More than one-third of American children live in single-parent households right now. And fully 59% of American kids will live in a single-parent household sometime before they turn 18. So if this is your situation, you’re in good company.
Nonetheless, we all know that parenting with a partner is difficult enough. How do you manage all the stuff two parents do when there’s just one of you? Here are ten clues:
1. Enjoy your independence. Parenting alone means never having to ask for a second opinion. So rather than wishing things were different or feeling weak and lonely, revel in your independence. You are master of your fate. Rise to the challenge!
2. Create a support system. Just because you’re independent, you don’t have to do everything yourself. Link up with other single parents. Line up friends and family you can call on in a pinch. Find someone whose judgment you trust to use as a sounding board. You’re the CEO of your family but you need an advisory group.
3. Avoid unwise entanglements. It will seem that things would be better if there were another adult in the house, another income, a little sugar now and then. And, yes, probably, all this is so. But rushing into a relationship that won’t last hurts you and hurts your kids. Remember that your children are watching your every move; show them how a sensible adult handles romantic interests.
4. Let your kids be kids. Your support system is not your own children. If you’re a mother, your son is not “the man of the family” and your daughter is not your best friend. If you’re a father, your son is not your best buddy and your daughter is not your “little mama” or the family housekeeper. Children shouldn’t worry along with you about finances or relationships or your job. Let your kids be kids.
5. Remember what’s important. Single parents are busy, doing the work of two adults. But make certain that each day with your kids includes a meal together, some conversation, some reading, games, walks, whatever. This goes double if you see your kids only on the weekends. Quality time is key. Nothing is more important than that.
6. Keep it real. Pay attention to what’s going on for your kids and don’t ignore warning signs. If your children are struggling in school, having trouble with friends, seem withdrawn, depressed, or angry, get help. Talk to someone at your child’s school and get a referral to free or low-cost services. Help is out there. Take action.
7. Speak well of your child’s biological parent. No matter what your relationship is or was with your child’s other parent, your child is still related to this person and needs to know that this person has good qualities. Your child will adopt as his own the traits you describe his other parent having, so emphasize the good stuff. Keep your anger and disappointment to yourself.
8. Stretch your dollars. Raising kids is expensive. Most single parents are poor. Those are the realities. So get creative and uncouple yourself from a consumer mindset. You and your kids can have as rich and satisfying a life as every other family but do it, not by buying stuff, but by doing stuff. Doing is often free and doing is how great memories are made.
9. Make time for yourself. Being all things to all your children is exhausting. You need to recharge. Set a reasonable bedtime for your kids and stick to it. Make certain you have an hour or more to yourself before bed to read, think, and breathe. Slow down. Keep your life on a human scale.
10. Look to your future. Unlike in two-parent families, when your child goes off to college or moves into a place of her own, you will be left all alone. Every parent realizes eventually that children grow up and move on but not every parent is ready. Be different. Be ready to grow along with your kids in new directions. Be ready to move ahead too.
We know from recent history that children raised by single parents turn out well – two became Presidents, after all. Your kids can turn out well too. Make it happen!