Single parents wear lots of different hats: chef and chauffeur, breadwinner and bread buyer. Balancing the responsibilities of single parenting can lead to unique challenges. Never fear! We've gathered your most common single-parenting dilemmas and brought them to our panel of experts. Read on to find real-world solutions to your most pressing problems.
Dilemma: I work full-time and spend my non-working hours running kids to and from practices and games and trying to fit in basic errands. I feel like I never get quality time just to hang out with my kids!
Solution: "Focus on quality over quantity, says Kate Roberts, Ph.D., licensed psychologist and family therapist in the Boston area. "Choose two to three points of time during the day to connect with your kids such as at breakfast, dinner, and tuck-in." You don't need to play dolls or kick the soccer ball around for an hour. Shorter activities, such as playing a card game or coloring a picture, can take just a few minutes of your time while building a bond with your child. Seth Meyers, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, recommends designating family time each week. "Have your kids help give the time a name like Fun Club," Dr. Meyers says. Choose non-electronic activities (no cell phones-this means you too!) and instead do something around the neighborhood. "The point is to talk, connect, and make lots of good eye contact," Dr. Meyers says.
Dilemma: Now that I'm the sole breadwinner, I'm constantly stressed about making ends meet.
Solution: "This can be a great opportunity to teach your kids to value simple pleasures in life over material things," says Carole Lieberman, M.D., a psychiatrist and author in Beverly Hills, California. "Admit to your kids that you need to tighten the belt a little, now that there's less money coming into the home." Make a point to do fun family activities that don't cost a lot--or any--money. Play at the park, watch movies on TV, and cook meals at home. If money is tight, you need to spend less everywhere--not just on the kids. This means fewer cappuccinos and holding off on getting the latest phone model. "Regardless of how much kids ask for material things, what they really care about is how stressed their parents are," she says. "Ultimately, happy and connected parents make happy kids. As long as basic needs are met, and kids know that you are doing all you can, they can accept the reality."
Dilemma: When I have a stressful day at work or with my toddler, I find myself complaining about it to my teenage daughter. I don't want to burden her, but it's hard not to confide in her when she's the only one there to listen.
Solution: Everyone needs a confidant. But when you share your emotional burdens with your kids you are asking them to carry the weight of your fears, or insecurities on top of their own. "One of my greatest pet peeves is parents who don't cultivate friendships of their own and exploit their children as friends instead," Dr. Meyers says. This isn't fair to your child, and it's not helpful to you, since a child can't offer the support or advice that a peer or mentor can. Be proactive about finding the proper social supports in your life. Call a friend, join a single parent support group, look for single parent chat boards, or search for a Meetup.com activity in your area. Everyone needs an emotional support system, but your child shouldn't be the one to provide that.
Dilemma: Trying to stay on top of the kids' sports practices, appointments, and homework as they switch back and forth between my house and my ex's is exhausting! I feel like I'm always dropping the ball.
Solution: First, cut yourself some slack. "Accept that sometimes every parent is going to drop the ball," Dr. Meyers says. Then take steps to get organized. "Keep a big calendar on the refrigerator to write everything down on, blocking out the time your kids are with your ex and noting all their activities," Dr. Lieberman suggests. "It's also a good idea to e-mail your ex every Sunday with your understanding of the coming week's schedule. Keep it simple, as though you were sending a memo to a colleague." Or consider going digital and using an online calendar service such as Google Calendar that lets you create different calendars, share them with others, and allow multiple parties to add and delete events. This allows you to have personal and work calendars for yourself and one that you co-manage with your ex. Since it's online it can be viewed from smartphones, tablets, or computers--wherever family members may be. Finally, see where you can delegate. "Don't feel like you have to do everything for your kids," Dr. Roberts says. List all the tasks that need to be done each week and assign your kids to take responsibility for the age-appropriate jobs to lighten the load.
Doing It All
Dilemma: I get so jealous when I see my girlfriends who get to ask their husbands to fix the leaky faucet or take care of the kids when they are sick. How can I do it all without losing my mind?
Solution: When you need help, you have three options: Learn it, ask for help, or pay for it. You may have no idea how to put oil in your car, but a quick search on YouTube can provide dozens of how-to videos. If you're motivated, put on that learner's cap and dive in. But, Dr. Roberts says, "Trying to be good at everything will drive anyone crazy." If the task is beyond your skill or interest, call in favors from friends and family members. For the occasional leaky faucet, most people will be willing to lend a hand. And if that doesn't work, there's no shame in paying for it. Ask for handyman recommendations from your friends or social media contacts or check listings on Craigslist or Angie's List.
Dilemma: I'm a single dad and work full-time. How can I possibly find time to date?
Solution: "While your children are very young, especially from birth to five years, it may be easiest on you and your kids to hold off on serious dating until you have less immediate demands," Dr. Meyers recommends. "If you need occasional romantic socialization, causal dating once or twice per month will help to meet some of your emotional needs," he says. If you have a shared custody arrangement, plan dates when your kids are at your ex's house or hire a babysitter. Be cautious introducing any dates to your kids, Dr. Roberts says. "Meeting partners too early can cause kids unnecessary stress. Save their emotions for the true one, not a fleeting romance."
Dilemma: I feel guilty that I couldn't make it work with my kid's father and I resort to trying to "buy" my child's forgiveness with trips and toys. How can I move beyond the guilt?
Solution: "Using money or trips to get your child to like you will work temporarily and backfire later because your behavior has taught your child the wrong lessons," Dr. Meyers says. "Guilt is an emotion that is useful only if you figure out the root of the problem and then do something to resolve it." Consider talking with a friend or seeing a therapist to help you work through the guilt if it's too hard to move beyond on your own. Remember, Dr. Roberts says, "kids are resilient to divorce," and although they may like the gifts and trips at first, they'll wise up to the fact that you are trying to buy their love and forgiveness. "Resolve your guilt and commit to being the best single parent you can," Dr. Roberts says.
Dilemma: My ex and I share custody of our sons, but their mom has very different rules at her house than I do. I'm always hearing "Well, at Mom's house we get to..." It has become a battle.
Solution: "Acknowledge that having two houses with different rules is confusing." Dr. Meyers says. To reduce confusion, he suggests making a list of behaviors that are okay and not okay for your house in a family meeting. Have your kids help write the rules down and decide where to post them. This is also a great time to explain why rules are important to you. "You can explain that you want them to do their homework before they can watch TV at night because you value education," Dr. Lieberman says. Also, don't take children's remarks too personally. "Kids, not intentionally, will try to get what they want by comparing parents to each other," Dr. Roberts says. "Just say, 'I'm glad you're happy there. Here's what needs to happen here.' They will stop when they realize you're not caving."
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