Parenting on your own comes with a special set of challenges. You might be trying to get along with your child’s co-parent, balance work and play, or have feelings of guilt.
Parenting advice is almost never one-size-fits-all. Still, other people’s experiences can give you some tips to add to your parenting toolbox or even inspire new ideas. With that in mind, we asked experienced single parents around the country to share what has worked for them.
Build a Support System
As a single parent, having other people available to support you is vital. Jennifer Simeonoff, a teacher in Kodiak, AK, and mom of 13- and 15-year-old sons, gets her support from nearby friends and a private Facebook group she created while she was getting a diagnosis for her special-needs son. “It’s become a place where I can talk about our struggles, our successes, and just plain vent when I need to,” she says.
Give Your Kids Chores
Resist the temptation to do everything for your kids, says Joan Estrada, a salesperson in Corona, CA, and mom to 23-year-old twins. “Having everyone do work as part of the family helps create a deeper sense of family connection,” Estrada says. For example, she taught her twins to do their own laundry when they were 10 years old.
Make New Family Traditions
“It doesn’t have to be fancy, but family traditions give your kids a sense of security and support,” says Ilima Loomis, a writer in Maui and mom of a 13-year-old daughter. Loomis started a weekly TV dinner night where she and her daughter get takeout and watch a show with their dinner. Having those special traditions gives kids something consistent to look forward to, she says.
Keep the Peace With Your Co-parent
This isn’t always possible, of course. But if it is, a good co-parenting relationship is incredibly beneficial for everyone. Heather Brake, a public health worker in Atlanta and mom to 10- and 13-year-old sons, says that she and her ex-husband work hard to maintain a healthy working relationship for their children. “It has helped us immensely in that we can count on each other nearly all the time to cover if one or the other of us is unable to care for the children at some time,” she says. Her kids are also able to see their parents working together.
Take the High Road
It’s important that you don’t ever speak negatively about your co-parent or ex in front of your kids. This can cause them stress, anxiety, and even damage. “Your children will take that criticism and apply it to themselves, thinking that if (the other parent) is this way, they must be too,” Estrada says.
“Speak truth to your kids as is appropriate for their age, but let them love that other parent untainted by your own negative interactions. In time, your kids will see the truth on their own,” Simeonoff says. When that happens, “help them pick up the broken pieces of their hearts as best you can. Find counseling services for them so they have a safe person besides yourself to talk to,” she advises.
Stick to Rules and Routines
It’s common for single parents to feel guilty about their situation. But this can also lead to being lax with rules and routines or not using them at all, says Barbara Lampert, PhD, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Malibu, CA. Kids need consistent boundaries, rules, and routines to feel secure and safe. “If your child can count on you being consistent, they start to trust you more and they know you’re coming from an authentic place,” Lampert says.
There’s nothing like a pandemic to highlight the potential hurdles single parents experience. Here’s what our parent and therapist experts had to say when it comes to parenting during COVID-19.
When your kids are at home during the day, even after pandemic restrictions are lifted, it’s important to make sure they (and you) get at least 30 to 45 minutes of outdoor time every day, advises Dominique Leveille, PhD, a licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of BlissTherapy.me in Miami. If you live in a place where you just can’t be outdoors at times, find a place in your home, like your basement, to let your kids burn off some steam, she says.
Be Kind to Yourself
With all the added responsibilities of single parenting, it’s especially important to make sure you’re taking time for self-care, Lampert says. “Maybe you have to lower your expectations and settle for less and just say, ‘I’m doing the best I can. I can’t get this all done today. Tomorrow’s another day, I’m dealing with a pandemic,’” she says. “Give yourself and your kids some slack.”
Add an Extreme Circumstance Clause to Your Custody Agreement
Nyala Khan, head of people operations at Eden Health in New York City and mom to a 6-year-old daughter, says if she had done this, she could have shared the new and unexpected duties that came with the pandemic. But it could help with any crisis.
“Working and homeschooling a child as a single parent creates extraordinary pressure, and while I’m grateful for every minute with my daughter, I think it’s important to recognize the difficulty of simultaneously handling these over a long period of time on your own,” she says.
Do something special with your kids, especially when they start feeling overwhelmed by specific issues or life in general. Take a walk and grab some ice cream, play a game together, or do some family art. “My boys have been learning to cook,” Brake says. “Though it has been a lot of effort on my part to teach them, we make it fun by turning on the music and singing while we work.”
Create a Backup Plan
Make a schedule for you and your children and hang it where you can all see it, Leveille says. If your kids are old enough, write down a plan for potential issues that could happen during the day, such as the internet going down. This way, your kids can have a step-by-step solution to troubleshoot problems themselves without needing to interrupt you.