Parenting is tough. Anybody who tries to convince you otherwise has either never parented or is doing a bad job. That sounds as judgmental as it needs to be. When you are parenting a child, it means you are taking the responsibility for that child’s life into your hands, and that stretches far into the future. Every single decision they will ever make can be traced back to how you raised them. Good and bad. And while you are busy making these decisions, teaching them things and protecting them from other things, you have no manual to guide you. By sheer luck, some intuition and hopefully constructive advice from loved ones, you can get it mostly right.
As if parenting is not difficult enough, trying to be a good SINGLE parent has even more challenges. Likened to a tightrope walk, you are forever teetering over the abyss, trying to balance work and kids and finances and self all the while trying to work through your own issues, discipling said kids and helping them cope with changing circumstances, while getting out on a single income. I know I am generalising a bit, but if you look at the statistics I am not too far off.
If you are a single parent, I am sure you will agree with me – most of the time, you just want to run away. I love my kids, but I feel the sentence I say the most is “I wish I could escape my life just for a bit”.
If that is you, what do you do? How do you cope as a single mama without running away?
I found the solution in one word: CONTROL
You need to take back control. Not only of your life, but of your kids. So often we are left feeling confused and disoriented at the beginning of the solo parenting journey. This is made even worse if you left a controlling relationship, or when you are dealing with so much grief that you cannot summon the energy to handle anything else.
Although not what you might want to hear in that instance, but in order for it to get better you are going to have to put in the effort, even when you feel you cannot muster the energy. Sorry mama, but that is the only way.
When you are overwhelmed with your life as a single mama, you need to get organised and start to assert your new role as the head of the household. Here are my best ideas to help you take back that control.
Control your relationship with your kids: connect with them on their level
Some tips to help you carve out special time together, time that will count and help you shape a healthy and stable family unity.
- Create a strong family routine and stick to it. Allocate time for chores and time to spend as a family, doing something fun. Family movie night anyone?
- Eat dinner together, preferably around a table.
- Help your kids with their homework (but don’t do it for them!). Show an interest in their schoolwork as well as their hobbies.
- Swap screen time for stories and board games, or other games. Especially important for younger kids.
- Have one-on-one bonding time with each child, as often as you can. This helps your kids to feel secure and comfortable in their new environment. I try to have 10min play time with each kid, every day, and then a mommy-daughter date with each individually at least every 4 to 6 weeks.
- Create a special game that only you and kids know the rules off and play.
- Have family words and things you say that are unique. This makes kids feel special and safe. You can give each kid a special pet name that only you are allowed to use. Again, giving them the feeling of belonging.
- Play reporter – interview your kids on a subject and let them interview you. This can help you understand their needs and dreams and give them insight into who you are as a person and as their mom.
- Give them your full attention the first 5 min after waking up, the first 5 min after picking them up from school/after-care, and the last 5 min before they go to sleep. Even if you have no other time in the day to spend with them, this total of 15min can change your relationship with them forever.
- Talk to them about their feelings and validate them. Even if you feel they are making small things big, or big things small, by trying to understand you can help guide them towards understanding and coping with complex situations.
- Involve them in family decisions. Ask questions and actively try to consider their point of view.
Stay in control: Establish rules and consequences
Raising kids as a solo parent often means you don’t have any backup when it comes to disciplining the kids, nor can you play good-cop-bad-cop to help enforce rules. Although disciplining as a single mama can be daunting, it is not impossible, especially when you make your expectations clear by setting ground rules as well as consequences for not sticking to these rules.
- Have 3 to 5 non-negotiable rules and communicate them clearly. If your kids are old enough, get them to help establish these rules. It will make it easier for them to follow if they at least agree with them.
- Use praise to encourage good behaviour instead of only focussing on reprimanding bad behaviour. Often being naughty or misbehaving is a child’s way of searching for approval, albeit in a misdirected way.
- Try to not raise your voice. I know this feels impossible, and I fail almost daily. But try to rather use a firm and serious tone of voice to communicate directions or instructions and lowering your voice when you are displeased with something.
- Set clear boundaries with definite consequences for when they crossed the line. The rules you have established in point 1 will help the kids to remember what behaviour is acceptable and what not. Just remember, you are not above the rules!
- Get into the habit of redirecting or separating as a means of disciplining.
- Or simply ignore it. Not my go-to tactic, but one that works extremely well when your child’s bad behaviour is done to draw attention.
- Loss of privileges. A painless (mostly, if you don’t count the tears…) way of teaching kids that there is a cost to bad behaviour.
- Use natural consequences whenever the opportunity presents itself. Some behaviours elicit negative consequences, without you having to get involved. Schools disciplining kids are a great example.
Control, clear rules and definite boundaries will make it easier for kids to move between households (if that is what your custody looks like) and to navigate different sets of rules. It will make the transition easier on them, and on you.
By taking control you are telling your kids that you are safe. When they feel safe, most of their attention seeking behaviour, which is normally bad, and even anger-outbursts should be manageable. This in turn will make you feel really good about yourself, and your life, which will lead to more joy in your life. And if you are happy, your kids will be happier. A great chain of events to set in motion.
But as always, follow your intuition and gut – you know what you need and what you need to do. Just listen.