Single Mom Stress Escalates With COVID-19

Now is the time to be a single mom ally.

Posted May 28, 2020 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan

Single motherhood has always been fraught with challenges. Compared to married mothers, single moms face greater financial insecurity, isolation, and obstacles to balancing work and parenthood. A health crisis, a lost job, or an expensive house repair threatens to crush a single mom’s financial well-being since many of them live precariously close to the margins with little savings or assets.

Yet, somehow, most single moms have made it work—often by taking on an extra job, sacrificing self-care, and piecing together a way to provide for their children. Now COVID-19 has hit single mothers particularly hard. Not only are single mothers overrepresented among the many millions of the newly unemployed, but a large percentage are essential workers, such as grocery clerks, health aides, and nurses.

Stress and fear make everything more difficult as it attacks our wellbeing in a variety of ways. Worry robs us of sleep, undermines our focus, ratchets up our nervous system, and generally makes us feel out of control and miserable.

In an effort to demonstrate the devastating psychological impact of COVID-19 on single mothers, I’ve identified five key stressors:

1. Fear of catching the virus. Single moms always worry about what will happen to their children if they get sick. Now the fear of contracting COVID-19 is bearing down on them, especially since so many solo moms are essential workers. They stress over who will care for their children should they get sick and what will become of their family should they die. 

2. Managing their children’s fears and disappointments. As parents, we shoulder our children’s emotional wellbeing. Without a partner, this weighty responsibility falls on a single mother. She must manage the swirl of news and conversation that her children absorb with regard to death and illness. Her children, like all kids, miss their friends, sports teams, and events, such as concerts, birthday parties, and graduations. The unprecedented challenges she’s grappling with on her own are magnified by her sole responsibility to keep her children happy and healthy.

3. Co-parenting challenges. Co-parenting is often fraught, but COVID-19 makes custody agreements and visitation all the more perilous. Faced with exes who may not abide by social-distancing rules, single moms are scared. They worry that their children might get sick and or bring the virus home to them. Some risk their custodial arrangements because they know that it’s safer to keep their children with them. Navigating this stressful new reality often triggers behavior that precipitated a break-up in the first place.

4. Inability to work. The majority of employed single moms rely on school and daycare programs to care for their children. With the closure of schools and daycare centers, single moms have to make some devastating choices. Do they place their children with family and friends, risking exposure to the virus, or do they quit their jobs in the name of safety or simply because they can’t find anyone to care for their children? This pressure is escalating as more and more employers are expecting employees to return to work. Single moms are caught between a rock and a hard place because they really need the income.

5. Worry about being able to afford their homes or food. Too many single mothers work in industries in which they are furloughed or fired. Job loss is devastating to anyone, but to a single mother, it could mean the difference between having a home or being homeless, feeding your children, or having them go hungry. No one should have to worry about such basic necessities, but the hard truth is that today’s single mom families are teetering on the edge of economic catastrophe. They are scared and scrambling on behalf of their kids. There is no greater stress!

Now that you understand some of the most pressing single mom challenges, I encourage you to become an ally by offering to help. For example, you can drop off a meal, extend child care, run errands, and even make a gift of expensive necessities. If you are a single mother, or anyone, struggling, please read my follow up post, "Strategies for Single Moms Coping With COVID-19 Anxiety," in which I offer six strategies to cope with the anxiety of COVID-19. Relying on proven methods, I aim to nudge you toward emotional well-being. This has been a remarkably difficult time for so many. Let’s work together and help each other become our best selves! Stay well!