By Bette Freedson
Being a parent may be the most important job in the world; and being a single parent may be the toughest. Walking the fine line between being a pal and being a parent is hard, especially when there is no one else in the house to help with the balancing act.
As a single mother who successfully raised two daughters, and as a social worker helping single moms and dads every day, I am offering some key pieces of advice.
Take heart! You can have fun with your kids without becoming “Disney Dad or Mom” or “Uncle Clown,” as a friend of mine calls it.
Here are the keys that you need to tread the line successfully:
12 Tips for Single Parents
1. Have structure in your home. That means an environment that is reasonably predictable within the normal changes that life brings.
2. Do not make “house rules” that you cannot back up. In other words, do not use threats for disciplinary measures. If you do that, and do not follow up, you lose leverage and credibility.
3. Make sure the kids (and of course this varies with age levels) understand the idea of choices lead to consequences. They can be “the bosses of their own behavior” is the message. This provides them with a sense of control along with knowing you are in charge.
4. If there is another parent with another household, give the kids the message that what happens in that house isn’t necessarily the same as what happens in your house. This can be tricky, especially if the other parent is behaving like “Uncle Clown.” But you don’t have to.
5. Release rivalry issues with the other parent or other people who interact with your child. If they are providing big toys and big fun, your importance as a parent is not lessened. The parenting bang is not for the buck. It is for who you are with your children and what stability you offer them, even in times of difficulty.
6. Deal with your own stress in appropriate adult ways so you are not releasing your own anxiety by being their peer instead of their parent.
7. Develop supports for yourself for your own recreation and fun, so the kids do not have to serve that purpose for you.
8. Even if you have to crazy glue your mouth, do not put down the other parent to the kids.
9. Establish routines with the kids that involve responsibilities, as well as connecting. Connecting does not have to be ‘Disney.’ It is more important to show an interest in what they think and what they are doing.
10. These are a few of the things you can do to establish an environment in which the children trust that you will be predictable and trustworthy. When they know the boundaries, the children will be able to have fun with you and you will still be the parent.
11. 11, 12 and Beyond… You do not have to be perfect… just good enough… if you fall off the line you are treading, you can get back on.
Children love you and will offer you their respect and forgiveness when there is enough of a foundation for them to feel safe and cared for.
Bette, LICSW, LCSW, is a member of NASW with a background in parenting, women’s issues and stress management. Bette specializes in offering practical wisdom for coping with difficult life situations. In addition, Bette conducts workshops and seminars focused on coping strategies, couples’ issues and emotional wellness.