Parenting, under the best of circumstances can be challenging. When you are a single parent the challenges are multifold and it takes a bit of juggling to find the right balance. The financial and emotional implications can be difficult since you are the sole decision maker and sometimes the sole breadwinner. When you are a single parent due to circumstances like divorce or separation, you have to deal not only with your children's emotions but also process your own conflicting feelings sometimes. Achieving the right work-life balance does become that much more difficult.
Here are a few challenges you may face and some suggestions for dealing with them.
Dealing with multiple tasks
Your role as a single parent includes managing the house, your child's academic needs and the financial needs of the family. When children reach adolescence things can get more demanding as they are in the process of developing their own individuality. They may challenge your authority and push boundaries. It can leave you exhausted, angry and depressed. It is important for you to set aside some time to process your own feelings and here, venting with a friend or therapist might help. But do make time to enjoy and engage with your children by playing a game, taking a walk or going out together for a meal as a ritual that all of you can look forward to.
If you are divorced, sorting out an amicable agreement for visitation and joint custody will be a sensitive subject. These issues can be sorted out by healthy communication between the parents and the children. Even if you are tempted, try not to deride your ex-partner in front of your child and do not make them take sides. Talk about your feelings with each other and try not to allow rancor with your partner to color the relationship with the children.
Work out a fixed routine
Some amount of discipline and routine gives children a sense of stability and consistency. Make sure the daily routine of mealtimes, homework, bedtimes and chores are spelt out clearly. You will feel less stressed about handling multiple tasks and it also helps in bringing predictability into your lives. If both the partners are consistent about ground rules, then the children are less likely to be confused and uncertain.
Take support from family
You cannot do everything by yourself and there is really no shame in asking for help from family and friends. Build a security blanket around your children by surrounding them with the warmth and love that only family can provide. Make time to visit families or have them over to your house for a meal regularly. This way you and your children will not feel isolated. Network with friends and neighbors for carpooling, baby-sitting, holidays and going out together.
Encourage children to pitch in
Have a talk with your children and let them know that running a family is a joint responsibility. If they are old enough you can even talk about the financials. Get their help with household chores like setting the table, washing up after dinner or helping with the cooking. You can use this time to talk to each other about your day and encourage them to share their feelings about their friends, teachers and school. Acknowledge their contributions to the house and be appreciative of their efforts.
Give space to each other
When the non-custodial parent's interactions are limited, then the emotional dependence between you and your child may become intense sometimes. Since both of you may be lonely after the divorce it is quite natural that you turn to each other for support. But it is important that you and your child have other avenues for venting and building healthy, loving relationships outside of the immediate family. Ensure that you give each other space and encourage your child to nurture other relationships with significant adults in his life. For example with his grandparents (both sets), uncles, aunts, cousins and close friends.
Give yourself ‘me-time'
Let's face it, there will be days when you really may not want to have anything to do with the house and the children. This is very natural as it is not easy to juggle multiple responsibilities. At such times reach out to family and friends. Arrange for them to be with their grandparents for a while and take time to pamper yourself to a movie or dinner with friends. If you enjoy solitude then you could use this time to just snuggle at home with a book and do nothing!
It is important to understand that though it is challenging for single parent families, it does not mean that things cannot be worked out and that unhappiness is part of the deal. Armed with the right coping skills you can convert the experience to a growth opportunity. As a single parent you can develop a strong and unique bond with the children and help them become more empathetic and caring adults.