In 2013, single moms ran 25% of homes in the United States. Another 6% of the families, meanwhile, only had single fathers. Of course, this number has continued to rise since then. Even though single parenting is becoming increasingly more common, it doesn’t mean that it is getting any easier.
If you have been a single parent for a while, then you know how true it is. If you have recently become a single parent, you are likely just learning about the challenges and how to balance life, work, and family while trying to be a good mom or dad.
Nevertheless, do not despair — there is still hope. Single parenting can be done, and your child can grow up to be happy and prosperous.
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How Single Parenting Affects a Child
It was once highly stigmatized to be the child of a single parent. The terms “illegitimate” and “broken home” were often attached to them. With the increase of single-parent homes, though, the situation has become more normal than ever.
There is often a robust parent-and-child bond in single-parent homes because it is usually just the two of them against the world.
Another positive thing is that children in single-parent homes become more responsible and mature compared to their peers from dual-parent families. After all, they get household chores out of necessity to help their mom or dad.
The adverse effects of coming from a single-parent household are consistent across different studies.
One research explains that children from such homes are more likely to have emotional struggles, drop out of school, and avoid pursuing higher education.
Still, it doesn’t mean that all children from single parents fall into this position. It truly dependents on the overall support that they have gotten from loved ones. Hence, single moms and dads need to set up a support system for themselves and their kids so that extended family and friends can offer help as needed.
Another study found that family relationships were the best predictor of a child’s success in academia and other endeavors. It’s true because the parent-child relationship is very important.
Kids need to be in a loving, caring, and nurturing environment that boosts their social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development. That’s easy to achieve, whether one or both parents are present. (Try this helpful article: 11 Smart Pieces of Advice to Help You Thrive as a Single Mother)
A Single Parent’s Role in the Family
Someone becomes a single parent happens because of a variety of reasons, with divorce, separation, and death on top of the list. Their life is not easy since they need to be an income earner, household manager, disciplinarian, parent, tutor, maid, chauffeur, and loving parent all at once.
Wearing many hats is not a cakewalk for anyone. Playing many life roles while also caring for one or more children takes courage, effort, and commitment. (Assuming you need help in that department, check this out: 13 Ways Working Moms Can Balance Work and Family (And Be Happy))
Often, people don’t choose to raise kids on their own — it’s more of a result of an unfortunate situation. It doesn’t mean that it can’t be done, though. It merely entails that if you have recently become a single parent, you can set up your life for success in this situation by doing some planning.
How To Survive Single Parenting
1. Have Realistic Expectations
If you set the bar too high, you are bound to be disappointed. Set your expectations realistically when it comes to single parenting.
For example, if you are working two jobs to make ends meet, then being able to attend every soccer game and practice of your child may not be realistic. You may have to ask a friend or family member to get them to and from sports events.
You will be there when you can and when your work schedule allows, but knowing that it won’t always work out as expected helps you to be practical in life. Nonetheless, you need to discuss realistic expectations with your child, so they understand why you can’t always be there for them, even when you want to be.
2. Do Your Best
Every parent needs to let go of their pursuit of perfection. This is especially true when you have more on your plate than moms or dads in dual-parent homes. You can’t do it all correctly. You need to let some things go and do your best in different situations.
Decisions should be made to help make your life more streamlined with your top priorities. For instance, you may have to skip making home-made lunches for your child and give them lunch money instead because it gives you one less thing to do in the mornings.
Try to be flexible. You are only one human being, after all. Just do your best to focus on your kids more than anything else.
They don’t need the best clothes or most fabulous toys that money can buy when they know they have you.
3. Stay Guilt-Free
Most parents tend to feel guilty when it comes to the children, regardless of the situation.
Well, you need to ease up and let go of that guilt because there is no such thing as a perfect parent. Something has to give, especially when you are the only one raising your kids.
Don’t get sucked into feeling guilty because you can’t do everything on your own. Yes, you may miss some games. Yes, your child cannot have whatever they want all the time. But this is life, and it is not always fair. Although it is sad, it is not the end of the world.
If your child had a choice, they will choose their parent over any video game or material item any day of the week. Hence, you should not entertain guilt feelings anymore. Stay focused on the importance of your relationship and the fact that you are trying your mightiest to be a great parent and provider.
4. Have a Positive Attitude
Our children feed off of our emotions. The number one role model for a child is their parent. Therefore, parents must be conscious of their attitude and approach toward life.
