Being a parent is one of the toughest jobs in the world. You have the responsibility of a family on your shoulders, and you have to ensure your kids are turning into happy, confident young people at the same time. Then there is the pressure from society as a whole and your own children.
So, if experts consider dual parenting stressful, just imagine the level of stress single parenting causes. Whether it’s discussing which parenting approach to take with the kids, re-affirming views or clearing any self-doubts – the role of a partner in parenting is significant. Even if you are divorced or separated and co-parenting your child or children amicably, you still have to work it all out by yourself on a day-today basis – there is no one around to bounce ideas off. Worse, if you don’t share the same values as your ex, single parenting can be infuriating, tiring and fraught with stress, all the more if you have a contentious relationship with your ex. So, how can busy or stressed-out single parents raise happy and confident kids?
Reduce Single Parenting Stress
It can be difficult to communicate a sense of happiness and calm to your children when you are stressed out yourself. A happy parent makes for a happy child, so you need to find ways to eliminate self-doubt and stress from your life. Stress is a state of mind, so start by trying to figure out what it is that causes you to be anxious, agitated or nervous and then find ways to gradually remove those aspects from your life.
Take time out from your single parenting role
Family life can be hectic at the best of times, with a parent’s life revolving around school, work, chores and home life. If you have a full-time job and are a single parent, that makes parenting pretty much, a round-the-clock affair. Yet, single parents are human beings, who need a break once in a while, just like the rest of us.
Some single parents have the luxury of having grandparents, an amicable ex or friendly neighbours around, to help out on a regular basis. But not everyone has and not everyone wants to ask for help. This misplaced sense of pride will have an impact on your mental health and ultimately your children’s happiness. Start by making a list of the people you think would and can help, and don’t be shy to ask and accept their support. You can also suggest mutually beneficial arrangements, such as sharing childcare or homework supervision, or paying a responsible teen in your neighbourhood to watch your little one. Then use the time to get a couple of hours free here and there for yourself, be it to go to the gym, read a book or just have a nap to combat that never-ending exhaustion many single parents suffer from.
Don’t let society judge you or other single parents
Single parents already have a lot on their plate. They have to be super-organized to manage everyday life, and all with a smile on their face for their kids’ sake, when they are, in fact, often tired and stressed-out. They do not need another source of worry, in the form of society, answering questions and facing judgement. If you are a newly single parent, this can be highly frustrating and cause self-doubt. It is sad that judgement of single mums and dads still runs rampant in our society, but that does not mean you have to let it get to you.
Think of it this way: Being a single parent doesn’t define you, in fact your relationship status is nobody’s business. It is merely a phase of your life, just like being single, unmarried, married, separated and divorced. We go through different stages in our lives, and whether one is more desirable than the other, is down to personal opinion. I know a lot of single parents who are proud that they do it all alone and don’t depend on anyone else, as well as men and women who cherish their single status after many years in an unhappy relationship. You tend to change your view of what is desirable as you get older and with age comes experience and self-confidence to not care about other people’s opinion.
So, if you are worried about what society thinks, you need to start working on your self-confidence and educating the people around you. Because no one should be judged by their relationship status, especially when you know absolutely nothing about their personal circumstances.
Don’t isolate yourself
Being a single parent can be a lonely affair, and I am not talking about loneliness, as a result of your single status. Solo mums and dads don’t, by necessity, pine for a new partner. But they are often isolated because they work full time and care for their children the rest of the time. There is simply no time or opportunity to pursue pastimes or have an evening out with friends. And there is no one to share the day’s funny anecdotes with, or the proud moments.
Ultimately, being limited in your overall social interaction, will lead to feelings of loneliness, which can easily lead to depression, anxiety and high levels of stress. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has left many single parents in the UK feeling even more isolated and lonely. When you are a single parent and spend every evening by yourself, loneliness simply creeps up on you.
So, it’s incredibly important that single parents look after their mental health: Don’t shut yourself off from people, nurture relationships with friends, family, colleagues and neighbours – remember that it’s a two-way street. And try to meet other single parents with children of a similar age, so that you can do things together at the weekends or in the evenings. That way you and the kids have company, and there is no need of a child minder. You could also share parenting advice or responsibilities such as school pickups or childcare. It may not be obvious at first, but once you start looking, you will find that there are plenty of places to meet single parents.
How to raise happy and confident kids
So, aside from reducing your stress levels, what else do single parents have to do to raise kids that are happy and successful in life?
Become a happy parent
Research has long established a link between parents who feel depressed and behavioural problems in children. Reducing your stress levels, accepting help and not isolating yourself will certainly be first steps towards a more balanced, happier you. But there is also professional help available, in the form of life coaching for single parents, therapy or even meditation or yoga classes. Mindfulness is another powerful tool to help find a happier you by putting some space between yourself and your reactions when you feel overwhelmed by what’s going on around you.
Having a positive attitude, will help your children to develop a positive and happy outlook on life which will give them the ability to overcome obstacles and problems in later life with confidence.
Talk and listen to your kids
Talking to your children not only stimulates their brain development, it also shapes their verbal and their emotional competence. Make it a habit to share your opinions and feelings with your child on a regular basis. Set an example, so they learn to share their own feelings and thoughts. As a single parent, you are your child’s primary role model.
It’s equally important that you hear your children out. Encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings, so that they will come to you when they have a problem and you can help them resolve it. Listen attentively and don’t interrupt, so your children know you value what they have to say and are interested in their anecdotes or problems. Good communications skills are an integral building block of the confidence you’re trying to instil in your children.
Give your kids a responsibility
A great way, parents can increase their children’s confidence is by giving them a special task. This can be in the form of helping a younger sibling, taking care of a pet, or helping with a job around the house, such as preparing dinner or washing the car. The task should be solely the child’s responsibility. Fulfilling their “job” will make them feel valued, responsible and increase their confidence.
Naturally, it is important to find tasks that are age appropriate, so as to not set your child up for failure. You cannot ask a 5 year old to remember the dog’s feeding schedule, but you can ask him or her to feed the fish once a day. Fish are great first time pets for kids, as they are low maintenance, and aside from the initial investment of adding a fish tank, there is little else you need to pay for. And, did you know that watching the serene scene of calmly swimming fish is therapeutic? It’s proven to relieve stress, anxiety, and depression in both adults and children, so a win-win all round.
Have fun together
Sometimes it’s hard to balance what’s best for your kids and what makes them happy, but the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Don’t let term time become all about work and school. Make quality time together to create happy moments and memories together.
Think of some fun activities that both you and your children would enjoy and involve them in the preparations. This can be taking a picnic next time you go to the park, camping in the garden and grilling marshmallows over a makeshift campfire, or setting up a treasure hunt in the neighbourhood. You could also take up a hobby together that has no age restrictions, such as yoga, tennis, or skiing. That way, you will have something in common when they get older and might be less keen on spending time together. You could even consider a single parent ski holiday together, which would undoubtedly create many happy and exciting memories. For those on a smaller budget, why not try a road trip or a single parent camping holiday?
There is no denying that single parenting is stressful. It requires twice the work, twice the stress and twice the tears, but it is also twice the hugs, twice the love and twice the pride. So, always look at the bright side, be a happy and confident parent, and make time to talk, listen and have fun together, because that is all your children will need to grow into happy and confident young adults.