The Secrets of Successful Single Parents: Are you a single parent feeling overwhelmed with life? Georgia Lewis, a single parent of 7 children published this helpful article on what you can do as a single parent to succeed. She is a Parent Education Specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools. http://www.thefamilyworks.org/Parenting/SinglePa.htm
“Looking back, what kind of advice would you give other single parents?” This question was asked to parents that had been single for many years. These are the insights and experiences that were shared. “
“Put your energy into what’s really important, and don’t worry about the rest,” Jennifer advised. By “the rest” she meant “cleaning, going to meetings, and some of the social stuff. You have to be there for your kids. And you have to work, to feed them. But you can use short cuts, like prepared foods. You don’t have to do everything you used to do.”
Maria, who had 3 young children when her husband died, remembered feeling terribly lonely . “The hardest part”, she said, “was having all the responsibility, making all the decisions, solving all the problems, alone”. Researchers call it “task overload, responsibility overload, and emotional overload. In other words, too much to do, too much to worry about, and too little time! Add to that (for most single parents), not enough money, and feel lik there are no resources.
In time, Maria learned to ask for help. She found a support group and a babysitting coop, and formed a pot-luck supper club with 3 other families. Because parent stress inevitably spills over onto the children, support from friends, relatives, or mental health professionals helps the whole family. Among the least stressed single parents are those with another adult living in the household (friend, relative, or another one-parent family) to provide companionship and share the burdens.
Spend Time Together, Have Fun
Family life can get chaotic. It helps to maintain a predictable routine and to schedule in family time, whether it’s working, playing, or just hanging out together. Try to have at least one meal together each day. One family actually enjoys their Saturday morning clean-up-the-house routine. They take turns making up a list of chores, choosing what music to play while they work, and deciding where they’ll all go for lunch when it’s done.
Celebrate Family Traditions
Rituals and traditions can be the glue that holds a family together. They don’t need to be elaborate; some of the most treasured are the simplest. An exmple of this is one mother and her teenaged daughter take a quiet walk together after dinner every night. It helps to keep your ties to extended family. If yours is far away, create a “chosen” extended family of friends and celebrate holidays and birthdays with them. Sometimes, after a death or divorce, it makes sense to start a new tradition. Carla divorced just before Thanksgiving, when the family had always hosted a formal dinner. That year she and her teenaged boys helped cook and serve dinner at a local shelter instead. The experience was so satisfying it has become a new Thanksgiving tradition for them.
Don’t Go Overboard
“When my wife left”, said Tim, “I felt sorry for the girls (teenagers), not having a mother. I didn’t give them any chores to do. I did everything, plus my job. I was tired all the time, too tired to follow through on discipline, so they got away with a lot. And I went overboard on gifts, even though I couldn’t afford to.” After a while, Tim said, he learned that “showing love is different from spoiling”, and the girls learned to share responsibility for the well-being of the family.
Let Kids Be Kids
Sharing the workload is fine–as long as its balanced with friendships, activities with peers, and support from adults. But experts caution us not to treat children like partners or adults. “A therapist told me that lots of kids with one parent have to grow up a little faster than is good for them,” said Anita. “I didn’t plan it that way, but my daughter sort of took care of me, and my son (who was only 11) acted like the man of the house. I found myself telling them my problems and asking their advice. I left them alone a lot. They seemed so mature, but inside they were scared of the responsibility. They weren’t really as grown up as I thought.”
Keep the Other Parent Involved
Ann has been a single mom right from the start. “One of the hardest things for me is to let my son’s father (and his family) be involved, because I’m still mad at him,” she confessed. “I try not to “badmouth” him or keep them apart, because I can see it’s good for him to know his dad.” Ann’s instincts are right; research has shown that children are more successful when both parents are involved in their lives.
The Good News
Strong families share certain characteristics, among them good communication, regular time together, shared family traditions, and access to community support. Whether headed by one parent or two, any family is capable of developing these traits and raising healthy, happy, competent children.
A Caring Community
A caring community can make a big difference to one-parent families. Neighbors can help with car pools or swap babysitting. Relatives can take the kids on outings when Mom or Dad is exhausted. Employers can adopt family-friendly policies like flextime and family leave.
Schools can child care for meetings and conferences, schedule events at times convenient for employed parents, and keep both parents informed about the child. Agencies can offer support groups; adopt sliding scale and flexible payment plans; schedule evening and weekend hours; and provide accessible, affordable child care, afterschool, and summer programs for kids.
These strategies are especially helpful to single parents, but they make sense for all families. At the Center For Couples and Families, there are mental care providers who have training in single, blended and divorced family issues.