Life will get complicated, and there will be bumps along the way. An old saying goes like this: “Life is 10% of what happens to us and 90% our reaction.”
Say, you find out that your bonus from work is not what you expected it to be. You will have to alter your vacation plans because of that and break the news to your kid. One positive way to react to the situation is by saying, “That’s okay! At least we still get to go on vacation somewhere that’s on our bucket list. Perhaps we can visit the other place next year.”
If we choose to react to challenges positively, we are a good role model for our child. Keep the attitude positive so that your child can emulate your attitude.
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5. Develop a Support System
As mentioned above, single parents can ask for assistance from extended family, friends, church, community, and other people on the same boat. Some organizations like Single & Parenting helps provide support and information to single parents, for instance. If you visit their website, you can enter your location to find a support group near you.
6. Keep a Schedule
Children perform best when they are following a schedule. When lives become uncertain or unpredictable, it can be scary for kids and possibly cause anxiety.
To best help our children, we should strive to offer structure by creating a daily routine that gives them security and predictability. Something as simple as setting up wake-up time and bedtime can improve their sleep patterns. Other helpful practices include sitting down together for dinner every night and scheduling hours for homework and studies after school.
7. Take Care of Yourself
is essential for parents, single or not. However, single parents often forget me-time because they have too much to do in life. What they don’t realize is that prioritizing yourself regularly can make you feel refreshed.
The self-care methods you pick can only be activities that feed the mind, soul, and body positively. Say, you can get some exercise during the week and attend religious services.
By taking care of yourself, you can provide the best care for your child, too.
If you have recently become a single parent, then life is changing for both you and your child(ren).
Don’t allow the situation to make you lose sight of the critical things in your life. Maintain a fantastic attitude and focus on your new life with your child. Let go of your “what if’s” and ideological views of what your life is supposed to look like.
What matters right now is that you are with them. Love your child and do the best moving forward.
More Thoughts on Becoming a Single Parent
I am a parent of three children aged 8, 6, and 6. Like many parents, I struggle with knowing the right balance of activities for them. I don’t want my kids to miss out on opportunities to play sports and participate in activities that will enhance their lives and help them grow as individuals. However, I also don’t want them to become overscheduled kids, to the extent that they get worn out and stressed out.
There is a balance in providing activities for our children and overscheduling them. The tendency for the latter is prevalent these days. Our lives — and the lives of our kids — are increasingly overscheduled and overworked. Thus, we need to understand the dangers of having overscheduled kids and how to prevent this from happening in our own families.
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What’s Wrong with Overscheduling Your Kids?
1. Overscheduling Can Burn Out Our Kids
When our kids are on the go and scheduled to the max from a young age, their potential to get burned out before reaching high school is quite high. The New York Times reported some research on burnout and found that burnout with kids relates to their workload, along with their parents’ propensity to experience it. This means that overworked children are more likely to get burned out than others. Similarly, overscheduled parents tend to have overscheduled kids more often than not.
When a person is burned out, they feel overwhelmed and exhausted by what others expect them to get done daily. Children who are involved in too many activities with little to no downtime have a high chance of experiencing burnout. When parents place too many expectations on their kids, they also have an increased potential to burn out.
If you get the sense that your child is feeling overworked or overwhelmed by their daily activities, you need to know which ones can be cut back. If they have too many activities outside of school work, for instance, then that is one area that likely needs to be downsized.
An overworked child will present various symptoms like moodiness, irritability, crankiness, despondency, anger, stomach aches, headaches, rebellion, etc. Cutting back their activities will help to relieve their stress and reduce the said burnout signs. If your kid has severe burnout symptoms, though, then professional help from a pediatrician or therapist for children should be sought.
Downtime is key to helping relieve burnout. If children don’t have free time during the day to have any rest, they are more likely to become burned out than others. Downtime means unorganized free time to do what they enjoy or relax. Cut back your kids’ extra-curricular activities if they don’t have downtime in their schedule.
Here are more tips on creating downtime for the children: How to Create Downtime for Kids.
2. Overscheduling Kills Playtime and Creativity
Kids need time to be kids. When their schedules are filled every day with activities like organized ballet, soccer, and music lessons, and they only take a break for dinner and bedtime, then they are overscheduled. They need to have free time after school to relax and play. When they don’t have that and proceed from one scheduled activity to the next, they are missing out on playtime.
