Do you know a single parent who is struggling with the painful aftermath of divorce? Probably. Divorce and singling parenting are quite commonplace. But, being commonplace doesn’t make it easy. Single parents often feel as though they have twice as much responsibility but only half as many resources. Trust me, it is hard work being a single parent! But, the good news is that many single parents are very effective. They have learned that single parenting requires a different set of strategies and coping skills, and they have adapted those strategies and skills to fit their unique situation.
Here are six general suggestions for succeeding as a single parent:
First, be consistent in your expectations for your children. Instead of feeling sorry for them and trying to compensate them for their loss, recognize that they have to do some struggling too. You cannot protect them as much as you might like, and the best way to support them is to give them the benefit of a family that is relatively stable and predictable. Prioritize goals and pick battles carefully, but teach your children that “no” means “no.” Also, in-so-far as possible, work with the non-custodial parent so that the rules and expectations don’t disappear when the children leave your home.
Second, include children in planning and decision-making processes. Share with them some of the concerns of running the household. Let them help resolve issues such as how the non-custodial parent should share in parenting responsibilities or celebrating holidays and special events.
Third, be careful not to make the children the battle-ground. If you take issue with your ex-spouse, be direct in negotiating a working relationship and obtain help, where necessary or possible, in the form of professional mediation.
Fourth, mobilize your support system. Ask for help when you need it. Don’t be too proud to rely on the support of extended family, friends, neighbors or clergy. Be open in sharing the situation and needs of your children with their school teachers and youth leaders. Your supporters may lack knowledge and skill in providing needed support, so, be patient in sensitizing them to the specific needs of your family and never expect them to read your mind.
Fifth, spend more time enjoying your children and less time worrying about them. Laugh more, play more, listen more! Find one-on-one time for each child and share your priorities with the children so that they understand when it is okay to interrupt and when their needs must be put on hold temporarily. Enjoy the experience of single parenting instead of wishing it away.
Sixth, take care of yourself. Become acquainted with your body and spirit and your unique maintenance requirements. For example, you might want to focus on developing meaningful friendships, maintaining supportive relationships with extended family members, developing a talent or hobby, engaging in physical exercise or other health-related activities, joining a single parent support group, becoming affiliated with a religious organization or obtaining professional counseling. It is important to keep in mind that individual needs are uniquely experienced, and self- care is a personal issue. The challenge for single parents is to become aware of their feelings and needs.
Bottom line — if you are a single parent, be resourceful. Make parenting a priority. Find ways to capitalize on the unique opportunities of your situation. If it feels to you like life gave you a lemon, then find some sugar and make lemonade.