So, you’re a single parent. Take heart: You are not alone.
It is ever more common for a parent—father or mother—to end up facing the challenges of life without a mate but with children. In the United States, single-parent households more than tripled between 1990 and 2002. Now, almost 3 in 10 American children under age 18 live with only one parent. Fully 10 million women lead their households alone; 2.3 million men face the same challenge. The trend is similar in other Western nations.
Raising a family is a tough job even for two parents. Being a single parent—acting as both dad and mom—is daunting and demanding. Yours is not an easy task.
Be assured. You can do it—and do it successfully!
Embrace Your New Life
Adjustment to single life as a parent is difficult. The responsibility of acting as both mother and father can leave you physically and emotionally drained. Negative emotions creep in. Single parents often battle loneliness, frustration, envy and bitterness. As a result, many people in this situation are overworked, tired, easily upset and irritable. There are even greater challenges for those recovering from a spouse’s death or bitter divorce.
However, recognize that wishing your life was different will never help you do a good job as a parent. Embracing your new life—accepting your status—is the first step to success. Yes, this is a big challenge. How do you do it?
Look at the Apostle Paul’s example. He had to face many hardships in his Christian life. He was single. There were times he most likely desired a mate (e.g. 1 Corinthians 9:5), but his difficult task of taking care of the Gentile congregations prevented him from doing so. He did not focus on what he lacked—a mate. Paul worked diligently to get his mind off himself. He focused on his job. In the end, he was extremely successful as a type of father—a wonderful parent to God’s people (1 Corinthians 4:15-16).
How did he do this?
He stated, “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11). Strive for contentment. Find every measure of happiness, no matter how little, with your single status. This will enable you to focus on your job of parenting. Do everything possible to shift the focus off yourself. This kind of contentment comes with prayer, study, meditation and fasting.
Esteem Your Child’s Needs
Recognize that children in single-parent families are also suffering. The problems of adjusting can be just as traumatic, if not more so, for a child. The loss of a father is tough for a boy. A mother could have a hard time valuing her son’s hobbies. Who can measure the loss of a mother for a girl? A daughter may soon recognize that Dad doesn’t grasp her feminine needs. Likewise, major problems also result from the lack of attention of the parent of the opposite sex.
Although society has promoted alternative families for years, key experts have recently come to recognize that the care of both parents is necessary to completely fulfill the emotional needs of a child. There are marked disadvantages for the children of single parents. Sara McLanahan, a Princeton University sociologist, wrote, “Children who grow up with only one of their biological parents (nearly always the mother) are disadvantaged across a broad array of outcomes. … [T]hey are twice as likely to drop out of high school, 2.5 times as likely to become teen mothers, and 1.4 times as likely to be idle—out of school and out of work—as children who grow up with both parents. Children in one-parent families also have lower grade point averages, lower college aspirations and poorer attendance records. As adults, they have higher rates of divorce. These patterns persist even after adjusting for differences in race, parent’s education, number of siblings and residential location” (American Prospect, June 23, 1994). We mention these facts not to discourage you but to show the importance of seeing to the needs of your child.
Understanding and then facing the disadvantages for your child will help you minimize potential negative effects. The best way for you to get your mind off yourself is to focus your attention on your child. All Christians are admonished to put others’ needs before their own (Philippians 2:3-4). Certainly Christian single parents must place the highest priority on their children.
Recognize that neglect is the root cause of all the disadvantages listed above. Most single parents—especially mothers—struggle with financial and work-related difficulties. Although there are many programs available for you, training and updating work skills can be an intimidating challenge. It is time consuming. Even then, reentering the job market can be a major hurdle to jump. Making ends meet is generally still difficult, even with a good job. Having a job increases the costs for a family. Transportation, clothing and day care can eat into an already tight budget. Besides day care, many single parents employ cleaning and cooking services. It is not surprising then that many single parents end up working overtime or two jobs. Many single parents make the mistake of thinking that money and things make up for the loss of the second parent. Because of such thinking, some place so much importance on the work of earning a living that they neglect other very necessary things such as helping with school work, spending time in doing chores or just plain discussion about the day’s events. Many children of single parents complain that parents just are not there for them.
It is all too easy to miss the real needs of a child. All children (with either two or one parent) need attention more than money and things. There are times when your child’s need for attention must take priority over finances and budgets.
Here is the point. You simply cannot do it all by yourself. So, the next step you need to take is to get help!
Daily ask God for help—to protect you and your children from accident and illness, for the power to fight discouragement. The Bible contains special promises you can claim as a single parent. For example, Psalm 146 states, “The Lord … relieveth the fatherless and widow …” (verse 9). Psalm 68 states that God is “A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows …” (verse 5). Psalm 10 states that God is “the helper of the fatherless” (verse 14). Wise King Solomon wrote, “Remove not the old landmark; and enter not into the fields of the fatherless: For their redeemer is mighty; he shall plead their cause with thee” (Proverbs 23:10-11). God is the mighty Redeemer of widows and orphans. God will use all of His might to defend and sustain you. In the short run, you may suffer as all humans do. But in the long run, God always takes care of things—even if some try to mistreat you.
