Take the “Single” Out of Single Parenting

By Chris Lewis, Ed.S., LPC

You know you’re a single parent when:

  • Your day job on the SWAT team is the least stressful part of your life.
  • Planning a night out with friends requires the tactical and personnel resources of a small nation.
  • Which is fine because you can’t afford a night out anyway.
  • The only time you have ‘down time’ is when you are getting a root canal.
  • You dread parent-teacher conferences NOT because you are afraid of what the teacher thinks of your kid.
  • Your oral surgeon won’t take your calls anymore because he insists you absolutely do not need any more root canals no matter what you think.
  • You are overwhelmed with parental guilt.
  • You are overwhelmed with parental guilt. This is not a typo.
  • Knocking over a liquor store starts to look like a viable option for increasing your income. Besides, “three-to-six” in the Big House might be your best shot at a decent vacation.
  • You plan and execute your own Mother’s Day/Father’s Day celebration, and the kids have other plans with Stepmother/Stepfather.

Of course there are other ways to know if you are a single parent, notably the total absence of a parenting partner, but these are just a few handy tips. I know because I have been there. I remember many nights after helping the kids with their homework and putting them to bed, say around 1 a.m., when I felt completely and utterly alone and ended up talking to my electric dishwasher for comfort.

Being a single parent isn’t an easy job, but parenting in any circumstance is the most important job you will ever do. If you are a single parent, I have some suggestions for making sure you get to the end of this little journey with your sanity, and your self, intact.

1. Lose the Guilt
Single parenting has gone from being something that was only acceptable in the case of the death of a spouse, to being downright chic. If there are any of you out there who are still hanging on to the misconception that your children are disadvantaged by having a single parent, it’s time to let that go. It isn’t true. It isn’t helping you, and it isn’t helping your children. If your children sense any shame or guilt on your part about the make-up of their family, and they will, then they will internalize that shame themselves.

Being a parent is an astonishing privilege and an honor, and doing it as a single parent is that much more of an accomplishment. I remember many times walking into my own children’s parent-teacher conferences feeling a sense of shame about my kids being from a “broken home.” It took me awhile to figure out that there wasn’t one thing about our home that WAS broken (with the possible exception of the garbage disposal due to the aftereffects of having been introduced to the business end of a meat tenderizer). On the contrary, my son, my daughter, and I were quite a wonderfully whole family, thank you very much.

Let the ‘single parent’ guilt go if you haven’t already. Trust me, there will be a lot of other things you’ll do as a parent that you can legitimately feel guilty about!

2. If “It Takes a Village,” Then Get One
Single parenting doesn’t have to mean parenting alone. I am a strong advocate of gathering a network of support around you; like-minded parents and people to provide you with encouragement, positive motivation, and not least, extra babysitting! Use the Internet (Craigslist, Meet-Up) to create a group of single parents in your area who meet for social events, group picnics, playdates (try some for the kids, too!), and support groups. Use each other for free babysitting on a rotating basis and plan regular nights out with friends.

Using a network of other single parents not only provides you with emotional and social support, it is a great network for finding resources that have been helpful for other parents; get referrals for pediatricians, tutors, counselors, etc. You will find that by reaching out to others to create a support network, you are also creating a kind of de facto extended family — only one without in-laws — and who couldn’t use a bit more family! Now, speaking of in-laws…

3. Encourage Involvement with Your Children’s Other Parent’s Family
Unless your kids’ other parent comes from an honest-to-goodness abusive or destructive family, encourage them and your children to stay involved with each other. I know this can be hard. You’re no longer with your ex, and they were hard enough to deal with when you were together, but your children’s “other side” is as important to them as your own side. They need to know their extended families on both sides, and holding them back from this involvement is likely to cause resentment toward you.

But here’s the payoff part for you, if you still need one. Grandparents and aunties and uncles are great “auxiliary” parents when you need a break or want to get away with someone else (of an adult and romantic nature, if you know what I mean) in your life. But springing them on your children if they don’t have a relationship already isn’t fair. So develop those relationships if your children are too young to do so on their own, or encourage older children to, and you may well be surprised that your former mother-in-law makes a pretty good Granny to your kids.

That’s it. Try those three things and see if it doesn’t make a difference in whether you feel alone in your single parent role. Get rid of the guilt, get yourself a village, and throw a few former in-laws in there just to liven things up! If that doesn’t work you could try one of my old techniques: Adopt a 130 pound Golden Retriever for company who ends up being an escape artist and costing you hundreds in fines every time he gets his furry behind picked up by the local authorities. I’d go with the other suggestions first if I were you. I did get a lot of human interaction, though, if you consider Animal Control inviting me to swing by the bank and come get Houdini again a date.

Chris Lewis, EdS, LPC, is a therapist who specializes in Marriage Counseling, Family Therapy, and Individual Therapy with adults. She provides Marriage Counseling in Denver, Colorado at Maria Droste Counseling Center.