Parenting is never easy. There is no “job training.” Most parents walk into parenthood with basic information shared with us by friends and relatives, but when it comes to practical experience, we are all clueless. Furthermore, children do not come with instruction manuals. And when the powers-that-be tell us that all children are different, we nod our heads but we do not realize – until we experience two siblings from the same parents who are as different as night and day – that they are brutally serious. The parenting tactics that work with one child may be counterproductive with another.
Single parenting changes all the rules. When you are a single parent, there is no longer anyone with whom to share the joys and tears. The responsibilities fall on one set of shoulders – your own. There is no chance to switch off with someone when it comes to playing the “bad guy.” Trust me when I say, children remember the discipline much longer and with more vivid memories than they do the “good times.” There is only one person to play the role of parent - and it is you.
I raised two daughters as a single parent from ages 4 and newborn. My youngest was a preemie and required special attention and special care for the first few years of her life. I tried to include her older sister in everything we did. I worked hard to establish separate identities for each of my daughters rather than treating them just as sisters. We talked about grades separately, school issues separately, hope and dreams for the future separately. I gave each of them time alone with me so that they would know that they were each special to me in their own way. I experimented with different types of discipline to see which methods worked best with each one. One was incredibly rebellious and the other was always so eager to please. No method worked for more than once with the rebellious child and the other child only needed someone to talk to her and explain the situation. It was very difficult, but I never gave up on either. I worked hard to help the one tame her temper and learn to live within the boundaries of society and I worked hard with the other to teach her not to be a doormat or allow herself to be used in her eagerness to please. My rebellious daughter still, as a young woman, will look at me and exclaim, “You have tried to tell me what to do all of my life!”
Hmmmm. Well, yes, I have. I am her mother. It is my job. When she came into my life, it became my responsibility to teach her right from wrong, how to keep herself safe, how to function in society, and how to develop herself into a healthy, happy, productive adult. So, yes, I have told her what to do most of her life. After all, she is only 21 and, while she is a young woman and legally “grown”, she still has a lot to learn. Our relationship was never intended to be that of best friends. Our relationship is that of mother and daughter. We can be “best friends” on occasion, but she has to understand that when the chips are down, the primary role for me is mother. It is a difficult lesson for both of us.
What is my point in these ramblings? Simple. Just because you get down over the fact that the job of single parenting is extremely difficult; just because your child looks at you and exclaims, “You aren’t fair!” or “You’re mean!” does NOT mean that you are a bad parent. Parenting is a hard, sometimes painful, highly responsible job – but it has amazing rewards that last a lifetime! Single parents must be incredibly strong in order to handle the job of both mother and father. Additionally, they are the main source of discipline and primary source of encouragement for their child(ren). All parents hope that there will be far more laughter than tears, but even in our minds, the memories of the tears will last longer and will be easier to recall than the memories of the laughter. It is simply human nature. So, when you find yourself struggling with the responsibility and the heaviness of being a single parent, take a minute to remind yourself of the laughter. Pull out a scrapbook or photo album and reminisce about happy times with your child(ren). When those children are having trouble remembering happier times, share your memories with them. Just like our children, single parents need encouragement, too. Our children are lucky that they have us to encourage them. Sometimes we must encourage ourselves. Regardless of how hopeless a situation may seem, the truth is that our children will always know – even when they will not acknowledge it – that we love them if we take the time to show them that love. They may not understand when they are young, but when they are grown and dealing with life on their own, they will see the reasoning behind the lessons we have taught and the commitment we gave to them. When you witness their success as adults, know that you contributed to it by being a responsible single parent. Seeing your child as an individual who has become a healthy, happy, productive member of society will be a joyous reward.
Never give up hope! Single parents are incredibly strong! In fact, they are the strongest people I know. May you and your families be blessed.