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"Broken home." This is a derogatory label that causes much pain and misunderstanding. Too often, children living in single parent households have to contend with negative stereotypes and hurtful remarks made by Insensitive adults. Regardless of whether the single parent family exists as a result of divorce or death of the other parent, the child is clearly not responsible for the circumstances. However, it is the child who often pays the price: the child who has to write an essay because a parent cannot afford Back to School night, the child who has to sit on the bench because he/she misses practices while visiting the other parent, the child who comes home crying from school, sad when he doesn't know who to make a Father's Day card for because his father died. As adults - teachers, coaches, neighbors, family, and friends, we can change our attitude, be more sensitive and compassionate, and recognize that SINGLE PARENTS RAISE GOOD KIDS TOO! It is difficult and challenging to be a parent today, and it is even more difficult to raise children alone. We as parents are often overwhelmed and lacking the parenting skills necessary to do a good job. But good solid parenting has less to do with the number of parents in the home and more to do with the quality of parenting. Whether the single parent household is headed by a mother, father, or a grandparent, raising children alone is an enormous task. Why should we care? Because the statistics tell us that most of us will live in, know of or be involved with a single parent family at some point. Since 1970, the number of children living in a single parent family has doubled. In fact, statistics from 1992 indicate that single parent families represent 30% of U.S. households, while 25% represent two parent households. Based on current trends, there are predictions that upwards of 70% of children born since 1980 will spend some time living in a single parent home before their 18th birthday. These children are not doomed to failure. The following strategies are offered to the single parent who is determined to raise a good kid despite the myths of doom and gloom. 1. ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT Adults and children do better when single parenthood is perceived as a viable option and not as a pathological situation. Start with a positive attitude and focus on the benefits of single parenting, such as less conflict and tension in the home. Many single parents treasure their newfound autonomy and independence and feel hopeful about the future. 2. YOU ARE THE BOSS Establish firm, clear boundaries that leave no doubt that you are the boss In the home. Single parents (and two parent households) often make the mistake of allowing children to become equal partners or peers, and too many children are running the show. This loads to serious individual and family problems. Children need limits. Use consistent discipline that provides clear expectations and guidelines for behavior and rely on natural and logical consequences. Learn to say, "I love you enough to say NO to you.1' (My kids hate that one). 3. DEAL WITH OVERLOAD The single parent frequently feels overwhelmed by the responsibility, tasks, and emotional overload associated with raising children alone. It is extremely important to manage time wisely and to ask for help when necessary. Assign children appropriate chores and tasks. Arrange car pools when possible, and ask other parents for help when needed. My children would not have been able to continue in club soccer were it not for the kindness of other parents providing rides to practices and games. 4. RECOGNIZE THAT YOU ARE ONE PERSON AND YOU ARE DOING THE BEST YOU CAN. No matter how loving and competent you are, you are still only one person and you are
doing a job most agree Is meant for two people. Do not allow your children to manipulate you by making you feel guilty about the situation. Remind children that you are a team and have to work together. Give yourself credit for a job well done. You may have to wait until your kids are grown before you get any credit from them. This is where a sense of humor comes in handy! 5. CREATE A STABLE, NURTURING HOME Nurturing is a high priority, but children also crave stability and security. While this Is important for all children, it Is especially crucial for children who have suffered 8 loss of stability due to divorce or death of a parent. Children need to feel secure and protected, and it Is our Job as parents to create a nurturing environment where they can thrive. Your children need to hear how much you love them and how proud you are. Some children may require more affection and attention than others, so know your child, and take your cue from him/her. 6. ESTABLISH SCHEDULES AND PREDICTABLE ROUTINES Part of creating stability and security in the home involves establishing predictable schedules and routines for your children. Of course, we must not be rigid and inflexible, because children need to learn that life is not always predictable. Find a healthy balance. 7. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF It is critical for your children's well being for you to take care of yourself. There are times when you feel like you need a break. Ask other single parents to trade babysitting or hire a mother's helper. Pay special attention to diet, exercise, stress management, and getting a good night's sleep. Learn relaxation, yoga, meditation, visualization, or whatever healthy coping skill allows you to relieve stress and tension. Take a walk, read a book, call a friend, take a nap (my personal favorite). A stressed out parent results in stressed out kids. 8. DEVELOP A RELIABLE SUPPORT SYSTEM Develop a wide network of people who can provide you with emotional support, companionship, help in emergencies, child- care, reality checks, etc. Be selective and choose caring, reliable, trustworthy people who will be there for you In times of need. Single parents with healthy support systems usually feel better mentally and physically and demonstrate to their children that it is OK to ask for help. Support groups for single parents offer an excellent opportunity to socialize and share with others in similar circumstances. 9. DO NOT TREAT YOUR CHILD AS A PEER Do not confide in your child as though he/she is your peer, regardless of how mature the child appears to be. This is a common mistake made unintentionally by many single parents who turn to their child for emotional support and don't realize they are hurting the child until after the tact. Allow children to be children, and find other adults for companionship and support. 10. HAVE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS Focus on success and not on failure. Set realistic goals as a family and work together to accomplish these goals. Decide what is important and prioritize accordingly. Have family meetings on a regular basis and allow children to have In put. Learn to effectively communicate and solve family problems together while still demonstrating that you are the boss. Give your kids credit and give yourself credit. If you are feeling overwhelmed, depressed, anxious or stressed, get professional help. A competent therapist can help you find the light at the end of the tunnel. I know how difficult it is to be a single parent, because I raised my children alone for eight years. A great support system contributed to my ability to be a good parent and raise two good kids! You can too!! SHELLEE DARNELL IS A IS A LICENSED MARRIAGE AND FAMILY THERAPIST IN PRIVATE PRACTICE IN IRVINE, CALIFORNIA. SHE HAS A MASTERS DEGREE IN EDUCATION FROM JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY AND A MASTERS DEGREE IN COUNSELING PSYCHOLOGY FROM PEPPERDINE UNIVERSITY.