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Silvia Van Dusen

HR Consultant, TracksGlobal Business Consulting & Executive Coaching

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Single Parents: Keeping Our Children and Careers Healthy

09/23/2015 12:00PM | 11616 views

Many of us raised in Hispanic families have been brought up with the saying, “If we have our health, we can do anything.” True enough – if we have our health, we are able to work, study, and take care of our loved ones. But even when we are healthy, what if we have to take care of children with their own health issues, hold down a job, and do it all as a single parent? 

Unfortunately, this scenario is not uncommon; single parenting has increased tremendously in the United States. According to ChildStats.gov¹, “In 2012, 24 percent of children lived with only their mothers, 4 percent lived with only their fathers, and 4 percent lived with neither of their parents.The proportion of Hispanic children living with two married parents decreased from 75 percent in 1980 to 59 percent in 2012.” According to Kids Count Data Center (2011), 42%² of Hispanic children are being raised by single parents – a 10% increase over 2007.

Like all working parents, single parents must balance their career demands with the needs of their children – and the desire to keep them healthy. When the needs of the child increase due to health issues, the challenges can become quite complex – especially for single parents.

Children with chronic disease, such as diabetes, epilepsy, or asthma, or those being treated for other illnesses or mental health conditions, often require closer parental supervision and guidance in their health-related behaviors and surroundings, including diet, physical activity and environmental conditions. These children may also require timely administration of medications to keep their health on track. Missing doses of medications can negatively impact a child’s overall health and cause medical set-backs following treatment.

This is poor utilization of the health system, and it can have negative health consequences for an ailing child or adolescent. From a career/work standpoint, it can also necessitate a parent requesting additional time off to deal with the repercussions.

Single parenting is difficult enough due to the lack of a second individual to help with the financial and logistical demands. When you add in balancing roles as both caretaker and employee, there can be a continual conflict between being there for your child and fulfilling your work responsibilities.

Navigating the work terrain in these situations is not always straight-forward andmay require negotiations with employers. Many employers would like to help the single parent when they are able to without unreasonable hardship; however, it is not always easy  when employers have to cover work shifts and continue to meet the demands of their customers.

The single parent may try to avoid asking for special accommodations and compensate by juggling work with their other responsibilities  – using lunch and other breaks not to relax but to make follow-up calls about their child’s health, run home to make sure their child is getting their medication on time,  or catch up on tasks because they had to take their child to a doctor’s appointment.

Following are some techniques that may help single parents manage the challenges that come when children have health issues.

Take care of the caretaker: First and foremost, ensure the health of the caretaker. Single parents often forget to take care of themselves. Allocate time to re-charge and renew. This can be especially true for women. Sometimes we must admit that we cannot do it all. Seek help from a healthcare professional if you are feeling overwhelmed. Whether your child  has physical, mental health or addiction issues, make sure you are taking care of your own mental health and managing the stress this may be causing you. If your employer has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), it can be helpful to take advantage of these services.

Evaluate your options: Make sure you have looked at all options with your employer. Can you telecommute? Do they offer flexible hours? Can you trade time shifts with co-workers? Offer alternatives to your employer, be part of the solution and try your best to remain optimistic in the face of adversity. If you are finding it difficult to talk to your employer, try speaking with a counselor, social worker or a member of your EAP if available.

Family and friends: Build a support system to help you when you are unable to do it all yourself. This is not about becoming dependent on others, it is about creating your own community of support – about giving as much as receiving. Other single parents can become great friends and support system buddies. This is especially true in the Hispanic community, where the bonds with both close and extended family can be equally strong.

Consider outside help: Do some research to see what help there may be from outside programs,  local organizations and clubs. For example, City of Hope’s Center of Community Alliance for Research and Education (CCARE) offers a program called Eat Move Live that teaches children and their parents how to incorporate healthier eating habits and more exercise into their daily lives. Your healthcare provider as well as insurance company may be able to provide additional resources.

Guidechildren toward healthier behaviors/medication compliance: This means establishing a strong relationship with your healthcare team. We all feel better about partnering with people when we have a good deal of trust and confidence in them. Be up-front with your medical care providers about your concerns and needs. If you’re worried about your child receiving his or her medications on schedule, in the proper doses –  schedule reminders for yourself and use online tools to sync with others in your support group.

Healthy meals and time-saving tips: Cook once – enough to eat multiple meals. While this requires some organization, the benefits and relief throughout the week will be worth it. Freeze meals in portions and thaw under refrigeration for use during the week. Use a crock pot and your dinner will be ready when you come home. Make lunches the night before so they are grab-and-go in the morning. You and your family will eat much healthier compared to preparing food last minute or making fast food choices.

Physical activity: Take a walk or do some other kind of physical activity with your child – even tossing a ball back and forth – for 20-30 minutes each evening; this can help reduce stress and improve health in the long run.

While the dual role required of single parenthood and work life isn’t easy, taking a few preventative steps now can help keep your child’s health, your own health, and your career health all in balance.


Denise Kirwan contributed to this article.




Adherence to Medication and Relapse Risk, Smita Bahatia, M.D., M.P.H. 

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