REARING a child is never easy, but for one person to function as both mother and father is the toughest job of all. Yet it is increasingly common today for a parent to find himself or herself in this double role. Those who have enjoyed the companionship of marriage understandably find readjustment to single life difficult. Loneliness and frustration often creep in. The responsibilities of shouldering the roles of both mother and father can be physically and emotionally draining. Consequently, many parents in this situation find themselves overworked, tired and, as a result, more easily upset and irritable. Others may still be recovering from the trauma of a divorce or the death of a mate. Children may suffer in a single-parent home. They may have difficulty being fully understood by a parent of the opposite sex. A son, for example, may find his mother failing to appreciate his interests. Similarly, a daughter may learn that her father has difficulty understanding some of her feminine needs. The problem of adjusting can be just as traumatic for a child having a single parent of the same sex, since the care of both parents was designed by God to fulfill the emotional needs of the child. Often children with only one parent have more difficulty at school. A study showed that single-parent children require more help and attention from school than they receive. Some women may have been so dependent on their former husbands that they lack the right kind of confidence to make decisions for themselves and their families. Often those with older children must go out and find employment. And after many years at home, they may be out of touch with the work environment or their skills may be rusty or outdated. Here are some practical suggestions to help you as a single parent boldly face your responsibilities.
Organize Your Life
Life sometimes may seem hopeless and bewildering for single parents. They are pulled in a dozen directions, all at the same time, with many roles to fulfill — homemaker, breadwinner, bookkeeper, nurse. By organizing, you will be more effective in fulfilling all your responsibility. If you have not already done so, begin to set realistic goals in you life — and teach your children to do the same. Don't allow each day to just happen, without experiencing any progress or growth. Make a daily list of things you need to accomplish and set priorities. But be flexible — never allow yourself to become obsessed with a schedule that's impossible to complete. Your schedule is only a guide to help you be more organized. Have a calendar where the activities of every person in the family can be noted. This gives the family direction, goals and structure. Create and maintain an efficient filing system for important papers, letters, bills and other documents. Let the children take an active part in domestic duties such as cooking, cleaning or laundry. This will help them feel needed and useful and they will learn responsibility. In addition, you will be able to devote more energy to other areas. Don't let clutter collect around the house. Often this happens because the house is too small to store all the family belongings. Give away, sell or throw out what is not needed. Have a place for everything. Put things away when you're finished with them and teach your children to do the same.
Build a Close Family
One of the best ways to offset the handicaps of a single-parent family is by building closeness and team work. Spending time with the children is the most essential, though perhaps the most difficult, task of a single parent. Empathize with your children. The lack of one parent and the subsequent feelings of rejection and insecurity can make them crave the single parent's attention more than they normally would. A strongly united household will enable each family member to give and receive the emotional and moral support needed. When one is down, the others will be able to provide strength and encouragement. It is imperative for single-parent families to share regular meals together. Meal settings provide security, time for communication and unity. This is also an ideal time for sharing thoughts, feelings, ideas, dreams and concerns. Be open and honest with your children and allow them the freedom to be open with you. Let your children share with you the things that interest them, be it science; homemaking or sports. Guide them to align their interests with God's law. Always set an example of care, concern and thoughtfulness. This will further build a warm, happy home for your children, providing them with needed support. Try to avert school problems by taking time to help with your children's studies. Also, take a personal interest in school activities. Set aside one or two evenings each week to spend as a family. Plain these evenings in advance, perhaps including a special dessert, so that everyone will be home. Often anticipation is half the fun. During the week, when opportunities arise; teach your children about God, point out blessings your family receives or how God has helped each family member that day. The Sabbath can be ideal for family Bible study. Sundays can be spent as family time. Take a drive in the country, go on a hike, spend a few hours at the beach, visit a museum or have lunch in a park. Other Sundays can be spent working together around the home, shopping, preparing for the next week or simply relaxing together. These activities need not consume the whole day, only a few hours of it, so that personal goals can also be accomplished. Obtain input from your children on what they would like to do, and ask their opinions on suggested activities. Try to ensure that whatever you plan will be enjoyed by the whole family,
A single parent can get very lonely. There are heavy responsibilities to be borne and sometimes the pressures will get you down. You need someone to talk to — someone to share the burden. Not having a mate, it's easy to turn to the older children. After all, you think, they're big enough to understand. Well, maybe they are! But your timing and approach are all — important. Sharing the load through hardships can bind the family together. Can help you understand each other. But you, the parent, must realize that a young child is not mature enough to handle problems that seem to have no solution. Those should be taken to God in prayer. That doesn't mean you should shield your children from reality. Ask God in prayer for discernment about which subjects to discuss with the children. Teenagers, especially, need to learn how to cope with situations that require courage and sacrifice. They need to understand what it takes to run a home. That adult living isn't just peaches and cream. Select items that you think are within their tolerance and take them into your confidence. Construct a plan to resolve the problem together. They will appreciate your honesty and your respect for their ability to help. But don't let your children become your crying towel and soak up an attitude of hopelessness and despair.
