Wikipedia defines a single parent “as an uncoupled individual who shoulders most or all of the day-to-day responsibilities for raising a child or children. A mother is more often the primary caregiver in a single-parent family structure that has arisen due to death of the partner, divorce or unplanned pregnancy.”
I have issues with this definition…..it neglects to reflect on the actual role of a single parent.
Firstly, it assumes that a single parent is a mother.
Secondly, it assumes its position from a nuclear family perspective due to the mention of death and divorce. The unplanned pregnancy is a whole issue on its own, so I am not even going to entertain it.
When you look at society in its current form, you cannot help but appreciate the type of families that have emanated as the result of the changing times. We have step-families, families headed by unmarried partners; families headed by same sex partners, adoptive families, child headed families, and the list is exhaustive.
The definition above makes it sound as though being a single parent is an easy task, yet it is a multi-dimensional task. A task that brings so much with it, in carrying it out…..
So, single parents shoulder day to day responsibilities with limited help, additionally they are the breadwinner, playmate, disciplinarian, nurturer, teacher and chauffeur. All in ONE!
Throughout the years as a single parent I have made a few essential realisations, namely;
Pass the Baton…to who? There is no out, you are on duty 24/7. You cannot have a bad day. You are not allowed to throw tantrums, you are the parent, remember? Your friends are only one’s you can throw tantrums at, mostly as a way to off-load.
Self-doubt…much? The most difficult thing is knowing if you are doing a good job or not. As a single parent most times you do not have time to contact a friend to sense check your methods – agree or disagree with you, a friend can help you see the merit in your positive parenting moments and help you improve where you fall short.
Partnerships…which have nothing to do with you, but are essential for your child/children. You form these with teachers, child minders etc. and this grows your community of villagers that play a small but important role in raising well socialised children.
Decision making…is a solo act. You stress over making decisions on your own, whether they are right, wrong, how they will impact the child/children? You see, you could conduct a survey to help you make these decisions but in all honesty you are the only one completely invested in your children…why else would you be raising the children ALONE as a SINGLE parent?
Money Money Money Money…the anxiety about money. There have been so many times that I can recall so vividly when I cried about money, about provision and wishing, praying and hoping the father of my children will find it in his heart to help out, even if he paid R1000 towards school fees, food, clothing and all other necessities and expenses one incurs for teenage boys. Alas, tears don’t pay the bills.
Acceptance… I was raised by a single parent, and had ideals of the kind of family I wanted, the environment in which I would have loved to bring up my children. Raising my children alone was not what I had in mind, but it was inevitable. So I have had to accept a different family than the one I had planned to have.
Sense of Self…..weakening…because your super power is being a super parent you easily forget about taking care of yourself. I take care of myself by doing stuff I love like reading and spending time alone in my thoughts. Sometimes my children are not allowed in my room, because everything in there is about me.
Balancing act…effectively holding it together, the work/home life balance. Extended family, new romantic interests and dating…all require a good balance. All by this one parent.
Lately, I often hear married women and those that are co-habiting with the fathers of their children, complaining and saying that it is better to be a single parent than have a partner who is an absent parent in every form whilst they are physically present. The life of a married single parent
From when my boys were as young as 3years old, which was when I started my single parent journey, I have had to learn a few survival tricks that have seen me through the hardest of times….
I have learned to make do with what I have, because there is just one income and partly because one person can only be in so many places at once!
I have learned new skills that parents who have the support of the other parent may not have to learn. I am self-reliant and very creative with my time and resources.
So, here is my list of survival lessons learned:
- Learn to speak directly WITH my children NOT at them. I have the most fulfilling relationship and conversations with my boys. It has not always been like this, but has taken a lot of ‘unlearning’ some of the things I grew up experiencing from how my mom raised me and changing how I interacted with them and being always mindful as a parent;
- Learn to ‘Do for yourself’ Traditional roles in my household don’t apply. I cook, clean, change the light-bulb, screw in a loose plug, fix the water pressure so the sprinklers work…the list is endless, since money is often too tight to afford a handyman I have had to learn some skills to make sure my household is not falling apart. I am my household’s handy-woman, I come very cheap. I only enlist contractors for big jobs;
- Learn to multi-task. There are only so many hours in the day, no matter how much needs to get done…insert sad-face emoticon here…LOL. As a single parent you have to quickly learn how to arrange your day, your life, so that you are able to do many things at once. As the saying goes, in a survival situation, you’ll have to learn how to keep several irons in the fire at once, if you are going to make it. Make every second count, work SMARTER, not HARDER!
- Learn not to panic. This is the most important skill you HAVE to learn and master. More often than not, there are 10 different things going wrong at the same time requiring your attention. While busy helping one child with their homework, lunch is burning and the other child needs help with this and that…..Panic is dangerous, as it will send you to the wrong direction and add to the mayhem. Deep breath and resolve each issue at a time and in no time the lunch that was burning would have turned into a tasty lunch and that homework would be signed off. After a while you learn how to react without panicking every time multiple things go wrong at the same time. You think on your feet, resolve issues calmly and more importantly you develop nerves of steel;
- Learn to re-use and repurpose what you already have. Because money is tight, you learn to preserve what could have gone to the trash to use for another purpose. This stretches the money so that it is used in other areas where it is mostly needed. Doing more with less! Ask me how, I’ll show and tell you;
- Learn to be consistent when disciplining. Loving, consistent discipline with tough rules that matter. I am not my children’s friend, period!
This social and societal reality we refer to as SINGLE PARENTING is highly intricate and quite complex. It deals with social, emotional and economic pressures.