Shame in Single Motherhood and the Antidote of Compassion

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Shame is a powerful intense emotion that is too often experienced during single motherhood. Talking about it is often shameful in itself.

Even reading this might make you feel like you want to turn away. If so, take a breath and keep reading.

You don’t deserve to carry shame.  

Shame often begins its roots long before your single motherhood journey, indeed the idea of shame in single motherhood comes from a social narrative that has been constructed through the years, whether that has come from government and political agendas, or from socially acceptable ideals, or cultural or religious norms.

Shame can be felt from others around you or can come directly from yourself. Shame can show up in so many different ways. It may come from the sense of failure or implication that you haven’t succeeded or worked hard enough to keep your relationship together, that there must be something wrong with you in some way to end up a single parent, or that what you offer as a single parent can’t be as good as a two-parent household.

Shame can be present in the moments that led to you becoming a single parent or in the experiences you have as a single parent.

How to Overcome Shame in Solo Motherhood

So how can we overcome this shame we can feel as we navigate the solo motherhood journey?

We have shared some of our ideas below, drawing on our personal and professional knowledge and experiences. Most importantly at the basis of all these ideas, is the idea that you can overcome the shame you are carrying and you do deserve to overcome this shame.  Starting today.  

Amy’s Top Tips for Overcoming Shame:

  • Surround yourself with like-minded people – it is such a great way to combat the self-shaming attitude we so often have; talk to your friends or find some support groups for single parents and make new friends – the Frolo app is fantastic for this.
  • Don’t pressure yourself into being the “perfect” mum. Spend time with other mums and learn to be content with the real you!
  • Don’t compare yourself to who you were before the relationship breakdown.
  • Remember that becoming a single mum means a new identity, but also that our identities will constantly be changing and that is okay.
  • Think about things that make you happy, and remind yourself how awesome a job you are doing.

Dr Emma’s Top Tips for Overcoming Shame:

Start with the important premise that you do not have to hold on to shame in your life. You do not deserve to hold on to shame in your life. No matter what. Shame holds no purpose but to make us feel bad. You can choose to release shame and let shame go. Whether it is shame that comes from yourself or from others, you can do the following:

  • Notice how you are talking to yourself, notice if the self-critical, berating shaming voice is there. Notice when it shows up.
  • Ask yourself if the things this self-critical voice is saying is really true, fair, reasonable, rational.
  • Ask yourself if a friend was saying these things to herself what would you say?
  • Ask yourself if you spoke kinder to yourself, as you would a friend, what would you say instead?  
  • Ask yourself if you could rise above shame, what you would you choose to be saying to yourself, how would you be spending your time, how would you be valuing yourself?
  • Hold your head up high – literally. Shame makes us physically shrink and withdraw into ourselves. Combat this by changing your body posture. Hold your head high. Move your shoulders back. Look people in the eye. Research shows when we change our body posture it can change our mood and how we are thinking.  
  • Try practising compassionate self-talk:
  • “I am doing my best.”
  • “There is no shame in being a single parent who is doing the best for themself and their children. There is strength and resilience and bravery.”
  • “I am where I am. No one is defined by one experience or relationship.”
  • If you feel you have made a mistake, own this but with kindness: “I made a mistake. I am allowed to be forgiven; I am not perfect, no human is.”
  • Rewrite the narrative of single motherhood for yourself, moving away from a shameful narrative to a strong, positive, joyous one. For example:
  • “As a single mother I draw on my strengths, which include … (e.g. commitment, decision-making, communicating, etc).”
  • “Being a single mother means I will find the freedom to choose (insert food, hobbies, TV shows, etc).”
  • “Being a single mum does not define me – I am also … (list other important things about you and your life: a friend, an auntie, a yoga teacher, a runner, a history-lover, etc).”
  • Talk about how you feel. As shame grows through secrecy, silence and self-judgement, one of the most effective ways to overcome shame is to talk about this with someone who can offer empathy, understanding and support. Talk to a therapist if you feel you cannot talk to friends or family or if you are struggling to let the shame go.
  • Give yourself permission to let that shame go. You might physically give it a little shake to release it. You might wrap yourself up in kindness and compassion. You can say to the shame, you can pass now. It might drift away or hang around. Practice noticing it but not being consumed/believing in it.

We hope you find these ideas helpful. Shame is an incredibly difficult emotion and if it is weighing heavy on you right now then take your time to read this again and practice using some of the ideas above to help yourself let the shame go.

Amy and Emma x

by Amy Rose and Dr Emma Cotterill

Amy Rose is a journalist and Dr Emma Cotterill is a clinical psychologist book. Their book, Surviving Solo Motherhood: How to Look After Your Mental Health and Boost Your Emotional Wellbeing as a Single Mum, is available now.

You can follow Amy on Instagram at @by.amyrose and Dr Emma Cotterill at @empowerpsychology.