Growing Up Too Fast
Sharing too much of the load with the children can have negative consequences. Many single parents worry about forcing their teenagers to grow up too fast. Others may hurry them along to adult independence in an effort to ease the stress in the home. The old adage that "kids should be kids" is true. The apostle Paul said, "When I was a child I thought as a child, but when I became a man I put away childish things." It takes time, training and discipline to bring a child to adulthood. So even in your special circumstances you should avoid forcing your children to grow up too fast. Even though they can and should carry more responsibility than most parents require of them, too much too soon can give them a negative outlook on life. They need time to be children. Otherwise, they may always feel that they missed out on childhood and this in turn prevents their becoming truly mature adults. Be sure you give them time to play. Time to cultivate friendships with others their own age. Time to burn off a little of the foolishness of youth and release the pent — up pressure of extra responsibility. Remember, they have the same handicap you do — lack of another parent in the home.
A God — intended major function of a father and a mother is that of parental models for the children. In a complete family unit with father and mother present this is a natural and almost unnoticed process. Generally speaking, because of biological and psychological traits boys will emulate their fathers and girls will emulate their mothers, while taking on certain characteristics of both parents. Good parents will encourage this practice! But if you are single and have children of the opposite sex living with you, you are faced with a special problem. Where will the child learn his role? Should you try to be both father and mother? Obviously certain responsibilities may devolve upon you. You may be breadwinner, cook, housekeeper, mechanic, nurse and disciplinarian. But you can't completely fulfill both masculine and feminine roles as an example to your child. The best advice is to be the best you can possibly be in your rightful role as either mother or father. Then build associations with stable families that can provide the example of masculinity or femininity missing in your home. Spend time together with families, and occasionally let your child visit them alone for short periods. Look for good models among the child's normal contacts and encourage communication with them. Teachers, coaches, grandparents, ministers and wives will often prove ideal examples for your child to follow. Historical figures and biblical personalities may also be used to define the proper duties of both sexes.
For any household there can be special pressures in working with teenagers. But there is no reason for any Christian parent to approach this time in fear! We all know that teens are undergoing major changes in their bodies and minds. This is a vital and wonderful process that every human being must go through. Understanding it and planning for it can help you and your child make the best of it. Communication must be the life blood of your parent-child relationship. You must be able to listen to and empathize with your adolescent. Talk with him or her. You must be mature enough to give advice and guidance, but let the teenager make decisions. You can't prevent him or her from making some mistakes, so stay close enough to help your teenager learn from them. But as with younger children, you must always strive to set a right example and never compromise with God's word or your own. Seek to provide a broad range of social, athletic and educational — academic experiences for your teenager. Make your home a hospitable and predictable environment for your children's friends. This will allow you to know who your children's friends are and if they're acceptable. Being a single parent is not easy. But none is more important than your God-given role in child rearing. For you, no physical endeavor can be more challenging or rewarding. The final installment will cover the controversial subject of daycare centers. (see note below)