When people dream of growing up and having a family, chances are they don't picture themselves raising children alone. But the cold hard facts are that 15% of families in Australia are single parent families (Australian Bureau of Statistics, June 2012), and in the United States, more than 40% of children are being raised in a single parent or split parent homes. This means that many single parents are out there trying to survive in a world that is set up for two parent families. It is difficult, but it is possible for a single parent to raise kids who are happy and well-adjusted. Here are some helpful tips to get you on the right track:
Single Parenting Tip #1: Don't Parent Out Of Guilt
Whether you are a single parent due to divorce, death or any other reason, it is imperative that you move past ‘feeling sorry’ for your child. Yes, they have a difficult situation, but that doesn't mean they can't flourish and be happy. We all have a journey in life, and while that journey may be difficult and testing at times, it gives us life experience, strength and understanding – and you never know when it may come in handy or what gifts it will give you. Some of the most successful people have had to overcome the most difficult and painful pasts. Oprah Winfrey is a shining example of this. Sexually abused from the age of 9, she became pregnant (and suicidal) before giving birth to a stillborn baby at 14 years of age.
Be the same type of parent you would be in a two parent household, which means don't overcompensate for the absence of a parent by overindulging your child with material things or too much freedom.
Single Parenting Tip #2: Accept Help When It Is Offered
This is difficult for some people, because you don't want to be a burden on someone else just because you are in a bad situation. People wouldn't offer if they didn't want to help, so learn to accept things like rides for your child, offers to babysit and just a helping hand when needed. This will also show your children that is ok to reach out to others and offer help as well as to accept it. If you’re time poor and if you can afford it, a cleaner once a fortnight – even once a month – can be a huge help. Sourcing someone privately opposed to an agency can be surprisingly cost effective, just be sure they have a police check and references.
Single Parenting Tip #3: Have A Backup Plan For Emergencies
In two parent households, there is always another option if one parent has a last minute emergency. Single parents need to have someone lined up, a family member or close friend, who is willing and able to step up on very short notice and watch the child. Ask these people ahead of time, so that if you have to call them in the middle of the night or ask for a last second pick up from school, they won't be caught off guard.
Single Parenting Tip #4: Take Care Of Yourself Too
One of the biggest mistakes single parents make is forgetting to take some time for themselves. When you are doing the job of two people, there is little time to relax or do things for yourself, so make a point to schedule these times for yourself. Even if it's just asking a trusted neighbour to watch your kids for a half hour so you can take a bath or read a book, you need to give yourself these breaks to help rejuvenate.
Single Parenting Tip #5: Reach Out To Other Single Parents
If you are feeling alone and overwhelmed, chances are there are other people in your community feeling the same way. Other single parents are a great commodity, because you can team up to help each other out. If you are taking an evening class, and your neighbour has to work some Saturdays, that would be a great childcare trading opportunity. Also, it's nice just to have dinner together once in a while and let the kids play, because one thing single parents tend to miss out on is other adult interaction.
Single Parenting Tip #6: Don't Treat Your Child Like Your Partner
The line can sometimes become blurred, but remember that your child deserves to be a child and not a co-adult. Single parents tend to include their children in adult conversations or situations, simply because they are the only company they have most days. Children of single parents don't need to hear about financial problems or dating issues any more than any other child does. Allow your kids to be kids or they may end up resenting you in the long run. Always remember: you are a parent first and foremost.
Single Parenting Tip #7: Don't Badmouth Or Fight With Your Ex In Front Of Your Children
At all costs, avoid arguing with or badmouthing your ex in the presence of your children. They do NOT need to hear any details of your separation, nor the things the other parent is doing or saying as a result of the separation, which is almost always emotionally charged. Any bad things you have to say can be emotionally turbulent for your children – who do they trust now? Who is telling the truth? Did my mother or father really do that? Does that mean they don’t really love me? How do I feel about them now?
If your ex has decided not to be part of your child’s life and your child asks you about it, answer them in a way that isn’t going to tear their heart out or involve a judgement or criticism. When children are older they usually find out for themselves and/or are more equip to deal with such a big emotional ordeal. Just as long as you give an answer that isn’t in anger or judgement – even if you say that the mother/father has decided to go away for a long while to sort some things out (you never know they may change their mind months or years down the track, who knows) – something neutral rather than, ‘your mother/father has decided they don’t want to be in our lives and doesn’t want to be a mummy/daddy.’ They are not able to process and understand that in a constructive, healthy way. How you deal with it can also shape a child’s beliefs about relationships, families and how they are.
As a child who grew up in a single parent family, nothing tore me up more than what my parents would say about one another. Everything I believed about my life was ripped to shreds and any innocence was gone. I saw my parents differently. If your children ask you why you separated, a simple, “Well thats between your father/mother and I, but we both love you very much,” is perfect and is all that needs to be said.