Playtime is crucial to child development. If they cannot get enough time to play, then their ability to develop their creativity decreases. The Genius of Play explains that there are six major developmental benefits that children get from playtime:
- Social skill development
- Cognitive development
- Physical development (i.e., balance, coordination)
- Communication skills
- Emotional development
If children don’t have time to play because they are always on-the-go, then they are missing out on the developmental benefits of play.
Children need downtime after school so that they can unwind, play, and decompress. Research from the Journal of Early Childhood Development and Care showed that kids need to play to deal with anxiety, stress, and worry. Playtime provides an outlet for them to manage these emotions in a healthy manner and helps with the development of their creativity.
Children need free time to play every day. Fifteen minutes at recess is not enough. They need time for it after school, at home, outside of the constraints of scheduled activities.
Ensure that your child has time to play after school. This is especially important for young children who greatly benefit from playing. Limit organized activities so that your child is not scheduled every day and can play after school. If they have an activity every hour, then it doesn’t allow for playtime.
3. Overscheduling Causes Stress and Pressure
When kids are overscheduled because their parents are so intent on having high-performing children, then they will feel stressed. Parental pressure upon a child to do well in academics, music, multiple sports, and religious studies is a reality for many kids. The children scheduled in all of these activities can often feel stress and pressure, especially when they are expected to succeed in all of them.
It is hard enough for kids to be good or succeed at a single activity. For a parent to overschedule their child and expect superior performance in various activities, that is a recipe for a stressed-out child.
Parents should not schedule kids in multiple activities with the expectation of superior performance in all. They should also consider the child’s interests. If the child is not interested in one activity, then they are likely to feel stressed and pressured to do it.
For example, if Suzy has been taking piano lessons for four years, and she no longer enjoys learning the instrument, then perhaps it is time to take a break. If Suzy is forced to continue with the lessons and daily practices, then she may feel pressured to continue performing simply because her mom wants her to do so. This can lead Suzy to resent her mother for forcing her to keep on doing something that she doesn’t like anymore.
Let your child help in selecting the activities that they get involved in. Also, put a cap on the number of activities they are doing. If they have a different activity every weekday, then they are likely overscheduled.
Kids need downtime and time to play, too. If they need to do a new activity every day, that downtime is diminished, considering the time at home or outside of the scheduled activities is limited. This limited time is then filled with homework, mealtime, and bedtime prep. Eliminating activities several days a week will allow the child to have some time to play freely. The younger the kid is, the more time they need playtime. As they get older, they can take on more activities; however, under the age of 13, playing daily is a must for children.
4. Healthy Eating Falls by the Wayside
Any parent who’s busy chauffeuring multiple kids to different activities after school knows how tempting fast food can become. Fast food, however, leads to less healthy food choices. French fries and hamburgers — the staple combo in most fast-food joints — cannot help your child thrive nutritionally.
When families are overscheduled, they tend to go for easy and quick meals. When rushed, many of us make poor food choices because we aren’t taking the time to think about a meal’s nutritional value and a balanced diet for our children.
5. Family Mealtimes Become a Thing of the Past
When we are taking our kids to sports and other extra-curricular activities that fall during dinnertime, the family often misses out on sharing a meal at home.
This is true in our own home. There are certain nights of the week that we have practices, and so we either eat together early (if possible) or eat separately, depending on what our schedules allow.
There is so much value in having family dinners. It provides an opportunity for family members to discuss their day, including their work and school activities. It is a time when technology is set aside so that everyone can truly focus on communicating with one another and catching up on what is happening in each other’s lives. When a kid’s activities are scheduled every evening, then that family time at the dining table gets lost. Dinnertime becomes a thing of the past as we overschedule kids and ourselves.
Try learning more about family time here: How to Maximize Family Time? 13 Simple Ways You Can Try Immediately.
Assess our schedule during the week to ensure that there’s always time for dinner with the family. Make it a point to establish a dinnertime schedule for the evenings that you do not have prior engagements scheduled. Remember: the time that you have with your kids under your roof is fleeting. Before long, they will be grownups and start living on their own. You need not dismiss or minimize the opportunity to bond with your children over meals.
Having family mealtimes also allows you to make excellent food choices. This way, parents can create balanced and healthy meals and teach their children about the importance of eating good food for their bodies.
How to Turn Things Around?
1. Fix the Displaced Ambitions
Parents with overscheduled kids often mean well. They want their children to succeed, so they give them every chance to make it happen. They sign them up for various lessons, sports, and activities that may help the kids find success in life.
