Single parenting: coping as a non-resident parent
Parents generally want what is best for their kids. However, coping as a single parent, in a more non-resident parent role, can be a huge emotional, physical and personal challenge, for both you, as a parent, as well as for your kids.
Managing and coping as a single parent, with less contact with kids, requires understanding, empathy and resilience. Juggling all the demands of single parenting can be exhausting, confusing or frustrating.
With careful planning and by adopting a flexible, collaborative approach, both your kids and you can thrive positively. It is a matter of taking care of your kids and of yourself too.
Above all, the first concern should be what is best for kids. In general, parenting agreements or formal care determinations are now formed in the best interests of the children, rather than battles regarding who is right, who can justify claims, or who is more demanding.
Long term research through the Family Court also shows that kids thrive best when everyone operates according to what is in their best interests, rather than justifying a legal position, engaging in conflict or justifying battles and fights. However, as a parent you also need to look after yourself, so that you are emotionally, physically and personally in the best possible state to nurture your kids.
The non-resident parent
Jargon terms, like ‘non-resident parent’, can be confusing. In simpler terms, this means the parent with whom kids stay less often. This often occurs in more standard or traditional parenting agreements, from past years, e.g. staying with one parent every second weekend and one day during the week.
With changes to the Family Court, terms such as ‘custody’, ‘access’ and ‘parent rights’ have been removed. Of interest, a positive change is that kids now have a ‘right’ to see parents, rather than the other way around. Further, it is not always dads in this role. While more than 80 per cent of single, non-residential parents are dads, more mums are in this role recently.
Even single parents, who have an equal parenting agreement (e.g. a 50:50 parenting agreement), can still face challenges and demands in this role. Most parents feel some sense of loss or even grief, when they are away from their kids. After involved time with kids, separation can be hard.
It is important to have some support for yourself. Further, if you are upset or distressed at this time, seek professional help, rather than ‘dumping’ or using your kids as counsellors, once they return.
Finding other social interests, talking with friends, keeping busy, exercising and avoiding any self sabotage like excessive drinking at these emotionally trying times, can all be beneficial.
Further, maintaining regular contact with your kids can help, but don’t rely on them too much. When your kids return, let them know that you were okay and involved in everyday routines, but avoid loading them with concerns about your sadness. Kids like to know what their parents are up to, so making regular phone calls, taking photos of your activities and keeping a journal can help, e.g. a dad I saw recently made sure to take photos of the new puppy arriving, having its first night in its bed, etc., when timing meant his daughter couldn’t be there for the arrival.
The limited contact of old style parenting arrangements, such as only seeing a parent every second weekend, made it difficult for parents and kids to develop really good attachment, especially where a parent and a child might not have seen each other for 12 days.
However, in some cases, limited contact is all that is possible. In such cases, keeping yourself informed is critical. Ask school to send you copies of reports, as well as school newsletters, sports notes, etc. Also, try to seek out information from other sources, such as notes from other activities your kids might be involved in, like dance class newsletter, when martial arts grading is, netball news, etc.
Unless ordered otherwise by the court, parents have been legislated the right to be involved, such as accessing copies of school reports. You will feel more involved if you know what is going on during the week and you will find it easier to converse and catch up, when equipped with information. Your kids will feel you are more interested if you can begin conversations, rather than ‘grilling’ them, as to what is happening, e.g. “…I saw you had swimming carnival this week, how was that..?”
In general, more recent parenting arrangements have recognised the above problem, resulting in more kids seeing the non residential parent preferably during the week. It is important that you don’t just use this as play time or catch up time, for dinner out. Preferably, you should be taking a mid week opportunity to help your kids with homework, help with assignments, or to practise for activities.
Similarly, you might drive and help out with a sports team. It is important that your kids see you as involved, supportive and worthwhile in these everyday roles. Similarly, your kids can still do chores and contribute to the household, as though they were at your home every day. While they might complain, it helps them feel a part of the household.
During mid week visits, there is nothing better than family meals, discussion and sharing around the dinner table, rather than screens dominating these precious times. When sharing, avoid discussing or investigating what is occurring in the other house, rather keep focused on your kid’s activities, interests and news.
It can be tempting to catch up and make up for time lost, especially when your time with your kids might be limited. However, your kids need a balance of some fun activities and some regular activity, rather than always spoiling them on the weekend. Otherwise, you are at risk of your kids seeing you as just a benefactor, whom they will become frustrated with when you don’t indulge them.
You are better off providing genuine regard, positive recognition and genuine involvement in family activities, such as helping mum cleaning out the car, or helping dad with making dinner, as well as playing together.
Stable, consistent routines
Your kids need stability and like their own place. Wherever it is possible, try to have stable, consistent routines, both in terms of when movement occurs and what routines you follow. Avoid being late or changing pick up times. Above all, avoid conflict in front of your kids at this time, no matter how justified you feel in arguing. If you can’t avoid arguing, arrange a neutral place or at worst, most areas have Family Contact Centres, to avoid such problems.
Many of the kids that I talk to hate having to pack up and not having their own space. Where possible try to have your kids carry as little as possible. Your kids will prefer to have their own clothes, toys and possessions at your house. They will settle in easier if they have their own drawers or cupboard, as well as their own private space. Even in smaller units or houses, a special corner for their possessions will help your kids adjust.
Parents who are separated often have different beliefs, opinions and views. Not surprisingly then, you may not agree with you ex-partner’s view of parenting. It can understandably be very tempting to criticise, when parenting conflicts with your beliefs or values. Worse, it provides a great opportunity for kids to divide and conquer.
Rather, avoid criticising your ex-partner and just focus on consistent rules in your home. Kids can adjust to different rules in different environments, if they are consistent in each place.
Being a single parent in a non-resident arrangement can be trying. Therefore, many parents need support, guidance and even professional help. As dads are more often in this role, but aren’t often so good at discussing emotions, they might need more encouragement to seek support.
Finally, with good communication, cooperation and sharing, you can have a very significant, positive and rewarding role in helping raise your kids.