Being a parent is a tough job. It requires dedication, commitment, and complete selflessness. It’s not a job you take a break from and the demands are more challenging than anything you’ve ever been asked to do in your life. I’m not going to paint a rosy picture of parenting where children adore you and obey your every command. That’s not what parenting is like at all. Children have their own free will and the desire to do what they want rather than what’s best for them (they’re sort of like adults aren’t they?). Parenting involves a huge investment of time and love to teach children how to live well.
Being a parent with someone as committed to raising children as you are is important. However, we live in a broken world where sometimes people die or leave home because being a parent isn’t what he or she wanted. You’re left alone as a single mom or dad. Being a single parent is not ideal, can be difficult, and often leaves you feeling lonely. I’m not an advocate for choosing single parenthood. Quite frankly it turns people into commodities. Dads are considered nothing more than sperm donors, mom’s nothing more than baby producing machines, and it usually means someone wants children without the full range of commitments and family configurations important for raising them. The individual is in love with the idea of being a parent so the child is a “product” they believe they must have. Single parenthood shouldn’t be something you choose, rather it is the result of broken fractured relationships experience by wounded fallen people. It’s never ideal, rather it’s something you overcome.
Often people believe children raised in single parent homes are in a very bad place. They say things like, “If you’re a single mom or dad your child is going to suffer and won’t grow up as well off as a child born into a family with two parents.” Well, that’s not true. Being a single parent isn’t the end of the world and many people raised in this type of family are very successful. While not the ideal situation God can still do wonderful things and take broken situations and make them whole. Yet God needs you, the single parent to work with him. His grace will build upon your limited struggling nature to be a good mom or dad. Family psychologists have identified seven characteristics of successful single parents I want to share with you in this article. If you commit yourself to adopting these characteristics your children have as much a chance of being successful as any other child being raised by a dual parent family:
- Accept the responsibility and challenges of being a single parent – You’re it. You need the determination to do the best you can under varying circumstances for your family. There’s no one else to pick up the pieces of parenting, you’re it. While friends, extended family, and other social institutions like church can help in a number of ways, they can never be the parent of your child, that’s your job. Accepting this fact focuses your parenting efforts and keeps you from slipping into the error of letting your parents or romantic partner become the parent to your child. it’s always your responsibility and the challenges are yours.
- Parenting is your first priority. You’re going to have to balance family, work, romantic relationships, personal needs, etc to do this well. Your role as parent has to take priority ALL THE TIME! If you’re finding work responsibilities are keeping you from being with your children at the most important times of their lives, change that. I know you’re lonely and want to go on that date or spend time with a romantic partner you just met but you have to resist that drive. These needs can be met, you don’t have to give it all up, but they’re met AFTER your responsibilities as a parent are met. Parenting is your first priority.
- Use consistent nonpunitive discipline. Children need discipline. Structure is important. If you don’t set up the boundaries of a good life and teach your children going outside these boundaries leads to consequences, society will teach them in much more punitive way. By consistently helping your children develop character and positive behavior patterns while disciplining them when they break established rules you’re helping them flourish and become better people. Children must learn to master themselves otherwise the world will beat them into submission and isolation. Love your children enough to tell them no, give them boundaries and rules, and provide the punishments (and rewards) for the behaviors they exhibit. In the end, like dual parent families, you want to use an authoritative style of parenting that’s loving, firm, and involves open communication (which leads to the 4th characteristic).
- Create an environment of open communication. Successful single parents value and encourage children to express how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking. They don’t have another parent to share and discuss what’s going on in their lives with so they really need to feel they have a safe place to talk. They also need to see you’re willing to discuss your thoughts and feelings with them. Be careful when you do so, remember, they’re your children, not your emotional support system. They have to know their parent is okay, willing to share what’s going on in his or her life, but also not burdening them with the responsibility to make everything okay.
- Value a child’s individuality. Each child is going to be their own person. Single parents who encouraged their children to develop their own interests and goals flourished and were successful. Sometimes it’s easy to simply encourage the same interests and goals among the children so there are less places to go, interests to investigate, and activities drawing precious time away from you. However, when children are encouraged to grow and pursue their own interests they develop as individuals feeling connected to and supported by their families.
- Single parents need to self-nurture. While I’ve emphasized single parents need to make parenting their first priority, second in line of things to do is self-nurturing. You need to maintain the independent self you’ve achieved through activities you enjoy and friendships you’ve made. There’s a spiritual maxim I’ve heard a number of times that says, “You cannot give what you do not have.” If you’ve depleted yourself to the point there’s nothing left to give, you can’t be there for your children. They need a healthy, happy, flourishing parent because you’re all they have.
- Maintain a dedication to rituals and traditions. Successful single parents create family rituals and traditions that become part of the rhythm of the family. Develop rituals and traditions occurring daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. Every night might include bedtime stories or watching a favorite television show together, every week might include going to church or out for dinner, every month might include a trip to the movie theater, and every year might include something special around Thanksgiving or Christmas. Traditions and rituals are important for giving life a natural rhythm that can be comforting and signal a type of stability we all crave. It’s in these family traditions and rituals we make memories with our children. Life is about memories and as a single parent the responsibility is yours to create them for you and your children!
Certainly there’s no hard and fast set of rules to guarantee success as a parent. People are too complex to establish exact cause and effect relationships between what we do and how children develop. However, in-depth interviews by two academics (Olson and Haynes) found these seven characteristics of single parent families produced happy, healthy, flourishing children. Life is never perfect and sometimes things don’t work out as we want, but being a single mom or dad is not a death blow to your children’s well-being. Its simply a challenge requiring you to do things differently. With a little prayer and a great deal of intentional love on your part you can and will have a great family!