woman smiling holding daughter on her back

Flying the solo-parenting flag has its own unique challenges

You’ve probably heard the saying: “it takes a village to raise a child”. However, in reality many live without even extended family to assist with child rearing – much less a whole village of helpers. 

For single parents, bringing up children is especially challenging, and throughout the world there’s been an increase in the number of lone parent families in the last few decades. For example, in Britain, lone parents now represent 25 per cent of all families with dependent children, a big change from 8 per cent in 1971. In Australia, the figures are similar: single parent families now make up around 14 per cent of families (up from 7 per cent in the mid-1970s).

A popular media stereotype represents a single family as an unmarried mother, but it’s important to remember single-parent families can also be the result of divorce, death of a spouse, separation or an absent partner; and may also be only a temporary situation. Whatever the reason, single parent families may face unique challenges, but can still function in a healthy, loving way. 

MAKE A PLAN

One of the biggest issues for the single parent is how to approach discipline. Single parents often say they feel it’s more difficult to discipline a child without a partner’s support. But it’s very important to approach discipline in exactly the same way as if you were parenting with someone else.

So, it’s vital to have a game plan and be consistent. That means setting house rules that don’t fluctuate. It may surprise some people to know that children like boundaries. They like limits. Kids thrive on familiarity of a routine at bedtime, at mealtimes or when it’s time to get out of the house in the morning. (And neither adults nor children function well in an environment that’s too chaotic and disorganised). Positive and predictable routines mean that discipline is much easier, because life isn’t full of big battles over little issues.

GET HELP TO MANAGE CONFLICT

This may be easier said than done, especially if negotiating parenting rules and routines with your ex-partner creates conflict. If you’re getting stuck in arguments which go around in circles, this can be very damaging to your children. Initially, perhaps you can agree that it’s best for your children if you should seek advice from a neutral outsider, such as a family counselling centre, a psychologist, friendly doctor, or your child’s teacher, who can point you both in the right direction to get further help. If you both do the same parenting course, even if you aren’t in the same room together, this can at least give you some common understanding and language to help you agree on a parenting plan.

FIND SUITABLE MENTORS

On the other hand, many single parents worry about the lack of a significant male or female influence in the household.  Mothers may be feel this more keenly when they’re raising a son alone, as many fathers do when they’re raising a daughter. Once again, though, this can be an issue even in two-parent families. It’s always important to encourage your child to have role models and mentors to give a perspective from another adult’s point of view. Role models can show children how to behave, and what’s the appropriate thing to do. Having influences of the opposite sex is also important to psychological development.

So, single parents may want to look for opportunities for their children to get to know other trustworthy men or women in the child’s life. (Depending on the situation, everyone may feel more comfortable if a parent or other carer is also present, in the background.) A reliable, trustworthy adult who will remain a part of the child’s life — such as a grandparent, aunt or uncle, good family friend or a sports coach— can serve in a mentoring role. They can also be a great example to, and support for, the child as they grow older.  

KEEP THINGS ON AN EVEN KEEL

A particular challenge for many single parents is the balancing of the child’s need for predictability and stability with the parent’s desire for a new relationship. This could easily become a whole separate blog topic, but suffice to say it’s wise to be slow and cautious in entering into any new relationship, and to avoid introducing a potential new partner to your children too early in the piece. It may be useful to sound out your family and friends for their honest opinions. The difficulties of solo parenting can make the idea of re-partnering more tempting than it otherwise would be, and some research indicates children may be more vulnerable to too many relationship changes than what adults would like to think.

Finally, with financial concerns at the top of many parents’ minds, some may change their parenting style because they are stressed, distracted or irritable.  Again, this applies to many families, but lone parents may be experiencing more financial pressure and have no-one to talk to about it. But it’s important to maintain consistency with your rules and behaviour. Try not to let your budget worries affect your children’s sense of safety, or their confidence in your love and care. Maybe you can team up with some other single parents and provide some support for each other.

TOP TIPS FOR SINGLE PARENTS

  • Have a parenting 'game plan', and be consistent
  • Create and stick to predictable routines
  • Find a way to resolve parenting arguments with your ex, if this is a problem
  • Enlist mentoring support from other adults
  • Talk about your financial worries with someone who can help support you, rather than burdening kids with adult problems.
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