According to the Pew Research Center’s American Community Survey in December 2014, just 46% of American children now live in a home with two married parents in their first marriage. Conversely, in 1960, 73% of children existed in the traditional “nuclear” family. If your family is embarking on single parenthood, know that neither you nor your children will be alone. Divorce and births to unwed parents have lost the negative stigma that once made falling into these categories so hard. When you invest in your child and in your parenting education (as you are by reading this), outcomes improve for all family members.
Still, juggling the many responsibilities that come with being a single parent in this era of “over-parenting” and “helicopter parenting” can be daunting. We hope these tips help make single parenthood manageable–even joyful!
Use a Sharable Online or Mobile App Calendar to Communicate With Your Ex
Newly divorced parents report that talking to the ex-spouse challenges them more than most other aspects of the divorce. With children’s schedules these days packed with doctors’ appointments, sports, playdates, and family events, cutting the other parent out of your life entirely is impossible. The tech savvy already know to create a separate Google calendar with only the children’s dates on it, but developers have created more user-friendly calendars that solve additional co-parenting difficulties. CoParently, for example, comes with the calendar, but also easy places to share:
- medical contacts and information
- other parent contacts
- important documents
Kill the Guilt
Because overwhelming guilt diminishes parenting skills, parents must get it under control.
While many couples endure conflict-ridden or unsatisfying marriages for the sake of the children, universities and religious and governmental organizations continue to come out with studies revealing that most children in a divorce situation do NOT suffer long-term effects directly related to divorce. An American Psychological Association review of scores of individual studies on the effects of divorce on children concluded, “Research indicates that marital conflict rather than divorce or post-divorce conflict is a more important predictor of child adjustment.” Some researchers speculate that any maladjustment adult children of divorce exhibit may not stem from the divorce itself but from the manner in which parents behave after the divorce. Involved parents who invest time and energy into their children and co-parent effectively reap the rewards of happier, well-adjusted kids.
Embrace Your Right to Discipline
Kill the single parent guilt so you can discipline effectively. Studies indicate that single parents have a harder time disciplining due to time limitations and the desire to have positive interactions. But the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Pediatrics, along with every doctor and psychologist you meet, explains that children need, want, and even crave discipline. The APA’s review of the literature above explains, “Appropriate parenting includes providing emotional support, monitoring children’s activities, disciplining authoritatively, and maintaining age-appropriate expectations.” Establishing limits and then enforcing reasonable consequences when children cross limits reassures them that you care enough to keep them from spinning out of control.
Establishing chores not only asserts your authority, it provides children a sense of meaning and contribution as they work with you and siblings on a project larger than themselves–the family. And even without two parents, make it clear that you ARE a family. Creating a chore sheet where they can pick which tasks they prefer gives them a sense of some control. Still, you can make it fun. Consider having a day or afternoon where you all do household chores together to music with a movie reward at the end. Keep in mind, too, that children who’ve just recently lost a parent due to death or divorce will struggle with anger and upset that could emerge when chore time rolls around. Hold your ground, treating their inevitable chore-resisting complaints as expected noise.
Smart Cooking for the Single Parent
We get it: you get home at 6:00 (or later) with homework, baths, dinner and dishes still ahead.
Single parents who embrace the raw food and slow food movements may find dinnertime easier. Doctors and nutritionists applaud parents who serve simple baby carrots or celery. Prep? Open bag. Wash. Throw on dish. Fruit makes an excellent side dish as well and takes very little prep. Buy small resealable containers to keep individual portions of ranch dressing, poppy seed dressing, Nutella, and peanut butter at the ready for children who like dipping their fruits and vegetables.
Fresh, raw foods create shortcuts, but so do a few select healthy food gadgets. The crock pot, smoothie blender, and outdoor or indoor grill all get lots done with limited hassle. Finally, when it comes to main dishes, some busy parents double the recipe of meals they make, saving half for leftovers later in the week. Others marinate and cook large portions of steak or chicken on weekends and then serve it throughout the week.
Build Your Back-Up Team
As self-sufficient as Americans like to view themselves, the results are in: social connections translate into better physical and emotional health. As a single parent, you will need a team, each member of which contributes in a special way.