In other cases, the parent probably didn’t get such opportunities when they were young and felt that they missed out on many things. Hence, they provide those missed opportunities to their kids during their own childhood.
Carla is an example of such a parent. Carla always wanted to take dance and ballet classes as a child. She heard her friends talk about dance classes and performances, and they would even bring recital photos to school, showing their beautiful, detailed costumes. Carla wanted to be in those dance classes and learn ballet and have the opportunity to perform in a beautiful costume in front of an audience. Unfortunately, her family could not afford to give her that opportunity.
When Carla gave birth to a baby girl, she had visions of her little one growing big enough to take dance, ballet, and even tap classes someday. She was looking forward to dressing her daughter in dance costumes and watching her take lessons and eventually performing in recitals. When Carla’s daughter Anna was old enough to enroll at a dance class at four years old, she was thrilled. However, after a few months, it became clear that Anna was not enjoying these classes. She would cry before every lesson, begging Carla to let her stay home and not go to class. Her daughter had no interest in learning to dance.
In truth, it happens to many parents. They would enroll their kid in an activity that they wanted to do as a child but never got to try. Unfortunately, a parent’s interest is not always the same as that of their kids’. The child may humor mom or dad for some time and do the activity out of compliance. But if the child does not enjoy it anymore, they will eventually make things clear to their parents.
Parents should listen to their children. If the activity is something that they do not enjoy doing, ask the children what they think they would like to do, and then eliminate activities that they are not into. Similarly, teach them commitment by finishing a program, but don’t enroll them again in the same class if they absolutely do not want to do it.
Let the kids try different activities at a young age. Sometimes they don’t know if they like something until they try it out.
2. Try Clinics of Camps Before Committing
Don’t enroll your child in three sports at the same time to see which one they like or excel at. Doing so will make your kid overscheduled. Instead, you can use the summer break or preseason camps or clinics to try a variety of activities they are interested in.
As an example, all three of my children said that they wanted to do lacrosse. We had already tried soccer, and it was not successful for two out of three of them. They would rather chase butterflies down the field or play tag than actually participate in their games. Therefore, before committing to lacrosse and spending a great deal of money on their gear, I signed them up for a sample clinic. It was a one-day program that intended to expose children to the sport and see if they would perhaps enjoy playing it. I was surprised to find that the three kids enjoyed lacrosse, so we signed up for the season. It was nice to be able to see them try out the sport in a clinic before committing to an entire season.
Most towns and cities have parks and recreation department. This is often a good place to check for clinics and camps for various activities. Our local department even offers art and dance classes. Most of them meet between two and four times total, so the children can get some exposure to the activity before signing them up at a private facility for a more long-term commitment.
3. Take an Inventory of Your Weekly Activities
Often, we do an activity without reflecting on how much we are already committed to doing each week. Before we commit to any more activities, we must be willing to look at everything that each family member does. Every child’s commitment is another responsibility for the parent as well. Parents must take children to and from each practice, so you need to consider the drive time for any activity.
For instance, if each of my three kids signed up for three different activities each week, I would be running myself ragged. Three activities for three kids means taking them to nine activities during the week. That doesn’t include the games that will likely be scheduled on the weekends. Three activities for every child, therefore, is too much for our family.
If some practices overlap on the schedule, then you need two parents or responsible adults to transport the children to different locations. Before you sign them up for multiple activities, you need to factor downtime, stress levels, and your ability to take them to each activity in the equation.
Consider the following before your kids can commit to various activities:
- What is the time commitment for the child each week? Do they have enough energy and stamina for the activities? Do they get enough downtime daily to prevent burnout?
- Is practice time required outside of their scheduled team practices and games?
- How long is the travel time for you as a parent, along with wait time during practices? Do you have time allowances for these activities in your own schedule?
- Does the activity time conflict with other activities on the schedule? Will it eliminate family dinners on a regular basis?
- Does the child really want to do the activity?
- What is the motivation for signing up for the activity?
- Is this activity or commitment going to cause a great deal of stress on the child or other family members?
Check out these time-management tips for parents: 10 Time Management Tips Every Busy Parent Needs to Know.
Get The Kids Active and Involved!
Despite everything, it does not mean that you shouldn’t sign your child up for different activities like sports, music, dance, karate, etc. They are all great activities that can help children develop a variety of valuable life skills. The goal is to enroll them in things that they genuinely enjoy and avoid overscheduling kids by not letting them sign up for too many activities at a time.