One of every four American children today lives in a single-parent home. And though the circumstances may vary (some parents are divorced, others are widowed, and others are single parents by choice), the reality is that solo parenting is often stressful, demanding, and hectic. If you are a single mom or dad, there are 10 things you can do to help minimize the stress in your life -- and bring back the joy of parenting.
Get a handle on finances
Raising a family on one income, or relying on an ex-spouse for child support, can be one of the hardest aspects of parenting alone. That's why it's important to take steps to budget your money, learn about long-term investments, plan for college and retirement, and, if possible, enhance your earning power by going back to school or getting additional job training.
Set up a support system
All single parents need help -- whether it's someone to watch the kids while you run out to do errands or simply someone to talk to when you feel overwhelmed. While it's tempting to try to handle everything alone, ask friends and family members for help. You could join a single-parent support group, or, if finances allow, hire a trusted sitter to help out with the kids or someone to assist with housework.
Maintain a daily routine
Try to schedule meals, chores, bedtimes, and other family functions at regular hours so that your child knows exactly what to expect each day. A consistent routine will help your child feel more secure and help you feel more organized.
Be consistent with discipline
Children thrive when they know which behaviors are expected of them and which rules they need to follow. If you are divorced or separated, work with your spouse to create and observe consistent rules and methods of discipline (there's nothing more stressful than having one parent undermine the other). If your child has other caregivers, talk to them about how you expect your child to be disciplined.
Answer questions honestly
Inevitably, questions will come up about the changes in your family, or about the absence of one parent. Answer your child's questions in an open, honest, and age-appropriate way. Make sure that your child gets the help and support he needs to deal with difficult emotions.
Treat kids like kids
With the absence of a partner, it's sometimes tempting to rely too heavily on children for comfort, companionship, or sympathy. But children have neither the emotional capacity nor the life experience to act as substitute adult partners. If you find yourself depending on your kids too much, or expressing your frustrations to them too often, seek out adult friends and family members to talk to. Or seek counseling if necessary.
Abolish "guilt" from your vocabulary
It's always easy for single parents to feel guilty about the time they don't have or the things they can't do or provide for their children. But for your own sense of well-being, it's better to focus on all the things you do accomplish on a daily basis and on all the things you do provide -- and don't forget about all the love, attention, and comfort you're responsible for! (If you ever question your day-to-day achievements, just make a list.) If you're feeling guilty about a divorce or other disruption in your home life, think about joining a support group for other divorced parents. Focus on helping your child (and yourself) get the help you need.
Take time for your children
Even though the piles of laundry and dirty dishes may beckon, set aside time each day to enjoy your kids. (After all, isn't that what parenting is all about?) Spend quiet time playing, reading, going for a walk, or simply listening to music together. And most important, focus on the love between you and on your relationship as a family.
Take time for yourself
Likewise, it's important to schedule time for yourself. Even if it's something as simple as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or having a chat with a friend, setting aside a little personal time will give you a chance to refuel.
It's easy to become overwhelmed by all the responsibilities and demands of single parenthood. On top of that, you may be experiencing the pain of divorce or the death of a spouse. Despite all of your own feelings, though, it's important to maintain a positive attitude, since your children are affected by your moods. The best way to deal with stress is to exercise regularly, maintain a proper diet, get enough rest, and seek balance in your life. If you're feeling sad, it's okay to share some of your sentiments with your children, but let them know that they are not the cause of the problems -- and that good times lie ahead for all of you.
Single Parent Resources
The following resources can provide additional information and support.
(www.completemom.com) Created by author Sheila Ellison (The Courage to Be a Single Mother and The Courage to Love Again), this Web site offers a wealth of parenting information and helps women find or create single-mother support groups in their area.
Parents Without Partners
(www.parentswithoutpartners.org) Established in 1957, this nonprofit organization -- with more than 50,000 members in the U.S. and Canada -- offers educational, family, and social activities through its local chapters. Its Web site provides links to organizations, resources, research, and articles of interest to single parents.
Single Mothers by Choice
(www.singlemothersbychoice.com) Founded in 1981 by Jane Mattes, a psychotherapist and single mother by choice, SMC offers support and information to women who are considering or who have chosen single motherhood, either through conception or adoption.
Women's Institute for Financial Education
(www.wife.org) This nonprofit organization helps women learn to manage their money, invest and save wisely, plan for college and retirement, become "fiscally fit," and more.
Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics; CompleteMom.com; Parents Without Partners; Single Mothers by Choice; the Women's Institute for Financial Education
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