Being a parent may just be the most important job in the world. Being a single parent may just be the hardest. Single parents need a tool kit of practical strategies to use along with common sense, and a healthy dose of mother’s (and father’s intuition!) Having raised two daughters on my own after their father and I were divorced, (and after he died!) I have worked to discover what I consider to be key advice for healthy and successful single parenting. What I have learned can become some useful strategies and ideas for all you single parents. But, to be perfectly honest, these strategies and ideas are pretty good for all parents to consider incorporating into your bags of “tricks.”
While my list of key advice tips continues to morph and change as I grow, and learn from other parents, including my clients, my friends and my own daughters who are now mothers themselves, one idea remains consistent. I believe that you will parent at your best when your coping strategies combine solution oriented choices with the benefit of your common sense, and your intuitive knowing. Intuition can help you sort through action choices to come up with what you believe is in the best interest of your kids and your Self.
Please note that the following advise “tips” are offered with the assumption that basic needs, including safety concerns, for your children are met in all circumstances. When or if safety is an issue in any situation, the advice is always to seek mental health and/or (when warranted) legal counsel to determine the best way to deal with the issue. Now, considering safety is assured, let’s move to the key pieces of advice. For this post, there are three I consider most important.
First, learn how to recognize stress in your children. Typically, children show their stress in their behaviors. Stay alert for signs of stress that show up in play or in their relationships with you or with friends. The intensity and amount of your child’s stress will depend on age, development, temperament, and environment. Excessive crying, tantrums, difficulty sleeping, headaches, stomach aches, bed-wetting, physical aggression, and limit pushing can happen, and does happen, in the case of normally and minimally stressed kids. However, the duration of these reactions over time, and their intensity, may be a sign that the kid are feeling too much stress. Stay alert for any signs of not-the-usual behavior that tends to recur or persist.
Next, learn stress reduction techniques that you can use to manage your own stress and help the kids to manage theirs. Being a single parent causes high stress and often requires adaptation to difficult circumstances. Managing your own stress will have an effect on your children. When you deal with yourself, you are modeling healthy coping for your kids. Also, be alert for signs in yourself that you might be handling stress in less than optimal ways. Do I need to specify some of the signs? Excess smoking, drinking, or shopping (depending on your budget) too much yelling, trouble sleeping, appetite changes, trouble at work (that could also be the cause of the stress!) feeling too sad or depressed or more anxiety than usual….You get the idea. In these cases, locate a good stress management teacher or stress reduction program and go for it!
Third, improve and develop your coping tools. Your children will notice what you say and do. They will use you as a model. The “Do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do!” motto is a myth. the kids will “Do-as-you-do!” However, please refrain from excessive guilt here. For that too can cause you stress. Yes, you are a model, but you are also entitled to be human. If you are alert to your own stress, you can correct course, improve your actions, and even use your own behavior as teachable opportunities for your children to improve their coping skills as well. A well intentioned apology, explanation and discussion about alternative and healthier coping choices (within a range of what a child can understand and what is appropriate to share) can go a long way to helping children learn to manage their own stress.
Okay…Just one more short one. And a really, really important one. Please refrain from releasing stress by complaining to the kids about the other parent–Even if you have due cause! The kids love the other parent even if you do not. And they are identified with him (or her) because they remain emotionally connected even in cases when the parent is out of the picture. Tread lightly here, for angry venting, even mild disrespectful comments when in ear shot of the kids, can cause stress for them that can boomerang and bite you in the you-know-where!