Sometimes I wonder, could I do this alone? That is, raising my children. It’s hard enough with two of us, both working, to find the time. So often, the little things suffer. Cleaning, dinner prep, and laundry. Because of that, we find ourselves using the weekends to catch up on weekly chores that went unattended. I know, this is a very familiar scenario for many families. In this circumstance, my family is not unique.
But what if you find yourself parenting alone? Divorce or death could be the reason. Divorce is a difficult situation for any child. Especially when the drama of the parents impacts the kids. They are as involved in the drama as the parents, no matter how hard the parents try to keep them out of the fray. It’s just not possible to avoid conflict when you are living with it.
When one parent dies, the other parent could find themselves suddenly in a parenting vacuum. Their partner is gone. All at once the children are missing a parent who may have assumed certain responsibilities. Death could be quick, or in the case of an illness, there may have been some warning. Still, there is little to prepare us for the death of a parent or partner. It’ll be a shock.
Increasingly, some single parents are opting to adopt or have children on their own. It’s becoming more common. For these parents, the challenges of parenting are the same, but unique in their own way.
When compared to the traditional family, single parent families have their advantages and disadvantages. Here’s how to cope with some of the most common situations.
Divorce is common, but it is still hard
Divorce is common. To start, look at your own childhood friends and relatives. It’s very likely a few of them came from divorced parents. Indeed, you may have even been a child of divorce. Look to their experiences, or your own, if you find yourself in this situation.
People get divorced for many reasons. In addition to conflict, some spouses simply grow apart. Look, it happens to the best of relationships. If this is you, find the strengths of your relationship to help navigate this new phase your family is entering. If you and your spouse are amicable, then parenting will be easier on your own. You’re still going to face the pressures of a single parent household but without the loss of some financial and emotional resources that contested divorces can cause.
Think safety. Sadly, not all relationships end well. Some are never well to begin with. It’s a sobering fact for many families. Abusive relationships or a parent that is suffering from addiction can make divorce the only viable option. Protecting yourself and your children is the primary concern. For families in crisis, there are plenty of options available. If you are in such a situation, put them to use.
When divorce happens, kids will be confused. It doesn’t matter why the divorce happened. Sure, kids will know when one parent is a danger. But they may not. It’s important to step up and talk to them about divorce and how the family unit will be changing. Take some of the worry away. In time, they will adjust. It’s up to you to set the tone and pace. Lead and they will follow.
Death of a Parent is always devastating
There’s no way around it, but the death of a parent is something every child will fear. In divorce there is hope. Maybe for reconciliation, or for a continuing relationship with both parents. However, the finality of death strips that bit of comfort away. Our kids see us as strong, sometimes invincible. When a parent dies that belief is shredded.
It doesn’t matter if the death was sudden or the result of a long illness. In the end a parent is gone forever. That belief that mom or dad would be there forever is shattered. They may look to you and worry the same thing. What if you die? Who will take care of them? Counseling certainly helps. Talk to your kids about death. Have they had a pet that died? Use that as an opportunity to discuss what happens when we die. If they’re young, your kids may not have dealt with the death of a grandparent or other family member. If they’re older, they may have, and could see the fact that life does go on. Not that it’s easy, but it does go on.
Grieve with them. Be their strength and offer the bit of steadiness that will pull them through this time.
Enter the Single Parent Family by Design
It’s a newer trend, but single parent families by design are growing. I have coworkers who have opted to parent on their own. Why? Many women and men who find themselves financially able are either adopting or having children before finding a partner. It’s a lifestyle choice. And it’s a perfectly fine choice. Think of all the potential parents out there. They have the desire and heart to parent. Why take that experience away from them? Further, there are many kids looking for a stable home. These parents typically have the resources and loving nature to provide that life.
The difference here is that these parents are choosing to begin at this point. They have planned and designed their careers and living situations for this moment. Are there challenges? Sure. But, with some thought and planning, these parents can easily meet those challenges.
Advantage: Nurture the Bond
For kids who have gone through a divorce or experienced the death of a parent, it creates a unique opportunity. The single parent has the ability to deepen the bond with their child.
There is no substitute for a parent. So, instead of substituting yourself for both, focus on your strengths as a parent. It’s likely that as you step up your game, you’ll fill in the areas where you may feel inadequate. It’s not simple, but in time, experience will begin to round you out as a parent. The trick is to nurture the bond with your child, and make it as strong as possible.
Without competition, you can make your relationship with your child stronger than ever. Likely, your child will also develop a deep sense of loyalty to you that only grows over time. Remember, they see how you managed a challenging divorce or death. Lead through example. Take care of your emotional wellbeing and that aura will encircle your kids, too.
