University of Iowa Health Science Relations and
Janice Denehy, PhD, MA
Associate Professor Emeritus of Nursing
First Published: 2000
Last Revised: September 2003
Peer Review Status: Internally Peer Reviewed
The kids are running around the house. The phone is ringing. You
are trying to do ten things at once and it just isn't working!
You're going crazy.
What do you do? Yell for your spouse? Not if you're a single
parent. Right now there's no help, no advice and no support. With
those odds stacked against a single parent, the result might be "role
overload," says Janice Denehy, a retired professor in the
University of Iowa College of Nursing.
"Energy crises" are an occupational hazard for all parents when
dealing with their children. But acting as both mother and father
puts undue stress on single parents, Denehy says, and they may
eventually "pull back in exhaustion, unable to manage it all."
Statistics show there is a growing phenomenon of one-parent
families, nearly 90 percent of which are headed by single mothers,
she says. As they struggle to provide for their children, single
parents may neglect their own needs, Denehy says, and their physical
and mental health can slide away. Single parents are often plagued by
depression, low self-esteem and, as a by-product of their scrambling
to survive, poor health.
"The personal needs of your family cannot be met if your own needs
aren't being met," Denehy says. Conditions in single parent
households can jeopardize elements of the family atmosphere such as
love, trust, support, and encouragement, she says. "How can single
parents transmit values if they're tired after working all day and
the children have been in day care? If parents are struggling and
suffering, it will affect the children's attitudes."
Denehy says single parents can turn to health care professionals
who will help them locate resources, both internal and external, both
private and professional, to deal with their problems. "Good health
is a hidden resource we all have but don't recognize until it's
gone," she says. "It's easy for single parents to overlook their own
health needs, particularly when they're concerned about their
children and when they only have a limited amount of money."
Denehy suggested that single parents, either by themselves or in
cooperation with health care professionals, examine their own diet,
energy, and exercise patterns and learn about health and childcare
Although it will never be an easy road, Denehy says the single
parent can suceed if they progress slowly and steadily. By making
small, realistic lifestyle changes, single parents can work toward
concrete benefits for the entire family.