There are countless ways that single families occur. One of the parents dies, the couple divorces, a woman finds herself pregnant and chooses not to marry, a spouse decides that they aren't cut out to be a parent and just leaves are some of the scenarios. It doesn't really matter what the situation is, what is real is that one parent is now the main care taker for the children. In some situations that is also a shared role as in the case of divorce.
The question becomes how do we make the best of this situation? How do I parent my child with confidence? There are some strategies that will empower a single parent to celebrate being a single parent. Here are some suggestions for making this an easier experience for all involved.
I have actually spent some time with a mother who isn't happy being a mom. She loves her kids and has gone through the steps to prepare them for her leaving. They know that she will be still be in their lives, just in a different way. She is showing them that she is looking after her own happiness and still will be taking care of them but from a distance. The work that she is doing now is to let go of the judgments that this world carries for her seeking to live a full life. When she is ready, her kids will be ready too. Dad is on board too. This isn't how he planned for things to turn out, and he has been working on letting go of those dreams in order to create something new for the happiness of his family.
Be aware of what comes up as choice is acknowledged. If one is resistant to the idea of "This was my choice" then notice the emotions that arise. Anger. Fear. Resentment. Doubt. Hate. These emotions will control one's life. They will be projected onto the children who will either accept and receive them as true and live their lives controlled by them or they will resist and react to them fighting all along the way. This just creates more confusion, frustration and chaos in family life. Imagine being able to live from a place that isn't governed by those emotions, a place that supports and encourages different possibilities.
As the emotions come up, the gift is in acknowledging the emotion, facing it and asking some life-changing questions about the emotion. Questions like: "Is this my emotion, reaction?" "What is this bringing up for me?" "Where have I felt this emotion before?" Four questions that I like that Gary Douglas, founder of Access Consciousness shares are: "What is this?" What do I know about this?" "Can I change this?" and if so "How?" What I find when asking these questions is that I am not looking to think up the answer but rather to ask the question and then let it be. Then later when I am not thinking about it, the insight comes to me and I can then ask, "Is this true for me?"
An example in my life when I asked these four questions was a time when I was struggling getting along with one of my children. Weeks went by until one day while I was washing dishes the thought hit me out of the blue that I was still reacting to my own childhood issue. Immediately I knew that was it because it had the same sensation that I felt with the struggles with my child. After I received that information and stopped allowing myself to be controlled by those childhood emotions, the relationship with my child changed for the better.
Single parents often buy into the idea that it is hard being a single parent. I would like to challenge those who continue to use that as their mantra to change it. Being a single parent is different than being a two couple family. It need not be hard unless you buy into the belief (which most of the world does) that it is hard. Again using questions that can alter that belief like: "What would make this easy?" What else is possible?" "How does it get any better than this?" can open up new possibilities that don't happen for other single parents who are stuck in making it hard or difficult.
I recently chatted with a single mom who was struggling with her ex-husband hanging up on her every time she wanted to talk about the kids. She wanted to immediately go into what an a--hole he was and make him wrong for his reaction to her. Naturally this did not solve anything and only made things worse because the kids picked up on her emotions. They were confused and frightened because they didn't know how they should feel. They love their dad and they love their mom but now it felt like they had to choose. When we talked I suggested using questions the next time it happened. Later she reported that using the questions allowed her to calm down, not react and to let another possibility enter in. For her it was sending him a text that simply stated what she needed to ask him and he responded promptly. All too often we take other people's reactions personally. When my marriage ended my husband was very hurt that I would end a relationship of over 20 years. I could not let his feelings of being hurt effect how I related to him with regards to our children. When we allow someone else's choices to hurt us, we hand over all of our power to them and step into the victim role. What would it create if we honored people's choices just as that-their choice? We don't need to enter into any judgment either way with it.
The last strategy that I want to offer is to enlist support. There are numerous agencies and groups that offer services for single parents. Acknowledge them as great resources that can often be the "answer" to questions that are being asked. Being a single parent, although may feel like being alone, doesn't have to be. It will just look different. What kind of adventure awaits any parent? Single or not? When the role of parenting is taken with gratitude, joy and possibility then anything is possible, including raising amazing kids and feeling empowered in the process.