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Roughly 34% of today’s teenagers today are raised by single parents/guardians.
As a child of a single parent, I was able to watch and experience, some of the challenges single parents face. Not having the support of a spouse emotionally or financially was tough on my mom. And while at the time I was a normal ungrateful teenager, I look back with heroic admiration for her efforts to raise, cajole, educate, discipline, feed, clothe, protect, and provide for a child without the help of a spouse. And while I know that having a spouse does not always indicate having a supportive spouse, the challenges of single parents are unique. Here are 7 suggestions to help guide you on your on journey of single parenting.
Don’t Minimize Your Contribution
You are in your child’s best interest and are the single most important person in their life, despite their verbal and nonverbal communication indicating otherwise. It’s a teenager’s job to not let their parents know how much they need them and value their input. Trust that they want you, need you, see you and while they don’t understand everything you’re going through (and do not need to) they see you and appreciate your often lonely and thankless efforts.
Be More Involved in Them than Involving Them in Activities
Young people don’t want more things to do, they want more meaningful interaction with adults. For many single parents, having your kids involved in lots of activities is constructive babysitting. This is true for most parents. But for single parents, especially single moms of boys, it can be easy to make sure they’re involved with positive male role models to make up for what they’re lacking in a consistent father figure. This is a good–no a great–thing. Just don’t allow yourself to begin thinking that those coaches, mentors and other significant adults who make up the village your teenager needs, are more important to your child than you are. Your interaction with them, your involvement in their day to day lives are more important than any activity or program leader.
Be Confident as a Single Parent
“Fake it till you make it.” is generally good advice in parenting. Mirror neurons are especially active in children and teenagers, causing them to pick up on your emotional cues. If you send the message verbally and nonverbally “Everything’s OK and everything’s going to be OK” your child will “mirror” that feeling whether you’re really experiencing that feeling or not. As teenagers grow older their emotional perception is heightened and they’ll call you on it and say “Dad, are things really OK?” or “Mom, you don’t really believe that. You’re just saying that.” Even then, you can smile, letting them know they aren’t totally off base, and validate their perception. This should not, however, be an opportunity for full transparency. The information that stresses you, worries you and troubles you actually cripples your child. Your confidence imparts an immeasurable amount of security to your child.
Create and Maintain Rituals
Human beings need rituals. They give us feelings of order, security and safety. They are predictable. Never before have rituals been as important as they are in today’s unpredictable world. Weekly Church attendance, a short prayer before bedtime, grace before meals, eating doughnuts on Friday morning, watching a certain show together in the evening, popping popcorn on Saturday night are all examples of simple rituals that give teens a sense of security and predictability. Doing them together forms a bond that can be rekindled years later when doing those activities or simply reminiscing about them.
Walk the Parent-Friend Tightrope
In my experience as a child of a single parent and today as a therapist, this is one of the toughest aspects of single parenting. Unlike couples, the single parent, is always balancing their role as parent and friend-even when their child is young. This becomes more prominent during the teen years, as teens grow in their capacity for abstract thought and mature conversation. You will, often without realizing it, begin relying on them for support and companionship. At times your teen will act so maturely you might feel like they’re your best friend. Then, the next day (or minute) they return to being a normal teenager and you’re confused and have to return to the “parent” role.
What helps is to have open conversations with your teenager about your balancing act. It also helps to acknowledge that they too are balancing dual roles and child-friend. Ask them about if and how that is difficult for them. Ask them to let you know when its really a problem. Talking about it helps. Pretending that the dynamic is not there or shouldn’t be there is unhelpful for you and your teen. Parents who honestly walk the parent-friend tightrope and discuss it with their teens are respected even if not liked when they must switch roles.
Young people need to understand the importance of managing money and the value of the possessions and experiences money affords them. At times it is appropriate for them to know when money is tight, which for many single parents, it often is. But, they don’t need to bear the burden financial difficulties. When they know too much about what’s going on financially, especially when things are tough, they will needlessly worry and stress because they don’t fully understand what they can do to help or change the situation.
Develop and Use an Adult Support Network
It always has and always will take a “village” to raise a child. This is even more true today as we don’t live in the geographical village. Seek out other parents that share your values, even if they are not parents of your teen’s friends. Find experienced parents who have raised teens and ask them how they handled similar situations. Find other single parents who understand and validate your experience. Knowing you’re not in it alone can be very helpful.