in your area.

Accept help

Don’t be afraid to accept offers of help and support from family or friends. Even an hour or so of babysitting can give you time to sit down and collect your thoughts, and do whatever helps you relax. If you don’t have family or close friends nearby, or if you feel more able to talk to someone outside of your family, contact an organisation such as Home-Start.

  • Home-Start
    0116 258 7900
    A network of volunteer parents who can visit you at home for a few hours each week. They provide practical and emotional support, including a listening ear, help with the children and a chance to meet other parents in similar situations. The service is free and confidential, and available for parents with a child under the age of five.
  • Contact a Family
    0808 808 3555
    If you are a parent of a child with a disability, Contact a Family can put you in touch with other parents and provide details of local events.

Meet like-minded people

Some challenges are common to all parents and some specific to single parents. Whatever issues you face, you can be sure that there are others out there who are going through similar experiences and who would also find it useful to share their thoughts and feelings.

You can become a Gingerbread member and start chatting to other single parents in our online forums, or joining one of our local groups and meet up face-to-face. If there is no group in your area Gingerbread can help you set one up. Many groups organise regular meetings, social events and days out for both you and your children.

  • Family and Childcare Trust
    Contact your local Family Information Service to find out about facilities for young children in your area. They should have details of parent and toddler groups and other activities where you will have the opportunity to meet other parents, including single parents. Find your local Family Information Service by searching on the website, or contact your local council for details.

Get out and about

Look out for free entertainment, activities or educational events in your area for both you and your children. Events are often publicised in your local library, children’s centre, newspaper or through your local Family Information Service.

Get some time away

Our Holidays page explores many important things to consider when booking a break – from practical tips to advice on organisations who may be able to offer support, including contributions towards holiday costs.

Improve your skills

Improving your skills can give your confidence a boost, whether it’s to learn something new, develop an existing interest or for work purposes. Many adult education colleges offer reduced fees on both leisure and career-related courses if you’re claiming benefits, tax credits or qualify for a concession.

If you are interested in further study, check out our Education pages for information on fees, finances and living costs, as well as support you can get if you are in receipt of benefits or tax credits.

If you are planning to go back to work in the future, or want to progress at work but do not feel you have the skills you need, look for free or low-cost training to improve your CV on the National Careers Service website. They also provide free advice on jobs and training.

If you’re claiming benefits, speak to Jobcentre Plus about what help they can offer if you’re interested in training to help find paid employment. They may provide support with the cost of training or childcare while you’re on a course if it will help you to get a job.

  • The National Careers Service
    0800 100 900
    Free advice on careers, skills, training and work.
  • Careers Wales
    0800 028 4844
    Free careers information and advice for young people, adults and parents in Wales.

Get involved in your community

Doing voluntary work for a few hours a week can be really satisfying. There are many ways to volunteer. You could try something that will help your CV when you come to look for work, or choose something that has always interested you, or is just for fun. When you don’t feel at your best, voluntary work may sound like the last thing you would want to do, but once you get started it can be a real boost to your self-confidence. Making a regular commitment to volunteer gives you a focus away from your role as a parent and the chance to meet new people.

  • Do-it
    National database of volunteering opportunities throughout the UK. Also includes information on volunteering overseas, employee volunteering and
    residential opportunities.
  • Time Bank
    You can register with time-bank to have your skills and interests matched to volunteering opportunities in your area.
  • Volunteering England
    Search for your local volunteer centre on the website or by calling the helpline.
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You might want to share your experiences and get support from friends or other single parents who have been through similar changes. Joining a group, like a Gingerbread friendship group or chatting to other single parents in our online forums can be helpful and supportive.

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