Challenges and rewards: letting go of the old and embracing the new, also involved moving beyond the past, breaking ties and moving on. This causes a lot of stress and anxiety (especially for the kids). It is journeying into the unknown, uncertain and un-chartered waters and territory.
As a member of this new family situation and context, unit, everyone has a role to play and a contribution to make. Whether you are in an only child or multiple children situation, you will feel the weight of this one on your shoulder. These children’s lives are entrusted and loaned to you to champion, enable, empower and foster. You are all they’ve got. You are the one left behind. Some children cope with changes, loss and upheaval better than others. NO TWO KIDS ARE THE SAME.
Dealing with fights, rebellious behavior, bad grades, even isolation and detachment, can be hard at times – especially if they are your own children. You can try and compensate for the missing parent but never replace or bad mouth. Teach and model respect, forgiveness and consideration, no matter how tough the situation. They are now looking to you for guidelines and direction.
If you have an only child, you might see this as your ONE opportunity to get things right. Do not put too much pressure and expectation on either of you. Enjoy and foster, grow your relationship, bond and connection.
Being over-protective is the real danger here. Attachment and preoccupation is quite common as kids become the core of our being and existence. They are the reason we live. Sometimes we as the single parent can take this too far and need to step back somewhat to allow our kids to live their lives, explore and define who they are, outside of us and the family unit.
THESE ARE THE FIVE “S” approach to dealing with an only child:
Self-definition – who are you, where do you fit in and you are not the ONLY person in this household or the world that matters. Self-assured and important, self-absorbed an selfishness need not be tolerated. Appreciation and consideration of others needs to be taught at home, in the family, even and especially if there is an only child in the unit.
Socialization – interacting with others, beside yourself is critical, especially kids their own age, friends and other neighborhood adults and families can also help. It is important for them to be and act their age!
Standards – sometimes children think they are on equal footing with the adults in their lives (in this case, you as the single parent) and they think they can set the rules and tone in your house. You are the adult and you set the tone and pace. This has to be made clear and adhered to with respect and obedience. Beware of being self-critical, a perfectionist and expecting too much of your kids. When they fail to live up to these expectations or fail they can easily get depressed and feel undervalued, even unloved.
Sharing – with peers again is a learned behavior, you shape over time. A playgroup, relatives of own peer and age group are all important. Context and opportunity to practice and master this skill has to be provided on a regular basis. Kids have to learn to share and not always have their way.
Separation – growing apart and growing up is part of life. You foster their confidence and willingness to let go by giving them the space to develop and become who they are. Do not smother or over-protect your kids. Foster their independence and help them become self-sufficient. ENCOURAGEMENT ALWAYS GOES THE EXTRA MILE!
Family life is like a social contract, flowing from both above and below. It is about mutual connection, permission, love, care and respect. Everyone in this new family will have the right and aspiration to be themselves and live their lives. This can sometimes cause friction in the household, especially if there is more than one child involved. NEVER COMPARE YOUR KIDS WITH ONE ANOTHER! Be fair to all collectively and to each individually. They each have their own special qualities and are unlike each other. Do not pit them against each other and help them cope individually with the changes in their lives and relationships. When kids fight it is often hard to stay ;neutral, even resolving it can be challenging in itself. Parenting books and sites offer great tips on how to deal with ‘sibling fighting and rivalry’
Each and everyone is responsible for a conflict and has a role to play in it – be fair always and get all the facts before leaping into action, outcome or discipline. NEVER TAKE SIDES. Teach them that it ONLY takes ONE to stop a fight! (and that it does not have to be you) Again, these coping skills and emotional maturity is fostered in the home and family.
DO NOT WASTE ANY TIME OR EFFORT ON WHO STARTED IT! Refuse to play the blame game and get the ‘difference’ resolved
A golden rule of thumb is to not arbitrate but separate! Avoid even seemingly fostering or leaning to one kid more than the other, this can easily lead to resentment, rebellion and loss of respect.
Open discussion, channels and communication should always be accessible and preferred.
Monitor all behavior, interaction, exchanges and potential for conflict, avoid and do not tolerate bullying or abuse (even verbal, emotional or physical!)
SAFETY always comes first – remove the threat of violence and equip them with the expression and opportunity to ‘voice’ their discontent, true feelings and problems to you and each other and get things resolved. DO NOT LET CONFLICT SIMMER, RULE OR THREATEN TO TAKE OVER YOUR HOUSEHOLD AND FAMILY. Everyone will e emotional and handle situations differently. Some take longer than others to cope with sudden change, loss, new things and people around them etc., Allow each of your kids the breathing space and room to work through things at their own pace.
Role-models from outside the family can be a great way to foster your kids’ growth and independence. Pick someone you trust to ‘fill’ these entrusted shoes. It will never ‘replace’ the missing parent, but it will provide the opportunity to learn valuable life-skills and a form a special bond and connection with someone else as well.
Models and stereotypes affect lives of our kids, peer-pressure and social demands can be overwhelming. They will always need someone to talk to and it might not always even be YOU! If you want to protect your kids against bad influences and getting the wrong idea about life, roles and responsibilities, acceptable behavior and choices, an outside role-model (family-member, friend or Big Brother /Sister might help). Playing team sports can also be a great way of interacting with others and building a trust relationship with another adult, like the team coaches, referees etc. Encourage making connections with others, while always teaching kids to be safe when it comes to strangers. Who to trust and what not to allow.
Do not allow the television, computer or other ‘games’ to encroach on family time. It is not another member of the family. Have a TV-free night, where you play board-games, do a fund activity as a family together for example, talk, listen, share, laugh and have FUN!
Also be alert as to what children as watching, what the message and ‘entertainment’ is teaching them about life, themselves, how to treat others etc. How is it influencing them? Are they spending more time with it than with you, each other, living their lives, interacting, speaking, listening to you and each other/others? DO NOT LET TV BE AN ESCAPE OR SAFE-HAVEN! IT DOES NOT RULE YOUR LIFE! Take back the control and attention of your family time!
Always remember that your child did not ask to be placed in this situation. Whether you have babies, teenagers or young adults in the house (early, mid or late adolescence) and/or kids who would want to assert their independence and use this as an opportunity to move out on their own, there are considerations, challenges and rewards. IT DOES NOT ALL HAVE TO BE BAD!
Uncertainty, conflict and opposition can be very real as kids start to become more and more self-sufficient and independent. It can be hard to allow this and not be over-protective, BUT YOU HAVE TO LET GO.
As the single parent you are the one helping your child/children shape who they are, becoming and will be. Their character and characteristics will begin defining itself, both physically and socially . Values, habits and wants change over time as they become more independent. This can both make a parent smile and frown with instant worry. You might be asking yourself if your child (and you) are ready for the challenges of life and the real world outside the family.
While this growing apart and separating happens over time, it can be stressful for both parties and cause discomfort even confrontation and conflict as these ‘wills’ collide.
Yet, it does not all have to be an on-going battle, there are lots that you can do to foster independence and get along living under one roof.
Energy, attitude and behavior are often the first tell-tale signs that something is different and changing. Negativity, rebellion and even experimentation that does not always meet with your approval might be happening.
Values, risks and observation are the single parent’s arsenal for coping with this. Accountability and consequences, discipline and sensitivity, understanding and a firm, consistent stance can be life-savers as well. In everything try to work towards keeping and fostering that positive bond and connection that you share and always provide that soft spot to fall and come home to for them.
Being considerate of you and siblings, as well as family life in general are all important. You have to teach your kids that they are part of the family and have a role to play, contributions to make, rules to respect.