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Being a Successful Single Parent


Today, it'scommon to talk about single-parent family problems and their disadvantages tochildren. This can lead some single parents to think there is little they cando to have a successful family. That's not so.

Not allchildren growing up in single-parent families experience negative consequences,just as not all overweight people have heart attacks. More importantly,focusing on the weaknesses and problems doesn't help single parents and theirchildren become strong.

The Family: A Proclamation to the World states thatadaptations in family life become necessary when disability, death, or othercircumstances (such as divorce) make such adaptations necessary. God loves usand will bless us in these circumstances. While it isn't easy, single parentfamilies can adapt and be strong families.

Someresearchers have asked successful single parents how they succeeded. Here'swhat these parents said.

Acceptanceof Responsibility.Successful single parents accept the responsibilities and challenges of singleparenting. They neither minimize nor exaggerate problems but seek solutions.They acknowledge the difficulties (such as a lack of personal time, arestricted social life, sole responsibility for meeting multiple needs, andfinancial stress) without self-pity or bitterness.

One womanlost her husband to an auto-pedestrian accident. She was left with five sons toraise and little education or skills. She was devastated. Ultimately she made aplan and carried it out. She decided to establish a home-based business, and itbecame very successful in a large metropolitan area. She was able to providewell for her family.

Commitmentto Family.Successful single parents make the family their highest priority. They focus onbeing the best possible single parent, which often means putting the needs ofthe child first. They genuinely like and enjoy children, sacrificing time,money, and energy for the sake of the children. They try to be supportive andpatient and help children cope. Like other effective parents, they areconsistent and not highly punitive. This discipline style gives childrenchoices, uses natural and logical consequences, and provides structure.

OpenCommunication.Successful single parents foster open communication. These parents encourageclear and open expression of thoughts and feelings in the family as a key todeveloping honest and trusting relationships. They foster individuality withina supportive family unit. These parents strive to accomplish this individualityand independence by each member having individual interests and buildingindividual skills.

SuccessfulHome Management.Successful single parents manage the family needs well. They strive to be well organizedand dependable, and they work hard to coordinate schedules. They take pride intheir ability to financially provide for the family, although finances stillremain a struggle. One single mother effectively organized her children to helpwith chores. She typed out the jobs for the day on 3 x 5-inch cards andexpected a report before dinner.

Care ofSelf.Successful single parents take care of themselves. Despite lack of time, theseparents recognize that caring for themselves is important. They attempt to doso through physical, spiritual, emotional, and social means. They are connectedto others on whom they can call on for practical and emotional support. Onesingle mother who managed a home-based business found time to get away on avacation occasionally or go dancing with friends.

MaintainTraditions and Relationships. Successful single-parent families maintaintraditions, whether bedtime rituals, special family times together, or holidaycelebrations. A tradition is any event with special meaning to a family. When afamily has been disrupted, maintaining traditions becomes a stabilizing force,something that can be depended on.

If the otherparent is living, successful single parents encourage the child's involvementwith the nonresidential parent, as long as the other parent doesn't presentsome danger to the child. When possible, the other parent shares responsibilityfor the children. Regardless of where the children live, they receive economicand emotional support from both parents.

Have aPositive Outlook on Challenges. Successful single parents have a positiveattitude toward parenting and life in general. They see positive aspects instressful situation and feel that they have succeeded despite many doubts.

It's commonfor single parents to take a negative view of the challenges they face.However, if single-parent families are willing to work hard and get help whenthey need it, they can benefit from their situation in a number of ways.Researcher Stephen Atlas has identified these possible benefits:

First, if there was highconflict before a divorce in a two-parent family, a change to single-parentfamily living can bring about a reduction in tension, hostility, and discordand an increase in family solidarity and consistency.

When tensionis high between parents on their way to divorcing, children's emotional needsare often ignored. The parents do not enforce rules consistently, and childrenfeel less secure. When that tension is gone, single parents can focus more onchildren's needs and return to greater consistency in rule enforcement.

Second, a single parent mayhave greater flexibility in planning time with children. Single parents aren'tdistracted by the expectations or time demands of another adult. With fewerschedules to negotiate, there may be greater flexibility to spend time witheach child.

Third, single-parentfamilies may become more interdependent, working together approach to problemsolving and daily living. Single parents depend more heavily on the voluntarycooperation of their children. Single parents can encourage cooperation byholding family councils where children are involved directly in makingdecisions and solving problems. When children are thus involved, they are morelikely to help carry out the decisions.

Fourth, single parentingprovides many challenges that are opportunities for growth and sharing. Singleparents often need to develop new skills and obtain additional education. Whileit isn't easy, pursuing the task of balancing a full-time job with full responsibilitiesfor housework and parenting can help make us stronger people.

Fifth, children have widerexperiences because they may go between two differing spheres of influence.Each single-parent family will have its own unique influence. This can be a broadeningexperience for children.

Sixth, the extendedsingle-parent community can provide support. Single-parent families are notnecessarily isolated or cut off from the broader community. Nor do theynecessarily lack support. Groups for single parents such as Parents WithoutPartners can be a valuable resource for activities, sharing, personal growth,and new relationships.

Seventh, young people mayfeel more needed and valued as contributing members of the household. One sonof a single mother still remembers her "duty lists" she gave out eachSaturday. He said, "All five of us were expected to fulfill ourresponsibilities. Failure to do so only placed increased burdens on Mom."In two-parent families, parents typically share the major responsibilities. Insingle-parent families, each child's help is needed and vital in day-to-dayliving. As a result, children may feel more valued.

Identifying YourStrengths as a Single Parent

All of ushave strengths or positive characteristics that help us succeed. Think aboutthe section on the characteristics of successful single parents. How are youdoing? Take a moment and complete the "Succeeding as a Single Parent"chart below to identify your own strengths as a single parent and areas whereyou'd like to improve.

After youhave completed the chart, go to the Goal-Setting Worksheet. Set goals that willhelp you build at least one of your areas of strength. In addition, choose oneor two areas you believe need improvement. See "Ideas for BuildingStrengths" for goal suggestions.

My Strengths as aSingle Parent

Strength Area

Very Strong

Some Growth Needed

Much Growth Needed

Acceptance of Responsibility

Commitment to Family

Open Communication

Successful Home Management

Care of Self

Maintain Rituals and Traditions

Maintain Relationships With Nonresidential Parent

Positive Outlook

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My Goal-SettingWorksheet

Strength Area

My Goals

What I Will Do

When

Acceptance of Responsibility

Commitment to Family

Open Communication

Successful Home Management

Care of Self

Maintain Rituals and Traditions

Maintain Relationships With Nonresidential Parent

Positive Outlook

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Yourpositive characteristics and leadership are contagious and will spill over intoyour family life. See Family Strengths: Identifying Your Family's Strengths atthis website for additional ideas on ways you can strengthen your family.

Writtenby Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.

References

Richards, L.N., & Schmiege, C. J. (1993). Problems and strengths of single-parentfamilies: Implications for practice and policy. Family Relations, 42,277-285.