The Challenges and Rewards of Single Parenting
The job of a single parent can be tough on everyone. On the one hand you’re called upon to trust your own knowledge and instincts in the face of a thousand decisions, great and small, that impact upon the happiness and well-being of your child – all this whilst weathering anxiety around your choices and constantly second-guessing whether they were the right ones. On the other hand you face a cultural climate that has largely been told by child psychologists, teachers, and other authorities that every child needs the love and involvement of both parents in order to be truly happy and fulfilled.
Such attitudes not only make single parenting more difficult and emotionally trying but also obscure the actual benefits that may accompany such a situation. Children may always innately long to see both of their parents together, but they don’t enjoy the bitterness and smoldering resentments that live in the house when Mom and Dad no longer know how to love each other. Clinging to an untenable relationship for the sake of the children is a misguided policy. Of course, many people find themselves single parents simply because the other parent just doesn’t care to be involved – or because he or she is too abusive and/or neglectful to be trusted with the responsibility. In either case, the presence of one loving parent in a child’s life is much better than none.
The term “single parenting” can also be applied to situations where both parents maintain an active role in the lives of their children but don’t have a working relationship with each other that’s functional enough to allow them to make joint decisions regarding those children. Here, again, you are left to your own devices. The advantage is that you get to follow your own intuitions and trust your own ideas without having to wait for anyone else’s approval. You have no one to answer to for your triumphs and your shortcomings as a parent but yourself.
Such freedom comes with a few risks and many sacrifices. Married couples, as well as unmarried people involved in co-parenting, can share the workload and offer each other opportunities to find rejuvenation. Lacking this, you’ll need to really pay attention to your overall emotional health and honor your adult needs. The better you nurture yourself, the better you’ll be able to expend the necessary energy, attention and thought on your parenting. Pay attention to the quality of your thoughts and emotions throughout the day. Are they optimistic and enthusiastic, or despairing and resentful? Frequent check-ins can help you to avoid burnout. Pursuing your adult interests can also help to replenish you – and help you avoid unhealthy dynamics at home, as well. For example, single parents who avoid partnership often feel tempted to make their children their “little confidantes” – a situation that serves neither adult nor child very well in the long run.
Your feelings towards the other parent can also drain you and steer you away from your real priorities – your kids – if you’re not careful. Trying to “get even”, attempting to “win” your children’s love over the other, demonizing your ex or trying to undermine him or her…all of these things can sap your energies and deny your children what they long for the most: the real you.