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View November 2008 Issue >>
 

Successful Single Parenting

When raising your children is your responsibility, and yours alone, the difficulties and struggles may seem overwhelming.  Widows and widowers suddenly find themselves being mothers and fathers through no choice of their own.  They never dreamed it would happen to them.  They must care for their children while still grieving the loss of a mate who can't return to help them.

Other men and women become single parents when their partner leaves and refuses to share the responsibility for their children.  They are left feeling abandoned and heartbroken.  There is also perhaps the saddest group of single parents - those who live across town from former spouses who have been abusive or are heavy users of drugs or alcohol.

There is hope, however.  God is a Father to the fatherless and a husband to the husbandless.  Men, the Word of God promises that He will be your sufficiency and your portion.  You have not been abandoned either.  Even although the Lord is there for us and we have the support of our friends and family, there will always be obstacles that need to be overcome as a single parent.  Being aware of these and learning the skills to overcome them, will make the journey as a single parent not only easier, but even enjoyable.

Emotional baggage

There are few tasks that require more courage and strength than single parenting.  It's not just a matter of responsibility.  Challenging tasks become far more difficult when we are weighed down by heavy emotional baggage.  This added weight can prevent you from being an effective parent because all of your energy is being consumed by your past struggles.  Some ‘baggage items’ that might be weighing you down are: self-pity, depression, guilt, fear, economic devastation, anger, envy, exhaustion, loneliness and frustration. 

Most single parents are afflicted with many, or most, of these problems.  There are unfortunately no shortcuts to overcoming such painful obstacles.  Each area must be encountered, explored and left behind.  You no doubt want to raise healthy, well-adjusted children but this can only be done when you are able to focus on them and not yourself.  Your children are the most precious gifts God has given you and they need you now more than ever before.  By dealing with your baggage and reaching out to them, your own healing will be speeded up. Surround yourself with friends you can talk to, make sure you are eating healthily and exercising regularly, study God's Word regularly and don't stop going to church.  Seek help in the areas where you are struggling, spend time with a counsellor you trust.  It is crucial that you deal with your emotional pain so that you can be there for your children when they need you.

A house divided
The single-parent home is still a family and there is no reason in the world for a single-parent home to produce children destined for emotional illness or personal mediocrity.  You can raise healthy, happy children no matter what has happened in the past.

Parents often ask what the greatest gift is that they can give their children.  Gary Richmond, author of ‘Successful Single Parenting’ says that the greatest gift is to show respect to your former mate.  If there is any way in the world the two of you can work together co-operatively in the raising of your children - find it and do it.

Research clearly shows that for some reason children feel responsible for divorces.  There are ways you can make it easier for them to cope in this difficult time:

1. Never demean your partner in front of the children.  Try to say positive things about their other parent because your child loves and cares for them very much, even although that parent may have hurt you.  Children are often torn between their parents and don't say how they really feel for fear of hurting one or the other. 

2.  Let your children know where they can reach you and the other parent (if possible) at all times.

3.  Allow your ex-partner to call your children often and don't complain when it is time for them to visit their other parent.  This only makes children feel guilty for wanting to spend time with their mom or dad.

4.  Don't give in to the temptation to avoid discipline.  It is natural to think that your children won't want to be with you if you correct them for doing something wrong. But nothing could be further from the truth.  They won't respect you if you don't discipline them.

5.  Never use your children as a ‘news-service’ to find out what the ex-spouse is doing.  Your children are not spies and should never be treated as such.

6.  Try and keep the same rules in the two households, where possible.  Bed times and other restrictions should be the same.  Maintaining consistency helps children deal with the change much easier.

Getting the job done
Trying to fill the role that your ex-partner used to fill, is one of the most difficult aspects of single parenting.  Things such as mowing the lawn or simple DIY tasks around the home (for moms) or tasks like cooking and cleaning (for dads).

The first thing you need to remember is that you simply cannot do everything well.  If you try, you will spread yourself so thin that even the things you're best at will have mediocre results.  Do the best you can and don't worry about not being perfect.

Secondly, look for substitutes who will handle tasks that your partner used to perform - employ a gardener or a cook for instance.  Don't try to do everything yourself.

Never enough by the end of the month
As a single-parent family you cannot maintain the same standard of living you once enjoyed as a complete family.  You need to remember this from the outset.  Although it will take some adjustment, you must fight the urge to make more debt to simply keep up your past lifestyle.  Do not be manipulated by your children or feel guilty if they can't have everything that they used to.  Buying them ‘stuff’ is not going to make them feel any better about the loss of their parent.

No-one knows your situation better than God.  If you are faithful with your money, He will provide for you. Single-parent mothers are particularly vulnerable to the threat that they are not going to make it financially. It is very easy when you are stuck on the side of the road with a flat tyre, to think that having a man in your life again would make everything easier.  The truth is that at this critical time in your life the One you should be depending on is the Lord.

Don't try and work out your problems with your own schemes and solutions.  Pray about every unique situation and ask for God's wisdom with your finances.  It won't be easy, but putting God first and spending wisely will ensure your financial success in the future.

Wounded lambs
Your children are going to be hurt by the loss of their other parent; this is unavoidable.  But they can rise above their hurts and wounds dramatically if given the right environment to do so.

Your job is not to heal your children.  Only God can do that.  But you can provide them with tools to cope with life. First you need to know what they are up against.  They are wounded lambs and they have been hurt in many areas simultaneously. If you can identify their sources of pain you can start to help them.  In the end, if dealt with correctly, their wounds can become their greatest source of strength.

Sources of pain:
1.  Divorce will leave your child with the inner feeling that their world is uncertain and unpredictable.

2. Divorce robs children of their fondest hope, namely ‘And they lived happily ever after’. The devastation of this dream can lead to a series of disappointments.

3.  Divorce is a process and not an event, so there will be a steady chain of painful events your children will need to deal with.

4.  When parents are suffering and dealing with their own pain, they often neglect the children’s needs and this leaves them feeling unloved and abandoned.

These painful experiences can have devastating consequences.  The children may have emotional or physical problems; they can start acting rebelliously and they could act out in anger in various ways.  Later on in life their own marriages may be affected if their wounds aren't dealt with effectively.

In ‘Successful Single Parenting’ Gary Richmond gives detailed advice on how to help your children deal with their pain, depending on how old they are.  All children in a divorce situation (and this is also true for children coping with the death of a parent) experience fear, confusion and anger.  These emotions are expressed predominantly at specific ages:  Children from birth to age 5 are dominated by fear; children ages 6 through 12 feel confused and chaotic; children and young adults ages 13 to 25 or older are dominated by anger.  This is helpful for parents to know because then you can care for your children by touching them according to their specific needs.

All is not lost
Good parenting makes all the difference in the world.  The adjusted children of responsible single parents are proving to do very well, and don't let anyone tell you differently.  Just take it one day and one step at a time. 

I leave you with the final words of Gary Richmond:

"Although you may ask all the right questions and memorise all the right answers, there is no magic formula for successful single parenting.  And most assuredly, nothing can really help you deal with single parenthood's demands, hurts, obstacles and challenges unless you choose to be obedient to God's Word. 

With all my heart, I appeal to you to wholeheartedly commit your past, your present and your future to the nail-scarred hands of the One who created you, died for you and lives to intercede for you.  Without Him, you can do nothing.  With Him all things are possible!"

This article is based on the book, ‘Successful Single Parenting’ by Gary Richmond.  Published by Harvest House, Focus on the Family. 

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