When I look back I see that I had the great privilege of raising my two sons on my own from the ages of 5 and 3. It was not my intention to do this when I married and had children, indeed as a committed Christian it was the last thing that I ever thought I would end up doing! But I know now that it was the only way that I could have raised my sons to be the healthy, rounded young men that they now are, and that this is because I had wonderful support from family, friends and Church.
I became a single parent in 1987 when I came to the conclusion after years of struggling and deliberating to leave my husband whose his drinking habit had become a threat, not only to him but to the whole family. My decision was not taken lightly in any way; it was a very painful and difficult time in all of our lives. He had become both verbally and physically abusive of me and it was beginning to spill over onto the children.
At the time we lived in a remote part of East Africa where we ran a beef cattle ranch, so when my decision to leave was made it was an intercontinental and a cultural change. I came to the UK because I hoped that he would follow us and get some help by attending a rehabilitation clinic. However, things did not work out quite that way and ended up with us getting divorced by means of a long drawn out process. The boys are now in their 30s.
There is no doubt in my mind that my decision to leave was the correct one. We lived a privileged life in Africa and the transition to suburbia in England was fraught with lots of challenges not least financial ones! But, had I stayed in the household as it was I am sure that the boys would have suffered terribly from the consequences of the unstable and insecure life that living with an addict brings. I am also convinced that either my husband or I would have been dead by now!
Clearly my notes below come from the perspective of a single parent due to divorce. So for those of you reading this who find themselves in the position as a single parent because they are bereaved there will be some comments that are irrelevant, but I hope that they are never the less worth thinking through.
There will also be some reading this for whom it is deemed unsafe to allow the absent parent to have access, and I would in no way wish to encourage you to expose your children to increased risk, but I would encourage you to think about how you can talk through this issue with the children and help them to voice how they feel about it.
Below are my personal thoughts about Single parenting.
What is it like?
- 24/7 – no days off.
- Children will try to test your boundaries and they will test those lots! Make a plan on how you will enforce your rules, you are the parent.
- Huge responsibility and daunting.
- Lonely and potentially isolating.
- Takes courage, not to be taken on lightly.
- The “ghost” of your ex keeps appearing.
Things NOT to do:
- Blaming the ex -partner makes children feel they have to pick between you or defend one from the other.
- Expect the child to look after you.
- Use the children as a way of annoying or upsetting the ex.
- Threaten the children with getting the ex to punish them the next time they see them.
- Never ask the kids to spy and tell you what the ex is doing, who they are with etc.
- It is tempting to talk through your worries with them, but don’t. They should not be expected to help you resolve adult problems.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help from other adults when you need it!
- Never let the children overhear you talking to a third party as you run down your ex. They will feel hurt and think they need to defend. They may also wonder if you talk about them that way too when they are not around.
- Never use the children as a message runner between parents, but talk directly to each other in a business-like manner if necessary.
- The children will still love the absent parent and you should never try to unseat that.
- Deny them access to the other parent or grandparents unless it is unsafe to do so.
Things to do:
- Always try to be fair in how things work out; visits etc. (no matter how much you would rather not!)
- Be Honest at all times.
- Be trust worthy, if you SAY you are going to do something; DO IT.
- Try to find someone who your kids can talk to about your relationship, there may be times when you drive them dotty with things that you do too!
- If you have more than one, try to find someone who can have your kids one at a time, so that you can have some one- to- one quality time with the individual children.
REGARDING YOUR EX
- Forgive and do not remain bitter towards your ex, otherwise you will poison your relationship with the children.
- Take control of the visits if they are chaotic; the kids need to see you being consistent on all fronts. Christmas plans – make it fair and equal. If the ex is not doing what they said they would and letting the kids down enforce some ground rules and stick to them. The kids will be watching to see how you handle this.
- They will try to bounce one parent off against the other – just as they do in healthy household so expect it and think about how you will manage it, if possible agree strategy with the other parent.
- There may be times when the kids say that they would rather not go and visit the absent parent, please don’t be tempted to see this as a score against the other parent it is just kids being kids! Encourage them to go – they need to know who their parents both are warts and all.
- Make sure that both parents are aware of school concerts, parent evenings, sporting events if possible.
FOR THE CHILDREN
- Remember all children of separated parents would prefer them to be together again.
- Find ways to tell your kids how much you love them, and how proud you are of them and what they do, it is only too easy to be the one telling them off !
- The day will come when you think that they may be behaving badly or trying to get a reaction and you realise that they think that the break-up of the family is somehow their fault – take great care to explain that it never was.
- Let them express how they feel even if it is painful to hear. They should know that they can always communicate with you without you flying off the handle or getting too upset.
- Understand that in their frustration they may lash out at you and blame you. They may accuse you of being responsible for how they feel and the situation, there is an element of truth no matter who is to blame for the break up, so let them express their pain – don’t try to argue with the child about it! Simply say sorry and listen to how they feel.
- Be ready to forgive – there will be times when the children will do something that reminds you of your ex and it may take you by surprise – be ready for it and forgive them – it is not their fault! Don’t say “You are just like your………..” in anger. Only in praise!
- Pray over your children when they are asleep.
- Boys need to be able to rough and tumble and to learn their physical limitations so get them into a sport.
Books I would recommend to find and read: James Dobson’s ‘Dare to Discipline’ and ‘Love must be tough’. Ken Crispin: ‘Divorce the Forgivable Sin’ (out of print now.)
You may like to read Tish’s related article ‘How you can help care for single parent families’.
Tish L 2014