Parenting, even under the best of circumstances, can be challenging. However, as a single parent, the difficulties are multifold, and it can take a lot of juggling to find the right balance. The financial and emotional implications can be tough to bear as the primary decision-maker and sometimes the sole breadwinner. Moreover, achieving the right work-life balance can become harder.
When you are a single parent due to situations like unplanned pregnancies, divorce, separation, or bereavement, you have to not only deal with your children's emotions but also process your conflicting feelings.
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 may include managing the house, your child's academic needs and the family's financial needs. When children reach adolescence, things can get more demanding as they develop their individuality. They may challenge your authority and push certain boundaries. It can leave you exhausted, angry and upset.
You must set aside some time to process your feelings; here, discussing with a friend or therapist might help. Additionally, making 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 can be something all of you look forward to and help strengthen your bond.
Talk with your children and let them know that running a family is a joint responsibility. You can even talk about finances if they are old enough without catastrophizing the situation. 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.
Work out a fixed routine
Some discipline and routine can give children a sense of stability and consistency. Make sure the daily routine of mealtimes, homework, bedtimes and chores is spelt out clearly. It will help you feel less stressed about handling multiple tasks and also help in bringing predictability into your life. If a parent is consistent about ground rules, then the children are less likely to be confused and uncertain.
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 any hostility with your partner to colour your relationship with the children. If you are grieving and taking support from other family members in raising your children, or are looking to date, or get married again - have a conversation with such people who may act in a co-parenting capacity regarding their parenting style, values, as well as their role, authority, or boundaries with your children. It would enable you to navigate their influence on your children's life. It may also be helpful to prepare your children in advance for the changes that are about to occur in the dynamics at home.
Giving space to each other
When there has been a parental loss or the non-custodial parent's interactions are limited, the emotional dependence between you and your child may intensify. Since both of you may be lonely after the death, separation, or divorce, it is quite natural that you turn to each other for support. However, it is essential that you and your child can form healthy, loving relationships outside of the immediate family, as that provides more avenues of emotional support. Ensure that you encourage your children to nurture other relationships with significant adults in their lives and give each other space. For example, with both sets of their grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and close friends.
Getting support from family and friends
You cannot do everything by yourself, and there is really no shame in asking for help from family and friends. Make time to visit families and friends or have them over to your house for a meal regularly. This way, you and your children will not feel isolated. Network with neighbours, friends and family members for carpooling, baby-sitting, holidays and going out together. It could help build a security blanket around your children by surrounding them with the warmth and love that family-like networks can provide.
Giving yourself 'me-time'
Let's face it. There will be days when you may not want 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 the children to be with other trusted family members or friends for a while, and take time to pamper yourself with an outing for a movie, dinner, social gathering, or any other activity you enjoy. If you prefer solitude, you could use this time to snuggle at home and do nothing!
It is essential 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 into a growth opportunity. As a single parent, you can develop a strong and unique bond with your children and help them become more empathetic and caring adults.