Over the last few decades, there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of single-parent homes. As you might expect, the number of children in single-parent homes as increased as well. Many people believe that separation and divorce are very bad for developing children, while others argue that nothing’s worse for them than constant arguments and even violence in the home.
Social scientists have come to conflicting conclusions on the positive and negative impacts of single parenting. Some studies conclude that living with a single parent results in low self-esteem for the children. Others find no impacts different from two-parent households.
It’s clear, though, that single parents can make all the difference in helping their children adapt and cope with the change to a single-parent household. How single parents deal with their children at this time can mold family dynamics for the future and determine the well-being of both parent and child.
Here are a few ways the newly-single parent can be a positive supportive force for their new family.
1. Help your children understand why you are now single.
Before a separation or divorce, the chances are that the home life wasn’t too pleasant. The children may have overheard fights or witnessed personal violence that you don’t know about. It’s also likely that you weren’t as sensitive to their feelings as you might have been if you hadn’t been going through so much yourself.
Children who don’t understand the realities often assume that they are the cause of their parents’ problems. Now that the fireworks are over, it’s time to be honest with them. You don’t have to go into graphic detail, but you do need to make them understand that they are not responsible for the break-up.
Without blaming the absent parent, explain as much as you can about the basic conflict between you and why you couldn’t work it out. Your openness and honesty will help them put it in perspective and will tell them you respect their feelings. Hopefully, this will also reduce any resentments they may be holding against you.
2. Spend more time with your children.
You’ve all been through a very hard time. Tensions during the break-up may have been intense, and your children may have been aware of and affected by the stress. They probably are very familiar with screaming, fights, and cold silences. They know hostility well.
Now that you’re single and your home is getting more stable, it’s time to invest some time in your kids. Doing things together helps re-establish communications and help you get to know each other outside the conflict and tension of the old life.
Take time to talk to them about your hopes and dreams. Ask them about theirs. Plan and go on vacations, week-end trips, and quick trips to the beach or nature preserve. Have a special family night to “celebrate” the week’s accomplishments. The important thing is spending time together to help heal old wounds and build new healthy relationships. It will produce a happier, healthier family.
3. Become part of your community.
Single-parents have busy lives and many responsibilities. Depending on the age of your children, they may be able to help. But it’s important that you find nearby support. Get to know your neighbors. Where they have children near your kids’ ages, encourage them to play together.
Ask your neighbors for help when you need it. Don’t be too proud to ask for help. You have neighbors who’ll be more than happy to help you out with some baby-sitting or household chores. Neighborhood kids may want to earn a few extra dollars by helping you in your yard.
And don’t just ask for help, get involved. Take part in neighborhood and community events. Volunteer, as a family, to participate in and contribute to block parties, community flea markets and yard sales, community watch programs, and other organized activities.
It will help both you and your children establish new relationships and keep you from feeling isolated or lonely after the dramatic changes you’ve been through.
4. Give your children new experiences.
Your kids may be having a difficult time, especially if their time is divided between parents. They may be trying to adjust to a new school and make new friends. Life may seem overwhelming to them right now. It’s important that they feel that life is still an adventure, and they that belong.
Be sure to ask them about what they did when away and do not, under any circumstances, use it as time to criticize your ex. Show your interest in what your kids did and what they accomplished. Encourage them to participate in events for children, join local sports teams, and learn new things. Keep them interested in the bigger world so that they don’t become self-absorbed and overwhelmed by their personal troubles.
5. Let your children grow up with you.
Children need to feel that they have successes, just like the rest of us. You can encourage their feelings of accomplishment by giving them responsibility. Assign them specific chores in the house, and then leave the tasks to them. Don’t supervise or criticize. Let them fail, and learn, on their own. But do praise them when they do a good job. Let them know how much you appreciate their help and how important they are to your family. And try to find a job for each child that is visible to and supportive of the family unit.
6. Balance your life by prioritizing your life.
Single parents can be overwhelmed by responsibilities and the things that must be done after a break-up. It’s important that you learn how to use your time to make life better for everyone, including you! If your job is too demanding, you may need to find something else so that you can focus on your family. If financial obligations are difficult, maybe a new job’s not the answer. Perhaps trying to negotiate a new working schedule with your boss will be the key.
Begin to think about and create family schedules that are flexible enough for those inevitable unexpected events yet structured enough that your bases are covered. And include recreation and family entertainment in your schedule. Let your children help you develop a schedule. This will be another opportunity for some quality conversation and getting to know each other better. You never know, your children may have some great ideas that will make everyone’s life easier.
7. Make decision-making a family affair.
Now that you’re a single parent, it may be tempting to rule with an iron fist. But that would be a mistake. Your kids need the reassurance of knowing you respect and need them. When decisions about the home or family need to be made, include them in the process. Help them understand your decision-making parameters and the pros and cons of different decisions. This will them become more self-reliant and responsible within the family and afterward as they become adults.
These are just a few things you can do to help your children accept you as a single parent and start your new family life off on the right foot. You should seek advice and guidance from several sources. Internet research may give you a lot of ideas, but you may need to get some personal counseling or face-to-face discussion time for your specific issues.
You may be able to find a support group for single parents that will be very helpful. Other single parents can share with you their experiences and lessons. And you can have some support from people who really do understand your situation.