Single parenting requires a delicate balancing act to keep life functioning smoothly and provide children with the nurturing environment that they need. In the case of divorce, death, or separation, these parents must cope with an abrupt change in responsibilities. Their roles as parents, their relationship to their children, and their previous routines require sudden adaptation. Finances often prove a tremendous hurdle to overcome. The single parent may be the sole provider of financial support; in the case of death or divorce there may be a dramatic change in financial status. Work may suffer in terms of promotions and income because of the demands of child care. Single parents also find their time filled with the various demands of life. Very little remains for personal things after work, child care, and additional responsibilities are handled. Overall, being a single parent is often associated with intense emotional demands and stress.
However, it doesn’t have to be. While single parenting has its own unique challenges and difficulties compared to parenting with a partner, there are ways to manage your life so that you can provide a happy and stable environment for yourself and children. The following tips will help you avoid some of the common mistakes that single parents make while trying to juggle the challenges of their situation.
1. Don’t set unrealistic expectations
Your expectations of household organization, work earnings and performance or child rearing might need some readjustment when you become a single parent. For example, after a divorce most people experience a dramatic change in lifestyle. A couple in which both partners worked must now rely solely on their individual incomes to survive. If one spouse worked while the other stayed home and took care of the household and child rearing, both will have to take on new and unfamiliar roles such as, finding a job or shouldering more household and child care responsibilities. If you expect perfection in every area of your life, prepare to be disappointed or extremely stressed. Evaluate your priorities and decide which areas are the most important and which you can let slide. Be prepared to make compromises and learn to say "no" to unnecessary commitments. Rather than focusing on what you can’t do, take note of your accomplishments despite a difficult situation.
2. Don't overburden your children
When you are a single parent, you don’t have the option of sharing responsibilities with a spouse. This requires you to depend on your children to help out more than you otherwise might. While it is good for your children to learn responsibility and teamwork, make sure that your kids are mature enough to handle the responsibilities placed on their shoulders. Communicate often with your children and let them express their thoughts and feelings about what they want. Allow them time for play and socialization with friends. While you should expect they will participate as contributing members of the family, expecting too much from your children can result in resentment and rebellion.
Single parents often think they can’t afford to take time for themselves because there is just too much to do. However, dismissing your need for personal time, individual pursuits and fulfillment will only create resentment that your children will sense and for which they will feel responsible. Find a babysitter that you trust and take some time to learn a new skill, participate in a hobby or socialize with friends. Taking time for yourself on a regular basis will allow you to return to your children refreshed and rejuvenated and you will be a better parent for it.
A. Lynn Scoresby, founder and president of My Family Track , First Answers , and Achievement Synchrony , and has been a marriage and family psychologist for more than 35 years. He has published more than 20 books and training programs.