According to the organization Parents without Partners, as of 2000 an estimated 13.5 million single parents had custody of 21.7 million children younger than age 21 whose other parent lived somewhere else. The proportion of the population made up by married couples with children decreased from 40 percent in 1970 to 24 percent in 2000, and one-parent families numbered more than 12 million in 2000. Single-parent households increased from 9 percent in 1990 to 16 percent of all households by 2000. In 2008, that number increased steadily.
Therefore, many are thrust into the category of being a single parent in a moment and the need for education, encouragement and support is imperative to the health, happiness and future of the everyone involved. There are, however, certain things a single parent can do to make life not only more bearable, but enjoyable and even joyful. Also, there is support that others can bring to single-parent homes that will enable the children to grow up strong and healthy in every aspect.
The first thing to remember is that whether or not you are a single-parent home or a two-parent household, you are a family, not part of a family. I well remember soon after I was widowed that I came to realize that my baby and I were a family and she needed traditions, structure and security for her stability and for our happiness as a family. Every evening we sat at the table, said grace and ate together. We would chat and clean up together. We would go out to eat. At Christmastime and other holidays, I continued traditions established by my late husband and myself and also created new ones.
Traditions bring togetherness and create memories. Some traditions are as simple as family nights with games and pizza, making cookies, attending church, a picnic in a park or other little everyday things such as eating breakfast or dinner together. Reading books to little ones or older children is an awesome way to get "television mush brains" to come to life and do what brains are meant to do: Imagine. When my kids were small, I taught them that one rule of a great book party is simply this: Snuggle. Some of my kids' favorite memories are of them sitting on pillows cuddled up with me having what we called a "book party." We'd stack up their favorite books and read, read and read.
Single parents can create togetherness by reading. And though the books will change as the years roll by, children are never too old to be read to as a family. It is the everyday simple moments that children will remember far into the future more than Disney World vacations and expensive trinkets. Since money is usually an issue for most single-parent homes, I include the thought of simple pleasures to help you to alleviate the guilt that most single parents have about not being able to give their children the world on a silver platter. Simple living teaches children about what really matters: Faith, family and friends.
Even if you cannot be with your children all the time, you can make the time count by traditions and the togetherness they bring. Time limitations are usually an issue for single parents, but making sure your children are well cared for when you are not with them will also ease your mind and alleviate the mom guilt issue. I have news for you. Mom guilt is a plague that accompanies every baby born onto the face of the earth. Moms young and old experience it and it does not evaporate when the child is grown. We need to do some replacement thinking and begin today anew, and remember that every day is fresh with no mistakes in it, and leave the rest with God.
Security in the life of a child comes from realizing that they do not have to be the mini-adult in the home, you know the "little man around the house" cliche. No, children are children and should be free from the too-big responsibility of trying to shoulder something they are not meant to shoulder until they are grown. That, however does not mean that everyone does not do his or her share. A family works together and that's how it rolls. Age-appropriate chores do a lot for a child's self-esteem and helps a mom from becoming a "Martyr Mom" by trying to do all and be all to everyone. A sense of belonging comes from everyone pulling together and doing their part.
A single parent, as well as any parent, can have a relationship with their child. The secret is simple: Enjoy your child. Look into their eyes and smile. Tell them you enjoy them as well as love them. Listen attentively and answer appropriately.
One of my kids talks more than the others. She knows when I am really listening and just giving the ol' "really," "OK," or "hmm, that's nice, dear." It's hilarious how "right on" she always was about my actually hearing her. It's something we can all work on and are we not going to get it right every moment. But listening is important to any relationship. I heard two decades ago, "Rules without relationship equals rebellion." Therefore, with that in mind, any time I sense a break in my relationship with one of my kids, I work on that relationship. We go out to eat just the two of us, play a game, sit and talk, throw a ball, or simply do something they want to do.
As for those of us wanting to support single parents, the best answer I can think of is to pray for them. Criticism of a single parents is common and counter-productive due to the guilt factor. That does not mean adding some helpful support when asked, but make sure it is requested and tactfully given. Remember, single parents are usually trying hard to just keep their head above water, are simply in survival mode trying to raise healthy kids. Many singles have been through much hurt, and ridicule only pours salt into their wounds thus making it harder on the little people in their homes. Offers to help with certain things, such as plumbing, car repairs, or just picking up their children is like offering gold to most single moms and dads. When I was on the board at a church years ago in regards to widows, I compiled a list of reputable places and people these new widows could go for help with banking, car repairs, accounting, counseling, investments, baby-sitting, plumbing etc.
Single parents take heart. You are not alone. I sincerely know that our father in heaven looks out for you and is loving you and your precious children. He is your constant and will be your guide. Sandra Aldrich, popular author and speaker says in her book, "From One Single Mother to Another," "One of my pet peeves is: People who constantly refer to single-parent families as 'broken homes.'" Many of us feel that through God's help and a great deal of personal effort our homes have been healed, even if the healing didn't come overnight.
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the lord, "plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11
(Kimberly Short-Wolfe, MA, is a homeschool mom and a counselor and chaplain for Cornerstone Christian Counseling. You may contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org or call: 304-637-7018 or 304-940-9362.)