These special promises hinge on the condition that you put God and His way of life first in your life. Trust God to provide for you. Seek God’s guidance in every situation you encounter. Ask God for extra help to face your problems—head on—with courage. When you go to God, expect God to bless you—for that is exactly what God plans to do.
Seek the advice of others who may be able to help you with specific problems. Solomon declared, “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14). When facing financial problems, you may need to meet with a financial professional. If you have small children, you may require the help of a housekeeper—someone to cook and clean. Find a lawyer you can trust to help with legal problems. In addition, observe the good examples of others around you. Learn to lean on the help of strong, godly families. Many families would be happy to include you and your children in activities.
Don’t hesitate to seek out the sound advice of your extended family and friends. Learn to ask for help when you truly need it. The most successful single parents are the ones who keep in touch with their minister, family and friends.
Being a single parent has its handicaps. You need a fully developed support system. Sometimes a simple chat with an understanding ear is all you need to get up and running again. Trusted friends who listen without forcing their advice or opinions on you are a precious treasure. When you find such a friend, seek his or her help. The solutions for many difficulties come while simply talking about your feelings. Always tell your friend how thankful you are for his or her understanding ear. And don’t forget to return the favor.
The roles of a single parent are many. Being a mother, father, homemaker, breadwinner, bookkeeper and nurse can pull you in many different directions—all at the same time! The key to your effectiveness lies in organization.
Single parents can tend to allow life to get out of control. Control your life. Get organized. If you have not done so, set a schedule for yourself and your children. Get the whole family involved. Start by making a daily list of things to be done. Be sure to establish strong priorities and to set realistic goals. Remember, your schedule is a guide. Allow for unplanned occurrences that can divert planned activities. Yet, work at sticking to the schedule. Having a schedule will give your family structure and direction. Both attributes create an environment of security.
If possible, schedule your children to help with the cooking, cleaning and laundry. This will not only ease your burden, it will help them learn responsibility and feel needed and useful.
Organize your records. Make a financial budget and stick to it. Keep your home environment in order. Because of a harried life, some have the tendency to allow a home to fill with clutter. Although it may be a real challenge, give away, sell or simply throw out unnecessary and unused items. Find a storage place for everything, and then be sure to put things away when finished with them.
Scheduling time with the children must be a top priority. Be aware that if your child has lost a parent, he or she can crave your attention more than normal, especially at first. All children experience feelings of insecurity when a parent dies. All children experience rejection when parents divorce. You will need to develop real empathy for your child. By supporting your children, you will teach them to support each other and eventually other people. In time, each member of a strongly united family grows to give and receive emotional and moral support. When one is down, the others step in to provide strength and encouragement.
How do you build this kind of closeness?
Single-parent families must share regular meals together. Few families in our Western society eat any meals together. Meal times should provide family togetherness, security and time for communication. Turn off the television during meals. Use the time wisely to share thoughts, feelings and concerns. As the parent, lead all discussions. Draw out your more reserved children. Ask specific questions: What was the most exciting part of your day? What good thing happened to you? Tell your children how your day went. If you are open and honest, your children will learn to be the same way. Be sure to let your children tell you what is on their minds. Learn about their interests. Then guide and align all interests to be in concert with God’s laws and ways.
Listen carefully for problems at school, whether related to studies or other students. You can help prevent poor grades by spending time with your children while they do homework. Don’t be ashamed to seek remedial help if you see problems. Build a good working relationship with your child’s teacher, who can be an extra arm for you to provide positive help for your child.
Attend as many school activities as possible. Your personal involvement will bring much encouragement to your child. In addition, there is no better way to get a good view of your child and his or her friends. Learn about your child’s friends. Make your home a center for youth activity. Allow your children to invite their friends home when you are present, and monitor all activities. Direct your children away from associates who could have a negative effect on them. Teach your children to choose friends wisely.
Maximize your weekends with your children. Reserve Sundays for family time. Work together around the home. Take care of missed cleaning chores, or use the day for grocery shopping and preparing for the week ahead. As time and budget permits, use the day for family recreation and fun. Family picnics, hikes and sporting activities provide a refreshing diversion from family stress and strain.
Realize there are two ways to approach your situation. You can be negative, which only makes a tough situation more difficult. This will destroy the happiness of you and your children, and sap your strength when you need it most. Obviously, the far better approach is to be positive. This will energize you to meet all the challenges you face.
A major threat to your success as a single parent is bitterness. No matter what the cause is of your single parent status, don’t succumb to anger, envy and resentment. You are not the first single parent. In this present evil world, you will not be the last. Others before you have done a truly marvelous job in raising balanced and stable children. You can do the same.