Ultimate Guide to Being a Single Parent

While single parenting has its hardships, there are rewards that come with it, too. See more parenting pictures.
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If you're a parent and single, you're not alone. About 30 percent of homes with children in the United States are single parent households. For parents raising children on their own, it can seem almost overwhelming at times, but if you glance across any crowded bus or restaurant, you're probably be looking at more than a few strangers with whom you share the bond of single parenting -- the good and the bad [source: U.S. Census Bureau]

There are thousands of single parenting articles, single parenting tips, parenting support groups and helpful friends willing to offer strategies about being a single parent. The reality is that you'll need to develop a flexible approach that will function as an outgrowth of your personal style and values, as well as the unique alchemy created between you and your child. Regardless of what brought you to this point in your life, you're the one with the know-how to make your family work. What you don't know how to do today, you can learn and apply that knowledge tomorrow.

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Single parents aren't presented with an operating manual or a guarantee that the going gets easier as you move through the process. Even though the prospect may be scary now, the day might come when you realize that having the responsibility -- and the freedom -- to raise your child alone worked out better than you ever expected. The Peace Corps' "Culture Matters" training manual refers to service with them as "the toughest job you'll ever love." Single parenting is like that, too. Raising a child alone can be a frightening, entertaining, exhausting rollercoaster ride, and when it's over, you'll be sorry it ended so soon.

 

Single Parent Stress

Doing everything alone can take its toll.
Doing everything alone can take its toll.
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Single parenting stress can affect your health, alter your perspective and sour your mood, even on the best of occasions. Although some stress is unavoidable, there are steps you can take to keep it to a minimum and inject some welcome serenity into the mix.

Single parents are doing the work of at least two people, and there are bound to be some shortfalls. If you're a great housekeeper but a lousy bookkeeper, then you're likely worried about handling the finances. If you're a whiz with numbers but can't even successfully microwave a frozen entrée, then you're probably concerned about domestic issues. No one is great at everything, and stress is like the steam in a pressure cooker that builds because of concerns over what you can't or don't know how to do. Start reducing stress now by identifying what triggers it. Some of the best single parenting tips you'll ever employ will be about ways to lighten the load by eliminating stress.

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If your single parent stress involves finances, then take an online class that will help you understand money management better. If you have money worries, get help. You can do this by reaching out to a creditor to come up with a more reasonable payment schedule or asking relatives for an infusion of cash to deal with the current crisis. Without attention, whatever is bothering you will sap your energy and jaundice your outlook, so deal with stress-related issues sooner rather than later. Sometimes, even doing something small to address a problem, like researching a list of possible resources, can help you start to feel more in control and dial down the stress you're feeling.

Another component of stress is expectation. Beyond what you have to do to survive, like keeping a roof over your head and food on the table, are the things you think you should do. If you're a perfectionist, chances are the list is pretty long -- longer than you can manage. Single parenting articles are loaded with suggestions on how to cram more into your day and still look great, smell great and have a winning smile. The result is that you pile on artificial stress by thinking that the things you want to do, like washing the windows or volunteering as a docent at your local nature preserve, are things you have to do.

One of the nicest parenting strategies you can employ for yourself in the short term is to put away many of these ideas about what you should be doing with your time. Concentrate on keeping things simple for a while. Life doesn't have to be a seven course meal.

Overcoming the Challenges of Single Parenting

An effective way to start addressing the challenges of single parenting is by getting the help and support you need or at least exploring the resources available to you. You're uniquely qualified to recognize where there are gaps in your defenses. You may need help with babysitting while you take classes to increase your earning power, help with driving your child to and from daycare or just need a friend to vent with over coffee once in a while. Savvy single parents recognize that overcoming the challenges of single parenting is about recognizing what you need and coming up with effective strategies for getting it.

This sounds simple, but often it isn't. It's hard to ask for help, and in some cases, there can be a stigma attached to single parenting that makes it even more difficult to appear vulnerable. The upside is that once you reach out, you'll know better where you stand with family, friends and neighbors. You'll probably be gratified by how understanding and helpful people can be. It may not take a village to raise a child, but loving assistance from grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends sure does make it easier and more fun.

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There may be public services out there that can help, too. From community outreach programs to single parent grants, you may be surprised at the variety of options there are for social and financial support as well as low-cost or free activities that will help your child learn, interact and grow.

The following single parenting tips will help you address common parenting challenges. It wouldn't hurt to keep it on your refrigerator:

  • Be consistent. Mean what you say, and say what you mean. You'll hear this one a lot because it's so important.
  • Keep an open mind. Life as a single parent seldom runs smoothly, so being flexible, both literally and figuratively, is a good policy.
  • Tell the truth. Honesty is a two-way street. If you want children who value the truth, make sure to show them how important it is by being honest with them.
  • Lose the guilt. Second guessing yourself is a single parenting trap you don't need to get caught in. It's easy to wallow in guilt, but guilt never washed the dishes or made the beds. Use the energy for something useful instead. If you made a parenting mistake -- and you will -- learn the lesson and move on.
  • Put your child first. Kids need attention as well as love. If it's a choice between vacuuming and spending time reading your child a story, the dirt can wait. While you're at it, save some time for yourself once in a while, too; you'll need it to recharge your batteries.

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Sources

  • Broadwell, Laura. "10 Ways to Reduce Single Parent Stress." 2002. 2/23/10.http://www.parents.com/parenting/dynamics/single-parenting/how-to-reduce-single-parent-stress/
  • Darnell, Shellee M.F.C.C. "How to be the Best Single Parent You Can." Undated. 2/20/10.http://www.divorcewizards.com/Divorce-and-Single-Parenting.html
  • Foust, Linda. "The Single Parents Almanac." Prima Publishing 1996.
  • London, Lee. "Experts Reveal That Christmas Eve Is the Hardest Day for Single Parents." Parent World. Undated. 2/19/10http://www.parentsworld.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=254&mode=thread&order=0&thold=0
  • Noel, Brook and Art Klein. "The Single Parent Resource." Champion Press. 1998.
  • Peace Corp. "Culture Matters." Undated. 2/19/10.http://www.peacecorps.gov/wws/educators/enrichment/culturematters/introduction.html
  • Ricci, Isolina, Ph.D. "Mom's House, Dad's House." Simon & Schuster. 1997.
  • Single Parents Network. "Building Strong Single-Parent Families." Undated. 2/22/10.http://singleparentsnetwork.com/Articles/Detailed/245.html
  • U.S. Census Bureau. "Living Arrangements of Children: 2004." 2/08. 2/19/10.http://www.census.gov/prod/2008pubs/p70-114.pdf
  • U.S. Census Bureau. "Single-Parent Households Showed Little Variation Since 1994, Census Bureau Reports." 3/27/07. 2/23/10.http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/families_households/009842.html