By Shelly Walker
I was a single parent for the first four years of my son’s life. Now, there are two kinds of single parents: those who are co-parenting with a non-resident parent and those who are simply raising their children alone. I was in this latter category and you know what? I liked it. Of course, there were times when it was hard and I felt resentful and angry at having no one to share the burden – or the first smiles – with. But for the most part, I was fine being a single mom for one reason: I didn’t have to compromise with anyone about how to raise my child. I knew he would never be spanked; that he would be raised in a positive, loving environment; that he would be taught my spiritual beliefs; that he would disciplined in appropriate ways.
Being a single parent, with or without a co-parent, is a special challenge. Following, you will find two sets of single-parenting strategies, one for each type of single parent. Taking the time to implement strategies one at a time gives you and your children the space to get used to new ways of being. Try them on, see how they work for you, tweak them as necessary and create the family of your dreams!
Strategies for Non-Resident Co-Parents
• Respect: No matter what your personal relationship with your co-parent (and, perhaps, his or her spouse) looks like; you must speak about him or her with respect in front of your children. If you need to vent, call a friend or your mom or talk to the dog, but never, never disparage your child’s parent. There must be something good about your co-parent, so focus on that and let the other stuff go. Remember, you will always, for the rest of your lives, be co-parents, so you might as well make the best of it.
• Common Ground: The most successful co-parenting teams work together to make sure that the children are getting the same type of discipline and support at both homes. One of the best ways to do this is to define your values and use them as a guidepost for both homes. Write them down, make a poster or collage and hang it in each home. The more consistency your child has, the happier she will be.
• Scheduling: The co-parent schedule can be a nightmare to establish and keep up with. For a child who is commuting between two homes, having a regular schedule, with both parents attending special events, is key. No matter how it works, make it work, so that your child has a predictable, straightforward schedule and never has to guess where he will be and who will be taking care of him.
• Communication: Keep the lines of communication open in your family – not only with your co-parent, but with your children as well. The more your children see you communicating in healthy ways, the more they will trust that you will listen to them when things get hard. Recent studies show that the earlier they learn this lesson, the more open they will be as teens. So talk and listen to your co-parent and to your children.
Strategies for Single Parents:
• Village: Creating a healthy group of adults that your child trusts is crucial for the single parent. Remember, your child must come to learn that she is safe in the world without you and if you isolate yourself with her, she won’t learn how to trust others. The other critical piece of creating a village of healthy adults for your child is in gender balance. Your child needs examples of healthy men and women to learn from and pattern herself after. When I was a single mom, I prayed every day for my son to be surrounded by healthy male role models. And he was (and is).
• Self-Care: I know from experience that “single parent” and “self care” can seem like two mutually exclusive groups. They are not! Find ways to make time for yourself every day. If you have the choice at nap time between cleaning the house and taking a hot bath, take the bath. Burn-out can lead to exhausted, emotional outbursts and can even lead to child abuse. Taking care of yourself first is the best way to take care of your child. Remember, you have to fill up your pitcher before you can fill up your child’s cup!
• Growing Skills: A single parent doesn’t have a co-parent to challenge his or her parenting patterns, so it’s very easy to fall back on unhealthy, old ways of being. Do everything you can to learn new parenting skills: read books, do online research, talk to your friends and co-workers about strategies that work, join a single-parent support group… Do whatever you can to learn more about parenting and work really hard to become the best parent you can.
• Discipline: Sometimes it’s easy for a single parent to let things slip into comfortable, but unhealthy patterns. Take a good look at the last 48 hours in your household. Were your children respectful? Helpful? Happy? Do you feel good about your family dynamic? If not, it’s time for some changes. Making changes in your family patterns can be difficult at first, but no matter how young your children are, talk to them, explain why you are changing the rules and what the new rules will be. Then stick to them! If after three weeks things haven’t improved, re-evaluate your rules. Are they appropriate for your children and your family? Are you following through with appropriate consequences for breaking them? Creating healthy boundaries is critical for every parent, but especially for the single parent.
Remember, being a single parent may be challenging, but it’s also a wonderful adventure!
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See Also Parenting Articles by Dr. Randy Cale at www.TerrificParenting.com