If you have been granted sole custody of your child or if your child’s other parent has little to no interest in raising your child, you might have had to accept that you will be raising him or her as a single parent. While single parenthood can be a challenge, you have every opportunity to raise your child to be happy and healthy. Read on for some tips on raising your child as a single parent.
Don’t Badmouth Your Ex
If your ex-partner has left and is not able to have (or not interested in having) a relationship with your child, it’s natural that you might feel frustrated, disappointed, and angry. While these feelings are normal, it’s important that you don’t badmouth your ex to your child.
First, keep in mind that half of your child’s genes have come from his or her other parent. This means that some parts of your child’s appearance and personality will likely be similar to those of your ex; talking poorly of the other parent will make your child feel bad when he or she exhibits these inherited traits.
Secondly, it’s possible that your child might want to reach out and develop a relationship with their other parent at some point. It might be in a few years or in a few decades, but if and when that happens, they should not feel as though they need to hide it from you. Studies have shown that having a relationship with both parents is good for children; don’t discourage this unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as abuse or neglect, or a restraining order in place.
Finally, while your ex might not be in your child’s life now (or might be minimally involved), it’s still not a good idea to promote parental alienation. If there were to be a custody battle later, this could come back to haunt you. It is not advisable to alienate a child from his or her other parent, so be mindful of what you say and do.
Examine Your Finances and Spending Habits
One of the primary challenges of single parenthood has to do with finances. If you still share any joint accounts with your ex, it’s important to separate it into two separate accounts, if at all possible. Otherwise, if your ex-spouse decides not to pay as agreed, the credit company will come after you. Keeping these accounts intact is a common mistake, and it can affect your credit for years to come.
If you are having a hard time collecting child support from your ex, talk to your legal advocacy specialist about what you can do about it. If the child support was court-ordered as part of the divorce decree, you might have a case for contempt of court. If your situation has changed (for example, if you have lost your job), the decree can sometimes be changed. Garnishing wages is an option in some cases where an ex does not pay child support as ordered.
Finally, be sure to budget your money well. Many single parents have trouble with budgeting and balancing their income with their expenses, but getting on a written budget can help immensely. Keep track of where your money is going each month and maintain an emergency fund if at all possible. In addition, look for inexpensive and free things to do in your area with your child; check with your public library and recreation centers for ideas.
Find a Male or Female Role Model for Your Child
You might be worried that your child doesn’t have a good role model of the same sex; this is particularly true if you are a single mom raising a son or a single dad raising a daughter. If you have a sibling of the opposite sex who can step in as a very involved aunt or uncle, this is ideal. If not, though, there are ways that you can find healthy role models for your child.
You can sign up for Big Brothers Big Sisters (or local alternatives, if this is not available in your area) to have your child matched with an adult of the same sex. In this program, “Bigs” and their “Littles” get together a few times per month. The adults in this program are screened carefully and there is a case manager who meets with the participants and the children’s parents regularly to make sure that all is going well.
Teachers, coaches, guidance counselors, youth pastors, and others in the community might also step up and offer to be a role model for your child. You can also talk to any of these people about your concerns.
Gathering a Support Network
Perhaps one of the most important things you can do as a single parent is to establish up a circle of support for yourself. Parenting is difficult even under ideal circumstances, and being a single parent is even more so. Be sure to take the time you need to take care of yourself and to meet your own needs for support. Just as the oft-used cliche about putting on your own oxygen mask before you put on your child’s is true, it’s also accurate to say that if you are not taking care of your own basic needs, you will not have any energy left over to care for your child.
Find someone who can watch your child once or twice per month so you can go out to dinner with a friend, attend an adults-only event, or just spend an occasional evening on your own at home. If your extended family lives nearby, this is a great way for your child to have a good relationship with grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins. If not, maybe you can find another single parent in your area who would like to switch off childcare periodically.
Caring for your child as a single parent might be your greatest challenge, but it can also be your greatest achievement as the years pass and your child becomes a well-adjusted, productive adult. Don’t be afraid to lean on others and seek support as you raise your child with love and confidence.