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On Your Own: How to be a Successful Single Parent
If you’re a single parent, you likely did not plan on becoming one. Even though your life looks different than you imagined, you can make the most of it—and of your kids’ lives, as well. You can be a successful single parent.
Gary Richmond, author of Successful Single Parenting (Harvest House, 1998) and a pastor to single parents, says, “There is a time for ‘The Serenity Prayer’ for every single parent.” The Serenity Prayer asks, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Unfortunately, you cannot control what happens when your kids at your ex-spouse’s house, so choose your battles wisely. If your kids are being abused or neglected, then fight your hardest to protect them. But if your ex-spouse is letting them have too much candy, it’s probably better not to make that a “do or die” issue.
Believing that God is in control helps. He created your children and loves them even more than you do. He watches over them day and night. Giving up control to Him—trusting him with your kids—can give you peace.
Asking the Right Question
When it comes to priorities, a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “What is the best thing for my kids in this situation?” It’ll help you gain perspective and keep your emotions in check.
For example, it’s best to let your kids talk about their lives both with you and the other parent. Gary Richmond says parents should allow their kids to complain about things. “If they’re complaining, it helps relieve tension,” he says. You don’t have to agree with them. Just listening validates their feelings and keeps communication open.
It’s also best for your kids if you do not criticize your ex-spouse in front of them. Gary says your kids will make their own conclusions about the other parent, which will be better for them in the long run than if they hear negative comments from you. “We need to give kids more credit. They figure [these things] out on their own.”
Encourage your kids to have a good relationship with their other parent. Regardless of how you feel about your ex-spouse, your kids need the other parent in their lives—desperately. Allowing them to connect with their stepparent, if there is one, can also be good for them. The stepparent can play a positive role in your kids’ lives. Gary Sprague, president and founder of the Center for Single-Parent Family Ministry (http://www.spfm.org/), says you don’t have to feel threatened by the stepparent because, as the birth parent, you will never be replaced by anyone else. In your kids’ eyes, you are irreplaceable.
Teaching Your Kids About God
Teach your kids about God as you go through the day, whether you’re listening to Christian music, praying for them before school, or eating dinner.
According to author and speaker Cheri Fuller, when you pray with your kids—talking to God as you talk to a friend—you’re making Him more accessible to them. If they see you praying regularly, they’ll understand the importance of doing it too.
Reading the Bible is also important. Lisa Prillaman, a single mother, reads scripture with her son during breakfast. Or use a family devotional book. Incorporating the Bible into your daily routine helps your kids learn more about who God is and what’s important to Him as well as what’s important to you.
Getting a Grip on the Green
If your finances are out of control, the stress is probably affecting your relationship with your kids. Take time to develop a budget and use it. Find ways to cut expenses like cable service, pizza delivery, and your morning latté. Start saving, even if it’s only a small amount, because over time a little bit can add up to a lot.
Make room in your budget for your tithe. If you struggle with tithing, pray for the desire and the courage to do so. Brenda Armstrong, author of Financial Relief for Single Parents: A Proven Plan for Achieving the Seemingly Impossible, says that giving to God shows we trust Him. She says that if you can’t start with 10 percent, give what you can. As you grow spiritually, your giving will catch up.
You can also take a money management course and read financial books from a Christian perspective by authors Larry Burkett and Ron Blue.
Building a Support Network
You need to know you’re not alone. A divorce recovery group can help you meet people grappling with the same issues and start healing. Look for biblically-based programs like DivorceCare (http://www.divorcecare.org/) or Fresh Start (http://www.freshstartseminars.org/). If these programs aren’t available in your area, find a good Christian counselor who can help you process your feelings.
Develop friendships with people of the same sex. You need a friend to vent with so you don’t do it in front of your kids.
Surround yourself with people who can help you, whether it’s picking up your kids after practice, inviting you over for dinner, or fixing leaky faucets. Don’t associate with toxic people who make you feel guilty about the divorce, criticize your parenting, or give unwanted advice.
Dating: When and How
Because single parents miss the companionship, physical intimacy, and other aspects of marriage, they often rush back into dating before they’re ready. They risk further pain to themselves and their kids because their own scars from the divorce haven’t fully healed.
Divorce recovery programs urge you to wait a minimum of two years after the divorce—not the separation—or up to one year for every four years you were married. Some people even choose to wait until their children are grown before they start dating again.
According to Laura Petherbridge, speaker and author of When Your Marriage Dies (http://www.laurapetherbridge.com/), some ways to know when you’re ready to date include: being satisfied with singleness; not feeling an urgency to find a mate; looking to the future rather than living in the past; not dwelling on thoughts of your ex-spouse; and not trying to fill the gap of loneliness.
When you start dating, do not introduce your kids to that person until both of you are certain you will get married soon. Your kids will probably form an attachment to him or her and, if you break up, their hearts might get broken again
Learning to Forgive
You may be thinking, “Forgive my ex-spouse? Yeah, right.” God commands us to forgive, and he will give us the strength and desire to do so. As hard as it is, forgiving your ex-mate will free you to move on. It will help you heal. Letting go of anger and bitterness will improve your relationship with God and your kids, too. And if you’d like to marry again someday, it will help free up your heart to love again.
Taking Time for You
Trying to juggle the pressures and responsibilities of single parenting can be exhausting. Have some “me” time so the “us” time with your kids can be more relaxed and enjoyable.
Ask a friend to keep the kids for a few hours. Use your lunch break as a “me” break: visit a museum, go to the park, take a brisk walk. When your kids are with your ex-spouse, plan in advance to meet a friend for dinner or do something fun. Tackle that hobby you’ve always wanted to try.
Spending time with God regularly can give you the strength, wisdom, and courage to keep going. He can help you with these and other aspects of single parenting so you can raise healthy kids who love Him. That’s successful parenting.
This article first appeared in The Lookout, February 22, 2004.
Freelance writer LeAnne Benfield Martin has been published in many Christian magazines. She enjoys writing about several topics, especially the arts. Check out her blog on Christians in the arts at http://christiansinthearts.blogspot.com/.