Some Guidance on Parenting Alone

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An interview with Sue Atkins

The percentage of US births to unmarried women, increasing since the 1940s, has surged in recent years, according to the American Community Survey. Pew Research reports the number of single fathers has increased from 300,000 in 1960, to over 2.6 million in 2011. It seems more and more parents are raising kids solo whether from choice or circumstances out of their control. How best can single parents cope with the demands of meeting their children’s and their own personal needs? What kind of expectations are reasonable for single parents to set for how they care for their children? UK parenting expert, Sue Atkins, shares her insight to support parents that belong to this rising trend. — Laurel Moglen, Managing Web Editor, TMC

What are your top five tips to offer single parents helping them cope with the stressors of parenting alone?

  • It’s really important to set aside some “me time.” That is, time to rest, relax and rejuvenate your energy. Whatever it takes to keep your energy positive, upbeat and relaxed so you have more patience with your children.
  • Make sure you ask for help and get support from a parent or friend. Don’t be too proud to accept help.
  • Stay positive. Don’t speak negatively about your partner in front of your children. If you can stay neutral, in the long term, your children will thank you for it.
  • Plan ahead for big holidays like Christmas and birthdays because you won’t want to be alone. On those big pressure days, it’s so easy to get fed-up and feel sad.
  • When you’re parenting alone, it’s easy to let up on disciplining and setting limits. This might result in a short-term gain (for example, your child stops whining) but the lack of discipline for a long period of time will result in a long-term nightmare. You’re really saving up trouble for ages, and retroactive discipline is very tough. Keep your routines and the children’s routines consistent.

How might the stress of a single parent effect the child?

Kids will pick-up on your stress as a parent, and as a result might become more anxious and may experience increased separation anxiety or begin to have erratic sleep problems. So get support for your needs first, so you are more relaxed and then try this simple exercise with your child. Draw a circle on piece of paper and fill the circle with 3-5 guarantees that you feel you can keep with confidence for your kids. For example, despite mama being alone now, you will stay in your soccer club, your school and see grandma on the weekends. Giving your child consistency allows them to feel safe and reassured as you go through the transition of change. I teach the parents I work with the “One Page Profile Process” where you work on personalizing the changes to support your child in the way they like to feel supported. They feel heard so they feel more relaxed and confident. Sit down with a piece of paper and divide it in two. On one side write down “What’s Working” and on the other side write down “What’s not working” from your child’s point of view. It’s a simple and quick idea but it really increases your child’s sense of security & will help control everyone’s stress.

How can a parent manage their feelings of guilt about having time to themselves?

So many women suffer from guilt – women seem to be born with it. This needs to shift! It’s too heavy and makes parenting feel like a negative responsibility. While it might feel counter-intuitive to be away from your children, it’s so important to do it. Looking after the kids can be so draining. As long as you’re not away all the time – consider time away not only a gift for yourself, but for your kids as well. You come back refreshed, more able to receive all their love and meet their needs.

It’s easy to have overambitious expectations of yourself. To combat this, be more forgiving of the time it might take to meet the goals you’ve set. You also might take up a mantra – a repetitive phrase that comforts you – like “I am grounded, centered, positive and competent ” to help you feel stable.

What are the positives of having that one-on-one relationship?

The bond with your child becomes tight. When you have alone time with your child, allow your child to connect to you in the way they like to connect. Give them the opportunity to tell you what they want to do, and do it.

Knowing the influence we have on our kids, they can help us rise to the challenge of whatever it is we’re facing. They’re watching you closely, and you in turn have the opportunity to be the best you to model for them how to take on the world.

What is the best way for a single parent to date taking into consideration the effect it might have on the child?

  • Keep the dating process gentle. Don’t rush into anything. Be honest with yourself: Is this going somewhere? Or is it a fling? Don’t introduce a short-term relationship or loads of men to your child. It can make him/her feel very insecure.
  • When you reach the appropriate moment of introducing your relationship, do something active – like playing at a park instead of going out to dinner together, when the focus is too much on conversation.
  • Include your love interest in the conversation about meeting the kids. Decide together how much affection you should show. Is holding hands okay? Maybe, depending on the children’s circumstances, that might be too much. The goal is to give the child the opportunity to relax.
  • Allow the introduction to take place for short periods of time over a decent period of weeks. It should be a slow-burning casserole, not a quick blended thing.

Sue Atkins is a parenting expert, writer, speaker, broadcaster and parenting coach and mum as well as the author of the Amazon best selling books Parenting Made Easy – How to Raise Happy Children and Raising Happy Children for Dummies, as well as the author of the highly acclaimed Parenting Made Easy MP3s and Workbooks.


This article was originally publishes August 2013.


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Posted in: Divorce