Stress is part of single parenthood and it’s often futile to try and avoid it. But the way we respond to stress is very much in our control and has massive implications for how our children will view and respond to the world around them as they get older. In fact, one of the most impacting benefits of single parenthood is the potential for improving the stress response system. Learning how to stay relatively calm in a perceived crisis, ensures stability and provides (a more) care-free home environment for children. Dr. Bruce Perry, child and adolescent psychiatrist and senior fellow at the Child-Trauma Academy, studies trauma reactions in children. His data consistently finds that the more stable the home environment (whether a parent is single or coupled), the more likely it is that children will manage hardships in a manner that ensures future resiliency. He states:
“Many factors influence who we are and how we function. For example, previous prolonged activation of the stress-response system due to living with the unpredictability of poverty might be a factor. So could the type of support the child receives from family and community. The quality of a child’s relationships before during and after a horrible event influences outcomes tremendously. Children who have experienced attentive, loving parental care since birth and who live in stable, safe homes and communities will fare best.
Most SPs intuitively recognize the need for a calm home atmosphere. Parents who might describe themselves as somewhat “high strung” prior to being single, quickly learn that the only way to make single parenthood work is to ‘not sweat the small stuff’. For their own sake as caregivers, but also because their children fundamentally need it:
“A child will respond to an event based on how the adults around her respond. Human emotions are contagious. If a child falls down and scrapes a knee, she will mirror the parent’s response to the accident. If the parent is calm, it strengthens the child’s stress-response system.” (Bruce Perry)
Methods for de-activating stress look different for everyone. Most SPs learn that a combination of outlets and activities are highly beneficial, as are on-the-spot techniques that decrease flight or fight and regulate stress response. Pausing to take a few deep breaths, applying positive imagery and empowering mantras, and reminding oneself of an exciting upcoming event make a great difference in turning a potential crisis into an opportunity for greater self-care.
(Dr. Perry is an adjunct professor at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. His article appears in “The Sun”, November issue, 2016)