The loneliness of being a solo parent

Some parents might cherish their alone time, but the isolation experienced by solo parents can be distressing.

Better Connections

I am a solo parent and have been for 18 years. I know the challenges and obstacles, which in my case ultimately prevented me from having a career until later in life – much later. I was 49 before I could consider working as self-employed.

Among the challenges, for me, were the financial pressures and the draconian legal system in the family courts (which is in need of a rehaul). But the biggest challenge of all was minding my mental health and staying sane.

Author Maria Colgan also found herself as a solo mam of two young children after being married for 10 years and in a relationship for 16. “I had only known other couples and family units, so now being a solo parent was a shock and an adjustment,” she said.

Maria says a “fear of the unknown” began to drive a sense of loneliness, until she made connections that showed her what solo parenting could be. “I thought that there were only couples and so-called ‘perfect family units’ out there. As I adjusted to my new solo parent role, I met other solo parents who were doing a pretty good job of raising their children single-handedly, and this brought me comfort and helped to normalise the situation for myself and the girls.”


My own experience of loneliness manifested in a disconnection from the wider world when my twins were very young. The demands of being a solo parent meant there was no time for a social life.

“I think there are two aspects to this sense of loneliness and isolation,” says Maria. “The first comes from our perception and the feelings this conjures up, such as fear and disconnection. Then there’s the real aspect of loneliness and isolation, where you are isolated from the world because of the demands of taking care of children single-handedly. I also work for myself to allow for flexibility with the children, which again causes a sense of loneliness and isolation as I’ve no team or company to lean on.”

Sinead Kavanagh is also self-employed has been a solo parent for the last 19 years. “I almost created a loneliness by not inviting others in to our life, home, world, and muddling through it alone,” she says. “In the midst of various life battles and the stillness of the night, loneliness is often there, almost like a familiar imaginary friend.”

Being the sole carer meant Sinead felt obliged to be available for support at all times. “Who would be there to talk to my daughter about her life, especially the early years, if not me? She is a young woman now so that special time of sharing has passed.”

Sinead learned that cutting people off during this time can have long-term effects. “Isolation creeps in when your child is young and after a decade you realise your friendship pool has reduced, and your couple friends stop asking you to join them out when you have to keep saying no. Only those parenting alone can really understand all of this.”

Data from the Central Statistics Office shows that 48% of lone parents often experience judgemental attitudes or exclusion as a lone parent, while 41% reported feeling lonely all or most of the time.

Maria calls it the “not-talked-about” part of society. “Loneliness is something we don’t talk about that often, and, if we do, it’s in relation to the elderly. [But] there’s a whole chunk of society, and single parents, who are struggling alone both with their workload and finances,” she says. “Most couples that I know are struggling with their own family units and they don’t have time to stop and think that their single solo-parent friend might need a helping hand.”

Being a solo parent means you take on all the roles that, ideally, two people would be sharing. “Juggling everything takes all of your time, energy, resources and finances,” says Sinead. “I could never justify spending or taking money from the household budget for social purposes. Daytime hours meant I was always in ‘mum mode’. Night-time hours, I was at home.”


One way to overcome the loneliness of solo parenting is to find a community of relatable parents. I began a mums club in the creche my twins attended. It was not easy to get other mothers to attend but I met one lady in similar circumstances and we became firm friends.

Maria found her tribe, too. “One of the biggest changes in my life was being introduced to the swimming community in Portmarnock. What I love about this community is that everyone has a story and there’s a lot of healing going on.” She says that this comes in many forms, from small conversations over a cup of tea post-swim, to “an in-depth pour-your-heart-out chat”.

“This community opened up my world and showed me that I was brave and strong for leaving an unhappy marriage,” says Maria. “Being a single solo parent forces you to explore new avenues, meet new people, join groups and take chances. It’s so important for solo parents to get out there and meet people, as they will be the biggest propellers of a successful journey in solo parenting – and will also keep you sane.”

Sinead agrees with the need for people power, and built her own support system. “I am a firm believer in surrounding yourself with people whom you aspire to be like. So, interestingly, most of my intimate circle of friends are happily married or partnered, although I do have some close friends who are also solo parents. We have a healthy ‘framily’, which are those friends by choice who become closer than family and are there no matter what.

“Your tribe will appear in life, if you are open to meeting them. Everyone that enters your life is there for a reason, a season or a lifetime,” Sinead adds.

Finding a supportive community is imperative so you know you have people there when you need them. There is no need to be lonely when there are people out there in similar situations and looking for support too. Find your tribe and you will find your solution to loneliness.

Are you hoping to find your tribe but lacking the confidence to connect with new people? Check out our masterclass with life coach Mark Fennell to take steps to grow your confidence.

Yvonne Reddin
Ordinary people often have extraordinary stories and Yvonne enjoys giving them a platform to share their experiences through her writing. A writer producing a mix of human interest, lifestyle and travel stories, she self-published her first book in 2022.

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