The challenges and benefits that come with parenting solo.
The stigma once associated with single parenting has been replaced in recent years by genuine interest in how solo parenting can be a truly positive experience for the family, once the initial shock of divorce or bereavement passes.
The painful experiences behind parenting solo need not hurt children or hinder them as they themselves become adults. What matters to kids is not how many parents they have present in their life, but emotional interactions, issues at school and conflict with siblings or friends. There’s no reason why your kids should feel ‘second best’ compared to peers with different home lives; indeed, new family structures often elicit stronger personal traits and connections that will serve you, and them, well. In this article, we try to explore both pitfalls and opportunities of solo parenting today.
Solo parenting from guilt
Raising kids without support from another parent is not easy. Whether you feel guilty that you didn’t stay with your ex for your kids’ sake or about needing some ‘me time’ occasionally, try to acknowledge and process your feelings, or they’ll stop you fulfilling your true potential. Deal with solo parenting guilt in a positive, forward-looking way rather than getting stuck in the past, debating with your depressed inner voice. Guilt comes from a sense we’ve done something wrong (intentionally or otherwise), failed to fulfil an obligation or live up to a responsibility. If you’re a solo parent, identifying what’s at the root of that guilt will help you move forward.
Consider whether the guilt is warranted. Is what you’re dealing with an issue you should legitimately feel guilty for? If not, let it go. If the guilt is legitimate, take steps to rectify this. If you messed up, apologise. Change your self-talk. Consider what you would say to your best friend if he or she were feeling this way. You’d probably respond with more compassion than you allow yourself. Write a letter to yourself as if you were talking to that friend. What words of encouragement would you share with another solo parent?
Is your guilt helping your kids, or hurting them? The solo parenting guilt that paralyses you can get in the way of meeting your kids’ physical and emotional needs. Look for tangible ways to forgive yourself. Whatever happened is in the past and whatever choices you made, you made them at that moment, based on information you had then, with the best intentions in mind. Be gentle on yourself as you heal, and you’ll move forward.
Using that new solo role to encourage positive behaviour
The two-parent model is a beautiful thing. Done right, so is parenting solo. Both have their own pitfalls and opportunities. Solo parenting can bring huge benefits, in fact, compared to parenting together. New structures can be used to turn your kids into far more rounded, capable adults.
To ensure your children grow up in a safe, secure environment where their abilities can thrive, speak directly with, rather than at, them. Use loving, consistent discipline defined by rules that remain the same day-to-day and apply to all – including yourself! This will help you raise your children without your authority being undermined now you’re the only adult in the house. Rewarding good deeds in your child rather than punishing the bad is a great way of instilling good behaviour. Set up rules to help your child know what is acceptable and what isn’t. If your child is continuously behaving badly, redirect his or her ways.
Spend time with your kids
Take the time out from everyday life and make your kids your number one priority whilst they grieve the loss of their old life. That way, your children will be more able to cope with the sudden absence of one parent and assume new roles and responsibilities in your new single parent family unit. Spending time together creates continuity, maintains self-confidence, and combats doubt, low self-esteem and inadequacy.
Drowning in new logistics
Your children might have two single parent households now, maybe their stuff is going back and forth most weekends or they might have an increasingly absent parent. It can be easy for the structure of a child’s life to crumble under these strange new schedules, and this uncertainty can make children feel insecure.
Collaborate with your ex
To counteract this, try to work with your ex to develop a system that works for your children and makes movement between the two homes as smooth as possible. Avoiding the pitfalls of this transition requires strong interpersonal skills and two willing parents, but investing in learning those skills will help your family, young and old, thrive. Children in single parent families witness conflict mediation skills in action. They get to see their parents working hard, despite their differences, to collaborate and work together effectively.
Empathize with your kids
The kids are also forced to deal with their own disappointments early on, leaving them better equipped to deal with later life. Remember to respond to your kids’ disappointment with support, encouragement, and empathy. View the experiences as valuable growth opportunities which will eventually help them become more sensitive, empathetic and caring adults. You can’t always prevent children from feeling sad or disappointed, of course, but you can help them to express and cope with their emotions.
Take care of yourself
This doesn’t necessarily mean endlessly self-sacrificing; be self-respectful and remember to take care of yourself. If you don’t, you won’t have the energy or emotional capacity to solo parent and give your kids what they need. This means learning to ask for what you want and how to draw healthy boundaries. When you do this, you will feel better and gradually create a positive role model that will help your children learn how to take good care of themselves.
The cardinal sin
Putting your kids in the middle. Bad-mouthing your ex, using your children as a bargaining chip, asking them to report on your ex or send messages to your ex puts them in a squeeze position. Deal directly with your ex, and if you need to talk, consult a friend or therapist, well out of range of young ears and minds.
As a solo parent, key decisions are now for you – and your children – to take
A single parenting role means responsibility for decisions, large and small, rests on you. While this may seem intimidating in the beginning, you will soon realise what a boon it can be when it comes to taking decisions affecting your children. From the school they attend to the food they eat, friends they go out with and places and people you visit, the lessons will come from you, and be all the better for it.
Where parents in a relationship might rely on their partner for support, single parents reach out further, initially through need, but eventually because it enriches their kids’ lives. Mutual support from other solo parents, such as reciprocal childcare arrangements, are especially beneficial. Single-parent structures help your children understand finances, and teach them to manage money. Solo parenting encourages your child to contribute to and value the family as a team, instead of relying on you for every little thing.
When a decision pops up around in a single parent household – from bigger, one-off moves to everyday chores – chances are you will find yourself asking your children for their opinion. This instils a strong sense of responsibility in them towards the home, encourages multitasking, and creates an ability to do more with less (in a positive, rather than self-pitying, way) from a young age. Children raised in single-parent families engage more in daily household chores to support their solo parent, often enjoy performing tasks, and take ownership of (and pride in) their contribution to the family.
Kids in solo parent families know they are the main priority in their parent’s life, but at the same time are not treated as though they are the centre of the known universe. This helps them express their personal needs while factoring in and valuing those of others around them, friends and family alike.
Solo parenting: a valid and healthy model
The message is clear: solo parenting can, and does, produce successful families. Whether you’re a single parent or have a partner, if you spend time with your child, he or she will be more likely to be happy and mentally healthy. Even if destiny did decide you were to deal with this chapter of your life on your own, solo parenting can not just give you and your children the strength to cope with the feeling of loss; it also lets young and old members of the new-look family take on hugely positive additional roles, fine-tuned to new circumstances, maintain your self-confidence and theirs, and all in a way that is not upsetting for a young mind.
If you can navigate the challenges of solo parenting and turn the pitfalls into opportunities, then you will be able to create a happy family life with well-balanced kids. Many solo parents rely on the help of their ex, but even when there is no second parent to fall back on, and you assume the role of mum and dad, the experience can turn out to be a hugely positive one for you and your children.
Tim Martinz-Lywood is a London-born translator, copywriter and teacher based in Vienna. Tim blogs on a wide range of subjects. If you want to contact Tim, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.