I love my kids. I repeat, I love my kids. And yet, raising them to be kind, confident, capable individuals who will be ready for adulthood (or at least get to school on time) is exhausting. I can’t imagine trying to raise them on my own, but I know there are many single-parent families who are raising children successfully. So this article is dedicated to all the moms, dads, grandparents, foster parents, and other caregivers who are raising children on their own.
This monthly column provides tips for anyone who is helping raise children, based on the world-renowned Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, available to families in Santa Cruz County. If you have a question or idea for a future column, please email me at email@example.com.
My wife and I recently divorced. We have two boys, 3 and 5 years old, who are taking it hard. When they’re with me, they want to be with their mom. When they’re with her, they want to be with me. They’re clingy and get mad easily, which is not how they usually are. I work full-time and feel guilty when I lose my patience quickly or I’m too tired to play with them. What suggestions do you have for a newly-single dad?
I’m glad you asked this question – it means you’re tuned in to your children’s feelings and needs. While your children may be too young to understand the reasons for the divorce, they are old enough to have feelings about the changes in your family. They might feel sad, scared, angry, or worried about what else will change, and their feelings may be expressed as tantrums, whining, clinginess, defiance, or other challenging behaviors. The most important parenting task right now is to create a sense of safety and security for your boys, as this will help ease their transition to a new family life. Here are some tips to try:
Give brief and frequent quality time. This is one of the simplest and most powerful parenting strategies. Play or do an activity together, or just stop and listen when your children want to show or tell you something – even if it’s only for one minute. Giving them positive attention frequently will reassure them that you notice and love them, and will be there when they need you.
Create routines. A predictable schedule for meals, bedtime, and school or child care helps your children know what to expect, which creates that sense of safety and security they need to adjust to their new family life. As a single parent, your daily routines might be different than they were when you were part of a 2-parent household, and they might even be different from their routines when they’re with their mom. The key is to help your children understand what to expect when they’re with you. When possible, involve them in creating their daily routines so they have a sense of control during this time of transition and uncertainty.
Create family rules. Single parents might be tempted to ease up on the rules because they feel guilty or worry about how the divorce or separation is affecting their kids. Or, they feel too tired and overwhelmed to follow through on the rules and deal with any pushback. However, the absence of clear, simple rules often makes kids feel anxious that the adults in their lives are not really “in control,” which can lead to challenging behaviors.
Involve your boys in creating a few rules for your home – e.g. “Be kind to each other, Help with chores, Watch up to 30 minutes of TV per day.” Write them down or draw pictures, then post them in a place where you can all see and remember them.
Take care of yourself. Going through a divorce, redefining family life, and adjusting to single parenthood can be very stressful. It’s important to find ways to “refuel your tank” physically and emotionally so that you can continue to be available for your children. Whether it’s a physical activity, a hobby, spending time with friends or family, or joining a support group for single parents, the steps you take to look after yourself will benefit your children, too.
Final Thoughts: Adjusting to single parenthood and changes in family dynamics after a divorce or separation takes time, and there are likely to be rough moments along the way. But the transition can be easier if you set realistic expectations for yourself and your children, be kind to yourself when you get tired and lose patience, and remember it’s ok to ask for (and accept) help from others.
Nicole Young is the mother of two children, ages 11 and 15, who also manages Santa Cruz County's Triple P - Positive Parenting Program, the world's leading positive parenting program. Scientifically proven, Triple P is made available locally by First 5 Santa Cruz County, the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency (Mental Health Services Act) and the Santa Cruz County Human Services Department. For more information, including classes and one-on-one meetings to help parents handle everyday parenting challenges, visit http://triplep.first5scc.org, www.facebook.com/triplepscc or www.youtube.com/triplepsantacruzco. To find a Triple P class or practitioner, contact First 5 Santa Cruz County at 465-2217 or firstname.lastname@example.org