If you’re parenting alone you have to take a more creative approach and make an extra effort to solve the many challenges that are part of the role.
What’s The Deal?
Almost 20 percent of all Australian families with dependent children are single-parent families.
Being a single parent can be tough. That doesn’t mean that as a single parent you can’t provide a positive and constructive environment for children.
The quality of the relationships in the family is more important than whether the household includes one or two parents. And it doesn’t mean that you won’t enjoy your role as a parent. Being a single parent can be a rewarding experience for you.
There are, however, some challenges that you have to deal with and these challenges are different from those experienced by a two-parent family.
You Need To Take Breaks
One of the biggest challenges for you as a single parent is that you have to manage without the help and support that a partner can provide and that you have to do it all on your own. There may be no one to take over when you are tired, sick or emotionally drained, and you may have to keep going, whether you feel like it or not.
Here is a plan of action to avoid the burn-out that can result from the often hectic parenting timetable.
- Create a support network for yourself, a list of people whom you can confidently turn to for practical help, from time to time.
- Trade babysitting with other parents so that both of you can get breaks from the 24-hour a day task of caring for children.
- Help each other out with tasks like shopping and picking up children from school.
- Make sure you treat yourself to some quality ‘me’ time, ie on a regular basis spend time doing something you enjoy doing, for example catch up for coffee with a friend, go and see a movie or sleep in.
- Even a short break will make you feel refreshed and more able to cope.
The Pitfalls Of Expecting Too Much
Single parents can fall into the trap of becoming too close to their children, turning them into pseudo partners.
Confiding in your child about personal problems, or problems with the ex-partner, is not appropriate, and can leave the child struggling with adult responsibilities and worries that they shouldn’t even know about.
An overly close relationship between you and your child may also make it difficult for that child to develop as an independent individual, able to leave home when the time comes.
Responsibility – Be Careful
Also, if you have more than one child, be careful about relying on the older siblings to assist you. Some single parents also turn their older children into pseudo parents, expecting them to supervise and care for younger siblings or carry out other adult tasks, when they are still far too young for such responsibilities.
Children can begin to feel unduly responsible for their parents, and believe that their role is to make sure that the parent is happy at all times, and to be with them always.
This is not to say that you may not:
- Share your thoughts with your child.
- Talk to your child about how your family is different from other families.
Just remember to make sure you:
- Treat your child as a child.
- Encourage your child to spend time with friends, doing the sorts of things that children do.
Seek The Company Of Other Adults
Make sure you turn to other adults for companionship, and if you feel you need it, advice and support. Here are some suggestions on doing this successfully:
- Build a network of friends and/or relatives who are parents themselves and can give you feedback or act as a sounding board when necessary.
- Remember that talking and sharing feelings and views is a positive way of dealing with day to day concerns. Parenting involves complex decision-making on a number of issues to do with bringing up a child. No one has all the knowledge and skills it requires, especially the first time around.
- See it as a give-and-take situation. Relationships that provide mutual support can be highly beneficial for both people involved.
- Alternatively, you can join a parenting group or association for single parents. See below for suggestions.
- If you feel that you or your child are having problems, ask your GP to refer you to a health professional such as a counsellor or psychologist.
Coping With Financial Pressures
Because fewer single parents are actually in the workforce, or working full-time, financial pressures can be an important feature of the single parent family, especially in a society like ours, where the standard of living is high and two salaries are needed to maintain that standard.
Sometimes that pressure comes from the children themselves who want to emulate the lifestyle of their peers. It is important to keep reminding yourself that providing love and attention is more important than providing material things, however much pressure the children apply.
As a single parent, you may need to budget carefully and adapt to living a simpler lifestyle.
Find Role Models For Your Children
Psychological studies have shown that parents become role models to their children and this is a key step in the process of growing up. In other words, girls identify with their mothers and boys with their fathers.
In single parent households, children sometimes do not have regular contact with their same-sex parent. Because about 85 percent of single-parent families are headed by women, it is usually the boys who lose the parent they most identify with.
Boys in a mother-only family may need a male to take them to the football, the cricket, boating or fishing. Similarly, girls in a father only family may enjoy having a female who’ll come along with them when they go to buy clothes or gifts.
It will help to try and seek out alternative role models for your children if necessary. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, older cousins or friends may provide appropriate role models. There are also organisations such as ‘Big brothers – Big sisters’ that can provide this kind of help.
Be Tough On Discipline
As a single parent you may find it difficult to provide an environment where children are appropriately disciplined when they need to be.
Supervising your children, setting rules and limits can be harder when you have to do it on your own, without the help of another adult. With too much to do and limited emotional energy, it’s easy to let things slide and allow inappropriate behaviour to escalate.
If your child’s bad behaviour gets out of hand, it can be very difficult for you to restore order without becoming negative and resorting to punishment.
A positive approach to discipline involves:
- Set rules, make sure your child knows what these are and what will happen if they are broken.
- You can be a bit flexible but aim to do exactly what you said you would do most of the time to avoid your child becoming confused.
- If you are unsure about what limits you should set, check with other parents.
The Other Parent
Ongoing conflict between you and the other parent can be very troubling for your child.
The Impact Of Conflict – What You Can Do
- Resist the temptation to criticise the other parent in front of your child. Resolve any issues you may have with the other parent in private.
- Children continue to love and need love from both parents. As they are usually loyal to both parents, they can experience a sense of being ‘caught in the middle’ with nowhere to turn if they see their parents continually arguing.
- It is important to remember that children can blame themselves for the break-up of their family, particularly when a lot of the conflict seems to be about them, their behaviour or their futures.
- They can feel very guilty, and ongoing conflict only adds to that guilt.
- To help your child, try your best to build a positive relationship with the other parent:
- Let your child spend time with the other parent if possible and let them know that you are happy for this to happen.
- Avoid making them feel as if they are being disloyal when they are with the other parent.
- Help them understand how the other parent fits into their life.
- Be sensitive to their need to adjust if they go from one home to other.