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Friday, June 18, 2021
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Tips & Training

Supporting the mental health of single parents in career services

Single-parent professionals come in different shapes and sizes. There are different sub-groups of single parents that are working professionals, including:

  1. Working professionals who become single parents due to a marital/relationship dissolution.
  2. Working professionals who become single parents by choice via adoption.

Regardless of how single-parent professionals become lone parents, one thing that remains consistent is that they may benefit from figuring out how to create a work-life balance while raising their children.

The focus of this article will be to provide strategies on how career development professionals can support the mental health of single working parents by helping them create and maintain a work-life balance while raising their children.

Why discuss this now?

According to Statistics Canada, the number of single parents in Canada is rising; as of 2014, there were 698,000 lone-parent families in Canada. Many of these parents may need career development support to figure out how to manage and excel in their newfound reality. Career development practitioners can be crucial in supporting this need.

Every single working parent is dealing with their own unique circumstances. Not every strategy provided in this article will be suitable for your clients; however, some may resonate, whereas others may be adaptable to meet your client’s needs.

Here are some strategies to help single working parents create and maintain work-life balance while they care for their children:

Note: Career development practitioners do not provide clinical counselling if they do not have the training to do so (although some, like myself, are both therapists and career development practitioners). Please be mindful of working within your limitations and providing referrals when necessary when you are supporting single working parents. 

1. Set weekly realistic expectations and goals for both work and home

Single working parents should take care to not overcommit to tasks and assignments both at home and work. Career development practitioners can support their clients in creating a plan to have balance, both at work and in their personal lives. Career development practitioners can support single working parents in creating weekly plans outlining what tasks and assignments they can and are able to commit to both at work and at home. Once weekly plans have been developed, career development practitioners can remind clients on a weekly basis about the importance of sticking to their plans. They should not commit to another task that was not included in the plan.

“Career development practitioners can support their clients in creating a plan to have balance, both at work and in their personal lives.”

Further, clients may set a plan for what they are able to complete for the week at work. If they have a trusting relationship with their manager, they could share the plan with them, explaining their reasons for setting limitations and outlining how they will get the work done. Career development practitioners can support clients in communicating the plan to their supervisor by helping them first build a positive workplace relationship. They might advise clients to:

  1. Provide their supervisor with ideas and suggestions regarding programs and initiatives at work on an ongoing basis.
  2. Connect with their supervisor on a weekly basis for a quick check-in.

For clients who have not previously set boundaries at work or who may be hesitant to set boundaries at work, as they are reliant on a single income to take care of their family, career development practitioners can prepare clients for that conversation by supporting the clients with the following:

  1. Clients should pick a day and time during the week that their supervisor is less busy to have the conversation.
  2. Clients should state the current issue they are experiencing and provide a context for the issue. Ensure that clients use “I” statements when talking about their issue.
  3. Clients can ask for their supervisor’s perspective on the plan and, if needed, in what way it can be modified to ensure that both they and their supervisor’s needs are being met.
  4. Clients should ensure that both they and their supervisor are on board with the plan and that a date is provided to revisit the plan to see if it is still working for both parties.

Career development practitioners can also help clients set boundaries at home as to what will and will not be accomplished for the week. For example, maybe all the household chores do not need to be done that week. A weekly plan for the home should allow the client time to take care of themself and ensure their children’s needs are also being met.

2. Work in family-friendly workplaces

Most single working parents would benefit from flexible workplace arrangements in order to fulfill their other responsibilities, such as taking care of their child or children. It is important that clients feel well both physically, emotionally and socially so that they can perform competently at work and at home. Businesses benefit from employees who are well rounded and children benefit from parents who are present emotionally and physically.

Career development practitioners can assist single-parent job seekers in finding organizations that emphasize and place importance on well-rounded employees, work-life balance and that offer flexible working arrangements. During an interview, jobseekers can ask questions to see how accommodating the company is for their parenting situation. Career development practitioners can prepare their clients for the interview by having mock interview sessions with their clients. An example of a question a client could ask to a potential employer is: What are some of the family friendly supports that your company provides for employees?

3. Create a support system

Career development practitioners can help single-parent working professionals develop a network of supportive and caring people in their lives. They can do this by asking their clients to list child-care centres, friends and acquaintances that may be able to support them.

Having licensed quality child care is important, but when this is not available, having people in your client’s corner is crucial. In particular, this is important when unexpected things come up or when parents need a break to take care of themselves.

To find a support system, single working parents can try talking to family member, friends or neighbours they can trust with their children. Career professionals may suggest clients cultivate a support network by connecting with neighbourhood parenting groups or with their local library, or asking their family doctor office for suggestions. It is important that working single parents connect with their potential support system and have casual but targeted conversations so that they can decide how safe and comfortable they feel with them.

Overall, career practitioners can support single working parents by offering encouragement and praise for the incredible double work that they are doing. You should remind them frequently that they are doing great work and that they are doing the best they can. Career professionals should also remind single-parent clients that they cannot control the process of creating and maintaining work-life balance, but by using the strategies mentioned above, they are well on their way.


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Nada Johnson Author
Nada Johnson is a Registered Social Worker & Psychotherapist at Nada Johnson Consulting and Counselling Services. At her clinical practice, she provides psychotherapy to women coping with racial trauma, anxiety, imposter syndrome and parenting issues. Nada also provides mental health and sexual violence consulting to organizations as well as speaking engagements.
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Nada Johnson Author
Nada Johnson is a Registered Social Worker & Psychotherapist at Nada Johnson Consulting and Counselling Services. At her clinical practice, she provides psychotherapy to women coping with racial trauma, anxiety, imposter syndrome and parenting issues. Nada also provides mental health and sexual violence consulting to organizations as well as speaking engagements.