The prospect of parenting on your own can be daunting, especially if it comes on top of another major life change such as divorce or death of a partner. There are ways to cope, however, and you have more resources available than you might think. Listed below are some of the most important things you can do to parent effectively and preserve your own sanity.
Your children may be confused and angry, and they are looking to you to model how to act going forward. Your family is in a different shape than it was, but it is still a family. Make sure they remember this fact by clearly outlining what has happened and how things will change. You don’t need to get bogged down in the details, just explain the basics. Let them know that there is still a network in place for their comfort and safety. You may want to create a new set of house rules or review the rules that were in place before to ensure they remain intact.
Children need boundaries to feel safe and loved, and they will test those boundaries just as they did when they were very young. Be firm, loving, and consistent. Often, unacceptable behavior is a plea for attention and children aren’t always picky about whether it’s good or bad attention. Don’t fall into this trap; let your kids know you are very present for them when everything’s calm and no one is acting out.
When you make a mistake, own it. Kids need to know that adults are not infallible and that adults are able to admit it when they do something wrong. Apologizing and working through a poor decision can lead to greater respect on both sides.
Outline in advance the consequences for undesirable behavior. Give one warning. After that, apply whatever consequences you previously discussed. Young children can benefit from time-outs, whereas older children are more affected by loss of privileges. Often, there are natural consequences for a child’s choices: a broken toy, or the abrupt end of a play date or outing. To be effective, these consequences must be consistent and scaled appropriately to the behavior. In other words, be careful with your actions and don’t automatically do the worst possible thing for every infraction.
Remember the flip side of consequences, which are rewards for positive behavior. If a child is seeking attention and reassurance that they are still loved and safe, give them praise for the things they do well. Engage them in your conversations, and keep a positive outlook. Children respond to the behavior of their parents, and simply keeping an upbeat rhythm can do wonders for your children’s ability to cope.
Here are a few things all parents can do well to remember during these trying times.
- Take care of yourself so you can take care of your family – During pre-flight safety instructions, flight attendants will tell passengers, “In the event of a drop in cabin pressure, secure your own oxygen mask before attempting to assist others.” This can be a great concept to keep in mind during trying times.
- You cannot be two parents – If the other parent is available, share the job. If not, accept that your best has to be good enough. You can do no more.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to accept it when it’s offered – Build a network of family members and friends. Find or create a single parents group in your area, and use it not only to share in child care, grocery shopping, and other household tasks, but also to have an adult support system for your own needs.
- So far, there has never been a perfect parent – When things go wrong, start fresh the next day, admit your mistakes, and move on.
Raising children is a tough job with or without an active partner. But if you are honest with your children about the changes ahead, the challenges that come with change, and what you expect of them, they will rise to the new responsibility and you will be able to take care of one another in love and respect.