Tips For Single Parents
Growing up, I always dreamed of getting married and having kids. I wanted the white picket fence and the happily ever after. My dream did not turn out that way. After getting married and having two children in 4 years, I got divorced and became a single parent of two children still in diapers. I rented a small apartment and slept on a pull out couch.
I was working full time as a social worker and was lucky enough to have my mother watch my children for me. Everyday, I did the best I could to give them a good life. I signed them up for after school activities, watched my daughter cheerlead in middle school and went to every play and theatre competition that my son was in. For 14 years, I have provided for and protected my children. My identity was wrapped up in being their mother, and I tried hard to compensate for the fact that we were poor and they didn’t have a father figure.
Now that my children are 18 and 19, I have had time to reflect on being a single working parent, and it has become very apparent that despite my best endeavors, I sure did make a lot of mistakes. So, I am sharing my parenting failures in the hopes that I can help others who are currently in my situation.
Sometimes You Have to be The Bad Cop
I wanted so badly for my kids to be happy all the time, that I chose to be the good cop. I didn’t want them to be mad at me, so I basically let them get away with murder. If I did get angry with their behavior and punished them, I rarely, if ever, followed through. I was so exhausted after work, that it was easier to just give in and let them have their way. That was fine when they were little, but hell when they became teenagers. They knew that eventually I would cave, and in time, they would end up getting their way. I wasn’t looked at as an authoritative figure and it was clear that they, not I, were making the rules.
I wish that I had made it a priority to remain the authoritative figure in the household. In talking to them now that they older, both wish I had been stricter with them. Turns out that they wanted me to be in charge-to be the adult. I know now that following through on punishments would not have made my children love me any less, and my behavior only made my life harder.
Have Your Children Start Doing Chores at an Early Age
I would work all day, come home and start my second job as Mom. I did everything for my kids. I cooked, cleaned, did laundry, and never asked for help. When I did ask them for help, they successfully manipulated their way out of it.
I created chore charts with stickers on it, that I never enforced. They got used to having me wait on them and I felt like in addition to being a social worker, I was also a cleaning lady and a cook. By the time I got fed up, it was too late to implement lasting change. I was angry with them, angry with their father, but saved the true hatred for myself for letting this happen in the first place.
The lack of downtime and the constant working until I passed out on the couch, turned into me having a complete mental breakdown. I was hospitalized for “exhaustion”, but not in the glamorous way famous people were!
My advice is to teach your children the life skills they will need later in life and not to put all of the household duties on yourself.
Have a Life of Your Own, Separate From Being a Parent
I always, and still do always put my children’s needs before my own. If I wanted to go out with friends or by myself, I was afraid they would feel abandoned by me, just like their Dad did to them. So, I lost out on friendships and many other opportunities, because I did not want them to come home and me not be there.
I totally lost my identity and my world became very small and lonely. What I ended up role modeling for them was not healthy for any of us. Both my children have severe social anxiety and hardly ever went out their friends even in middle and High School.
I wish I knew that them seeing me have friends and trying new experiences would be the best thing for them. Seeing me always putting my needs last became the norm for them and when they were older and I tried “finding myself”, they did feel as though I didn’t want to be with them, so I stopped.
It is important that you show your children that you have enough room in your heart to love them as well as loving your friends. I always supported them pursuing their dreams and I wish they could have seen me pursuing mine.
Put Limits on How Much Money You Spend on Them
I didn’t want my children to feel different from the other kids who got to go to Disney World and go on family vacations. I took them on cruises, rented cabins in North Carolina, took them skiing, and went to New York often to see Broadway shows. As I mentioned earlier, I am a social worker, not a field that you go into for the money. Needless to say, I am currently thousands of dollars in debt and they don’t remember half of the amazing things that we did.
I signed them up for every after school activity from dance lessons to horseback riding. Instead, I should have been saving money for when they needed cars, not to mention college tuition. And I should have been saving money for my retirement, because as things stand right now, I won’t be retiring until my late 90’s, if I make it that long.
I realize now that my children would have been just as happy getting to pick one after school activity and having staycations once in a while. I was teaching them that they could have anything they wanted regardless of our financial status and boy was that a mistake. I wish that instead, I taught them that money does not buy happiness or love.
I am blessed to have raised two kind, honest, and loving children. But I made a lot of mistakes that I can’t fix. So, I felt trapped in the cage I put myself in. I am finally figuring out who I am, what I like to do and have begun implementing self care in my life. I only wish that I had done it sooner.