Single Parenting: 5 Things I’ve Learned

The world of single parenting is as diverse as the variety pack of Popsicles I bought for my kids last weekend. Single moms. Single dads. There are singles who are in relationships and singles that are happy to be solo. There is the variety that still has healthy relationships with the child’s other parent. And, of course, there are those who don’t.

Single parenting isn’t a one-size-fits-all label. Behind every single parent is a very real and personal story. I’ve been a single parent for nearly a decade, and the storyline of my own journey is uniquely mine. So while I don’t claim to have all the answers for successful single parenting, here are a few things I’ve learned based on my experiences.

Five Things I’ve Learned As a Single Parent

1. Get rid of the guilt

The path to single parenthood is varied. Whether it’s because of divorce, death, choice or because the other parent in the story simply opted out, they are all stark realities. It’s also a reality that many of us feel guilt. We feel heaviness for our children. We feel sadness because of a loss. Sometimes we might even slip into the game of imagining our life up to this point with a different ending.

I have certainly felt guilty, largely due to my children’s lives not being the storybook version I used to imagine, but I’ve also learned that guilt only takes away from my ability to parent in the present. It keeps me from making today a good day. So I work at substituting guilt with a calm acceptance of reality. I live the life I was given. And while I can’t change the past, I feel strength knowing that, as a parent, I can influence goodness in everything today for my children.

2. Ask for help

I’m a guy. And while I despise stereotypes, I must admit that I was raised to believe that asking for help was a sign of weakness. But here’s the reality—single parents need help. A lot of it. And it certainly isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a numbers game, folks. Because there simply isn’t enough time in the day to do everything demanded of today’s single parent. The list is long…really long.

And when we’re doing it solo? It’s even more important to do it all while maintaining our health and sanity. If our health or sanity slips, our ability parent well is negatively impacted. So ask for help. Be open. Be direct. And be appreciative. I’ve found that people genuinely want to help. And plenty of opportunities come in the future to repay the favor.

3. Remember that you’re the parent

This is a hard one for me to talk about because it was probably one of my biggest missteps in my early years as a single dad. My oldest child was in high school at the time and a fantastically mature young guy. He took on responsibility naturally. In hindsight, I realize that I placed too many things on his young shoulders, including too much responsibility for his younger siblings.

But of even bigger significance was my sharing too much of the emotional baggage I was processing. When you’re the single parent without the benefit of another adult in the house to share things with, it’s easy to substitute children into those adult roles.

So be aware of this easy-to-fall-into pitfall and find other healthy outlets especially for the emotional baggage. If I could do this over, I’d lean on friends, family members or neighbors. We’re entitled to get these things off our chest, we just need to do it with another adult.

“Our children need to see us taking care of ourselves so they learn how to do the same.”

4. Take care of yourself

We hear it all the time because it’s true. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of our children. This is so incredibly true for single parents. And part of this means we need to make time to do something for ourselves. It might be a 10-minute walk alone every night, a Thursday night bubble bath or a regular workout schedule. We need our time. It’s not only imperative for us—it also models important behavior for our children. They need to see us taking care of ourselves so they learn how to do the same.

5. Don’t forget we really are enough

When I first started down the path of single parenting, I remember thinking that I had to be everything to my kids—the perfect dad AND a stand-in mom. I worked at lengths to be perfect to mask what I feared was a void in my children’s lives. And I was kidding myself.

I am who I am. And I realized that to be successful I just needed to be the parent my children needed me to be. I learned to shed stereotypes and respond to the ever-changing demands of parenting. If my kids needed a nurturing, loving cuddling dad, I was the guy. If they needed to talk about boys or girls or relationships, all they needed to do was ask.

It didn’t matter how good I was because what I learned from my own children is that they don’t give grades. They just love that we try. And when we try, they know we care. At the end of the day, this is what our children will always remember about their parent.

So let’s keep seizing the day. Our story may have some twists and turns. But we have the ability to give our children all the gifts they need.


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