Given that eleven million American families are headed by a single parent, it’s hard to stand behind the idea that, somehow, these kids are destined for trouble.
What matters is not how many parents you have, but what kind of parenting you get. Good parents are attentive, present, and patient. They respond thoughtfully—mindfully, if you will—to their children when they see them distressed, sad, or in crisis. They avoid sarcasm and know the difference between trying to make a point and having a real conversation.
Parenting by yourself is harder, if only because there is just one of you. That means one less set of eyes and no one to bounce around ideas about raising kids with. In addition, without another adult to share the responsibilities of running the household, exhaustion and burn out are always just around the corner. Still, parents should never underestimate the profound positive and stabilizing influence that they, operating solo, can have on their children’s overall well being and adjustment to changes in the family.
Here are some ideas for single parents that can help you raise conscientious, emotionally intelligent children who you will enjoy having around:
- Bite your tongue whenever you’re about to tell someone how much your ex screwed up your kids. Whether it’s true or not, it’s just not a classy thing to do.
- Bite your tongue even harder whenever you’re about to tell your kids how much your ex screwed up the family/your life/their future. Here is your opportunity to demonstrate grace and humanity in the face of a very difficult situation, something your kids will draw more sustenance from and remember far longer than any point about their other parent you’re trying to make.
- Comb your community or the Internet to find parenting support groups, or organize an informal one of your own among friends. It’s helpful to know you’re not the only one whose kids are making their parent second guess every decision made.
- Resist any temptation to minimize or do away with boundaries, limits and consequences. Wanting to avoid conflict or be a “fun” parent (or the “more fun” parent), or feeling guilty over divorcing or moving are reasons why some single parents end up feeling steamrolled by their kids. Unfortunately, this is a lesson in exploitation that will follow many of these kids into adulthood.
- Don’t try to be both a mother and a father. Instead just be the best mother or father that you can be. Kids who have little or no contact with their other parent often become pretty resourceful at finding surrogate figures among teachers, coaches, relatives, and family friends. As long as that person’s influence is healthy, support these relationships and let your children know that you do so as well.
We can’t control all the events that determine whether we parent side by side with a partner or by ourselves, but we can control how we show up for our kids. Children will always do better when the adults in their lives are warm and honest with them, and communicate with empathy and transparency.
They feel respected when those same adults choose to give them what they need over what they want to give, or feel the need to give. No doubt, the more adults like that a kid has in his or her life the better; still, there is nothing about being that kind of parent that says you need two people to do it.
Dr. Janet Sasson Edgette is a psychologist dedicated to helping parents raise conscientious, respectful children they enjoy having around. Her work with families is consistent with her belief that respect, accountability, and prudent transparency are the cornerstones to healthy, enduring relationships between loved ones. Stop Negotiating With Your Teen: Strategies for Parenting Your Angry, Manipulative, Moody or Depressed Adolescent is her popular parenting book, and her most recent book is The Last Boys Picked: Helping Boys Who Don’t Like Sports Survive Bullying and Boyhood. http://www.janetedgette.com/