When you become a parent, your entire life changes. Parenthood poses challenges for anyone, but if a parent is managing the family without another partner, it can prove particularly difficult. A person might be a single parent because their partner has died or because their spouse might be away for a period of time (such as hospitalization, military deployment, or incarceration). They also might simple have chosen to raise a child themselves.
Regardless of the reasons, single parenting is on the rise in the United States. There are twice as many single parent families as there were 25 years ago. Fortunately, the number of resources focusing on single parents has grown as well. There are plenty of unique challenges the single parent will encounter, but with the right mindset and support network, they are more than capable of raising happy and healthy children.
Frequent Single Parent Challenges
Negotiating custody and visitation
Navigating financial issues
Obtaining health care
Finding additional role models
Helping children deal with loss
Helping children cope with parental conflict
Acquiring child care
All of these challenges can be conquered with the right mindset, plan, and support network. Let’s take a look at some winning strategies for the single parent.
Avoid beating yourself up. You may not be able to cook every meal or keep everything in the house spotless. Being a parent means readjusting your priorities. Spending time with your children and taking care of yourself should outweigh other details that might have caused you stress in the past. Making yourself worry about how having a single parent will impact your child or what extra wants you can’t provide for yourself won’t help. Focus instead on what you have and can do to keep your kid happy and healthy. No amount of toys, clothes, or technology will replace the value of spending time with your child.
Don’t focus on the negative. If your child does have contact with his or her other parent, you shouldn’t use them to deliver messages. You also should not criticize or complain about your ex-spouse or partner in front of them. Don’t focus on what “could have been,” the past relationship with your ex, or mistakes that you may have made along the way. Bitterness and anger will only distract you and possibly model unhealthy reactions for your child. And rather than sharing negative stereotypes, find positive role models for your child for the gender of the missing or absent parent.
Communicate and be consistent. Routines will provide stability for your child and traditions will give you both tasks and events to look forward to throughout the year. If your child has lost the other parent to death, or if the other parent chose not to be involved in your child’s life, they may fear abandonment. Allow them to feel comfortable expressing their own thoughts and feelings about family issues and non-family issues. It might be challenging to answer difficult questions, but open communications will strengthen your relationship. So demonstrate to your child that you won’t hide from tough questions or sweep them under the rug.
Take care of yourself. Pay careful attention to how you care for and neglect your mental, physical, and emotional health. You can’t be 100% there for your child if you don’t take the time to get rest, eat healthy, exercise, see your doctor regularly, and do things you enjoy. Also, don’t feel like you have to abandon your own goals. Motivated people are happier people, and they are better parents. Whether it’s finding time for a hobby or continuing your education, finding even just a few minutes a day to work on your own dreams and wants will improve your life.
Above all, the most successful single parents utilize their support networks. You will feel overwhelmed if you isolate yourself and try to do it all on your own. Involve friends, family members, and other members of the community in your life and your child’s life. Encourage your child to have strong relationships with other family members, their peers, teachers, coaches, and mentors. When leaning on your support network, try to be specific when you ask for help. Need an hour to run to the store or to go to the gym? Ask for it. Often people want to help but they end up doing very little or nothing because they don’t know what you need.
Single parenthood may have its unique challenges, but with an open mind and open arms to let others love you and your child, amazing things can happen. What steps can you take today to support your child and build a thriving single parent family?
Kathleen Smith, PhD