Whether you have been raising your child as a single parent for a long time or you are recently separated from your partner, it is normal to have some concerns about meeting your child’s expectations and needs on your own. It can be difficult to determine which of your child’s expectations are important to meet, how to tell the difference between what your child wants and what your child needs, and how to cope with being the less-fun parent in cases where your ex is much more lenient or has more financial resources to spend on your child. Read on for advice on when you should live up to your children’s expectations and how you should do it.
Expectations vs. Wants vs. Needs
If you have been a parent for any length of time, you know that what children want and expect are not always aligned with reality. Many times, these unrealistic expectations also have nothing to do with what they actually need. As a single parent, it is likely that you have felt some guilt over the situation: You might have envisioned happy family time spent with your partner and your child for the rest of your offspring’s childhood, but instead your child is split between two homes or might not even see his or her other parent. This can lead you to want to overcompensate by meeting all of your child’s wants and expectations in addition to his or her needs.
The good news is that you do not need to do this! All children want things that they do not need, and most children want some things that are simply not realistic or beneficial. Carefully consider whether what your child expects is reasonable and needed. If it isn’t, there is no reason to feel guilty if circumstances or your preferences cause you to say no.
When You Are Not the Fun One
In many families, one parent is the “fun one” while the other is the disciplinarian. While this might seem like a problem unique to divorced parents, the truth is that it occurs in nuclear families, too. One parent might allow the child to watch television or play video games after school while the other wants them to get their homework done first. Or one parent allows a later bedtime or more junk food than the other. So while it is frustrating to be the not-as-fun parent, rest assured that this is not a situation that isn’t replicated in many homes, whether or not the parents are together.
It is best if you can talk to your ex about this problem and request that some rules be followed regardless of which home the child is in at the moment. Even if he or she agrees, however, it is possible that they will have more of an ability to buy your child expensive gifts or go on elaborate vacations.
If this is the case, it is vital to understand that what your child needs most is safety, security, boundaries, and the knowledge that they are loved. In your ex’s house, love might be expressed with impressive gifts. In yours, it might be expressed with time together or creating new traditions. One is not better than the other; they are just different, and when your child is an adult, he or she will understand that.
Relying on Others
When it comes to meeting your child’s needs (and some of his or her expectations), it is important that you don’t try to do it all on your own. If you are co-parenting with your child’s other parent, that is ideal, because they can pick up where you leave off financially, physically, and emotionally. If not, however, or if your ex is not pulling his or her weight in these matters, look for someone else in your child’s life who can give them some of what they need.
For example, your parents or siblings might be able to help pick up the slack with childcare and supervision. They might pick up your child from daycare one or two days per week or maybe your child can sleep over one weekend per month. A coach might be willing to take your child under his or her wing and support them in making good decisions. You also might need to pay for some of this help: Hiring a tutor to work with your child on his or her math homework is an investment in your child’s future, for example. Just remember that you cannot do it all on your own and it’s best to develop a support network.
Taking Care of Yourself
While we are on the topic of getting help, it’s important to find the time and money to take care of yourself. This doesn’t mean that you have to save up for years to afford an all-inclusive trip to Hawaii (though it might). It means that you should take time each day to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, and do something just for you, whether that means painting your nails, taking the dog for a walk or just getting in a nice, long shower at the end of the day.
If your child is young, this can be difficult, so take advantage of whatever resources you can to free up some time for yourself. A pre-teen in your neighborhood might enjoy being a helper to you for an hour or two after school; they can keep your child safe and entertained while you get some things done around the house or take a bath. Or you might be able to put your child in an after-school program or a community sports league one or two days per week and spend that time getting a cup of coffee with a friend or seeing your chiropractor.
Being a single parent is difficult. You have to run your household, pay your bills, and care for your child all on your own. The keys to success are keeping your expectations realistic, encouraging your child to have reasonable expectations, and getting help where you can find it. You can do this!