- Babysitter: The first backup you need, particularly if you’re working, is a babysitter. While Care.com, SitterCity, and other online sources deliver scores of options in your neighborhood, finding babysitters through your church, friends, and neighbors works, too. Still, when these people are not available and you have a sick child, you can also depend on sick child daycare. While there isn’t one website listing these services, your pediatrician may know of special daycares that specialize in caring for sick children.
- Parent Network: Stock the refrigerator, roll out the slip-and-slide, and be ready with playdate offers. Taking initiative will prompt other parents to reciprocate. A group of parent friends supports, informs, and entertains you as well as your child. Creating a dedicated “black book” or contact list of parents keeps phone numbers and emails handy.
- Teachers and other school staff: Your tax dollars pay for an amazing amount of education and even emotional support for you and your child. If you have any concerns, you are entitled to have a meeting with the school psychologist, the teacher, the resource teacher, and even the vice principal. These professionals can help you gauge how your child is reacting to the changes in your household. They relate how he or she behaves in class and recommends appropriate strategies and solutions.
- Religious or spiritual backup: Churches, synagogues and spiritual centers have all kinds of kids’ activities; they may even have quality daycare! Sunday school provides you an hour away from constant demands, giving you time to listen to an inspiring message while your children meet new friends and have fun. These centers also organize great holiday events and activities so that you don’t have to feel alone and disconnected.
- Parenting experts: Having a therapist or parenting support specialist from your local hospital or church on call feels reassuring. Locally, San Diego Dads Corps provides free counseling services to fathers once a week for 12 weeks, classes, and more. Read how involved dads bring benefits to their children’s lives that no other individual can bring and other proven truths about fatherhood.
Carve Out Regular Rejuvenation Time
Caregivers get stressed. Time alone to relax and focus on your own needs and interests renews your energy and mood. Health clubs, churches, and parent events offering child care help parents take a break from constant responsibility. Single parent expert and author Leah Klungness, PhD, recommends that once your children are beyond the toddler stage, they’re ready to be trained to leave you alone for three to five minutes at a time. During that time you can do some deep breathing exercises, return phone calls, or take a shower. Need a little push to take care of yourself? Try this article: “I’m Done Making My Children’s Childhoods Magical,” which went viral last year.
Manage Your Money with Apps
Apps like the free Mint from Intuit (maker of QuickBooks), GoodBudget, and PocketExpense all track your spending, keep you on top of your bills, and provide more than you could ever need. As apps on your phone or tablet, they’re always handy and users claim that they can even feel addictive. Getting control of your cash flow reduces a significant portion of single parent stress.
Devote 20 Minutes to an Hour Each Day Focusing Solely on Your Children
Think of this time as vitamins for your relationships, keeping them healthy and preventing any number of conflicts, surprises, and disappointments. Those who find themselves relentlessly driven to accomplish things every moment rather than just being present for a period of time should consider mindfulness and meditation training. Mindfulness practice helps people concentrate their focus on the present moment, holding off bad memories and suspending worry about the future. The University of San Diego’s Center for Mindfulness and Meditation offers introductory sessions that can get you started. Interested in what mindfulness and meditation can do for your brain? Read Harvard researchers’ recent amazing conclusions from their eight-week study using MRI technology. This research from December 2014 received widespread news coverage.
Model a Positive Outlook for the Future
Compared to you, your children are newcomers to life. They look to you to gauge the potential danger or benefits of new situations. Make it clear from the beginning that while life is changing, all of you have the skills to manage these changes and even grow through them. Demonstrate your confidence in their resilience and coping skills. While tears and anger arise from time to time, these do not have to become the norm.
You and Your Children Can Succeed and Thrive
Divorce or the death of a spouse stands at the very top of the life stresses list. Still, research reveals that one year after the divorce, most ex-spouses and their children are coping adequately. The tips above help set your new life on the right track. Remember to rely on friends, family, and professionals who want to help you through this difficult time. Keep behavior and energy expectations for yourself, your ex-spouse, and your children reasonable and remember that both will even out with time.