To simply say being a single parent makes things twice as hard doesn't work, because on top of work, parenting, running the home, and raising your child (or children) you've got to be their coach, mentor, counselor AND parent. You can't be both the mother and the father, but you can embrace being the mother, embrace the single life. That strength and confidence is what your child needs most. While it can always be difficult to talk about certain issues (such as where's Daddy or were do babies come from) it is important not to avoid having difficult conversations.
While initially a child may be unaware of certain issues, they are incredibly perceptive and will eventually realize certain things are different. Those differences aren't a bad thing, but if they don't understand why and how they are not then that can lead to them blaming themselves (the biggest cause for depression or acting out in pre-teens and teenagers of single-parent homes). Having been raised by a single mother, and working with so many families on a day-to-day basis in senior care, it's pretty simple to see that children really need:
- Mommy must be the role model. Be the captain of the ship and sit your child down to talk. They need to know that something is wrong or has changed, why that is and what can be done about it. Sorting out what happened and why it happened will open the door for them to be able to understand and deal with it.
- Mommy needs to be there. Avoidance is a red herring. It solves nothing and skirts the problems under the rug, only making things worse. As a mother your child must never question where they are on your list of priorities. Be there to make a difference in their life...a positive one.
- Mommy must listen. Though children are not incredibly pragmatic, regardless the age, they aren't always wrong either. In sitting down with your child you must listen to what their saying, understand why they're saying it and what their feelings are behind what they're saying. Active listening is important to gauge what, how and why your child understands.
- Mommy has to manage emotions. When talking about difficult subjects it is easy to allow emotions to get the better of judgement, but your child's emotions will reflect yours (in one way or another). It is imperative that a single parent keep a high emotional intelligence and manage both his or her emotions and the child's emotions. Everything we are is a result of who we were. Single parents shouldn't break down often in front of their children because then their children will understand it to be normal and mimic that behavior. Ground your identity in confidence.
- Mommy should be a partner. When dealing with problems that arise a single parent will gain the best support and response from his or her children if they act as a partner instead of a dictator. Working with your child to find solutions or understand situations allows for more communication and trust. Think of it in terms of a pilot and co-pilot. Children can surprise you with their insight.
- Mommy needs to share. Stay in control of your emotions, but let your child know what your emotions are, how you felt about the issue, what you think about it and how you're dealing with it or managing your emotions. This will give children a prototype for them to handle their own emotions which is infinitely more productive than suppressing them.
- Mommy must collaborate. Work together to find solutions and new things you and your child would like to do in order to overcome the issue at hand, whether it is loss, loneliness, stress or exhaustion. You child will want to help if you've both been honest and upfront in the conversation.
- Mommy should help decide. After brainstorming solutions work with your child to decide on the best one. In doing so they'll see that their input is valued and helped improve things, adding more and more confidence to the relationship and your family.
- Mommy needs to keep talking. The last part of the conversation is just as important as the beginning. A single parent and their child face many issues that other families don't, but MUST keep communication open. Bounce ideas back and forth about things you and your child can do to communicate more, have fun more, spend time together more. It all comes down to communication, so keep asking positive questions and you'll be able to keep that open line of communication flowing.
- Mommy must be the rock. Always finish on a hug (and a kiss if you're affectionate...my mother and I weren't). In having managed emotions and finished on a positive note, you have held your ground as a leader and mentor for your child. Keep being that rock for them to grow, develop and blossom, regardless their age.
It may take some practice to get the flow of these conversations down, and the steps may not go in this exact order. Do as you feel necessary, but at least do. Just like with paying bills or credit cards, if you do nothing it only gets worse, so nip the problem in the bud and have the tough conversation(s) that needs to be had. It will make your family stronger, your communication better, and give you strength. My mother worked her entire life (until recently) to give me the same opportunities others had. Though things were far from perfect they were the best she could do, and I loved it. I love her. Talk with your children...for their sake. It makes all the difference.
George Shaw is a writer and blogger who focuses on improving family communication with children and seniors. He also helps seniors and their families in Houston via SeniorHomesTexas.com.