Advantage: Decision Making
In some relationships, the tough decisions always fall to one parent. And you know what? The least involved is usually there to either second guess or judge you. If you find yourself in that place, your decisions will be all your own. Make them with certainty and move on.
If you find yourself in an amicable separation or divorce, add to that advantage. Chances are that your former spouse or partner will be backing you up. If you are the primary custodian in these situations, having a supportive former spouse will allow for your decisions to maintain their solidity. Rule out the divide and conquer mentality that many divorced parents face.
So, life isn’t always sweet. Instead it can be sassy and vinegary. That’s a given in any facet of living. We all have disagreements with our partners and spouses, even in the best of relationships. However, healthy discord can make relationships stronger. By arguing with purpose our kids will see how to properly resolve disagreements.
But in some relationships, that’s not possible. Some relationships end on a negative note with no chance for repair. Look at your relationship with your spouse or partner. How did it end? What did you do to maintain that relationship? The end of a relationship is okay. It’s how you get there. Show your kids how to put conflict into perspective and use it as a tool.
At times that isn’t possible. Kids will see this, and know if you threw in the towel without trying. A child that witnesses this behavior in their parents may repeat it in their own relationships.
Disadvantage: Money, Money, Money
Raising a family is expensive. But you knew that. Childcare, health insurance, tuition, clothes, food … that list is endless. Some things are hard to plan for, especially finances when there’s a divorce or a parent dies.
Fortunately, there are some options. In the case of a parent’s death, hopefully there was some insurance available. But the fact is that most parents have insufficient life insurance in place. Social security death benefits will offset some of the deceased parent’s lost income, but likely not all of it.
In the case of a divorce, there are options for support. But, as we know, maintaining two households is now the norm in this situation. How will that affect your kids?
For the single parent that opts to adopt or have a child on their own, money is usually not a concern. Still, proper financial planning is key in the event of your own illness or death.
Bottom line―move the bottom line. If you find yourself managing a single parent household, be prepared to make adjustments. You may have to move, or find new schools. It’s a disruption that can be as traumatic as divorce or the death of a parent.
Really, there is no such thing as enough time. Time is any parent’s enemy. For a single parent household, time becomes an even scarcer resource. All those things your partner assisted with are now on your plate. So, take steps to maximize your time. Prep meals in advance when you can. Set aside dedicated time for schoolwork. In reality, you’re going to find yourself long on to-do lists and short on sleep.
But also ensure that you set aside time for being a family. Make the time to play, read, or watch a favorite movie together. Sure, finances may be tight and vacation planning may suffer. Fill in with day trips. Most local museums offer discounted or free admissions for families. Take advantage of those offers.
The goal is to make time manageable. Some things will suffer. But haven’t they always? There will always be laundry to fold. Instead of worrying over the backlog of chores, focus on priorities. Get done what’s required. And make sure you have time with your kids. Down the road they’ll remember how you put them first, not the pile of laundry in the basement.
Advantage: Independent Children
I was a latchkey kid growing up. Coming home to an empty house was lonely, and probably not the safest choice. But it was a choice made by circumstance. Fortunately there are more after school alternatives for parents.
Many kids from single parent homes have an independent streak that is one to be envied. They are used to accepting more responsibility. For me, my studies improved. While that isn’t the norm, it was a way for me to help at home. Children in single parent homes are more resourceful by nature. It’s not a parental failing, but a circumstance of their situation. Realize your child’s positive independent behaviors and reward them.
Yes, It Does Takes a Village
Remember that saying? Well, it’s true. Especially for single parent households. Just because we find ourselves raising our kids alone doesn’t mean we have to go about it totally alone.
Lastly, turn to your extended family and community. They all offer the strengths that a typical family can provide. It’s all right to find familial needs beyond our own front doors. Take the time to discover after school programs and community groups that focus on children and families. Sports, scouting, churches, libraries―they all offer ways for us to be involved and to develop relationships that foster a feeling of family in all of us. We are the strength of our communities. If we fail, so does the community as a whole.
Get your kids involved. The relationships could last a lifetime. Start with activities your kids enjoy, whether it’s reading, sports, or the arts, and spread out from there.
Single parent families have their advantages and disadvantages. The key is to focus on your strengths. Find support in your extended family and community. Those gaps are easier to fill than you may have thought.
Emily Anderson is a mother of three children, ages 8, 6, and 3. Located in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, Emily is a full-time mom and part-time blogger, jumping in front of the screen when the kids are occupied. She can be reached through the Contact Us page.