Tips for Single Parenting

It's widely accepted that co-parenting is beneficial for a child's mental and emotional well-being. However, some circumstances make it less than ideal.

Family violence, the death of a parent and hostility between parents are a few circumstances that could make single parenting preferable.

This arrangement doesn't necessarily mean that the other parent is excluded from the child's life. If they're able to participate and it's safe for the child, they often have visitation privileges.

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If you are or will soon be a single parent, it's normal to feel some stress and uncertainty. These tips can help you and your child cope with the transition and prosper.

Tips for single parents

Focus on what you can do rather than what others expect

It's easy to get caught up in societal expectations. If you're a single mother, you're supposed to be the ideal, natural caregiver, while single fathers are branded less capable parents. These stereotypes can leave you feeling stressed and inadequate.

Arguably, the biggest challenge of single parenthood is finding a balance between your life and that of your children. Know your limitations as well as your strengths. Accept that you have certain obligations that may make you late to your child's school activities. So long as your child's needs are met and they're in a loving, safe environment, you're doing a good job.

Build a strong support system

Raising a child is too big of a task to not have support. Family, friends, support groups and mental health professionals can help throughout your journey.

Family and friends are crucial. They can help with child care and provide a unit to make up for time the child doesn't spend with their other parent.

A single-parent support group will connect you with people who understand what you're going through, providing a space where you can get advice and confide in others. You can find these groups online. Some convene in person, while others are social media-based.

A counselor or therapist can help you and your child deal with the adjustment and any other changes that may come along the way.

If possible, find ways to include the other parent

It's beneficial for a child to have both parents in their life. Single parents have sole physical custody, and, if it's safe, the child visits the noncustodial parent. To spell out your arrangement, you can negotiate a parenting plan together or with the help of a professional through an alternative dispute resolution method.

A parenting app like Custody X Change could help you create a comprehensive parenting plan that specifies your visitation schedule, decision-making responsibilities and more.

If visitation isn't an option, share your child's school pictures, send emails about their progress, etc.

If the parent is deceased, show your child photographs and videos of them and share positive memories.

Find role models of the opposite gender for your child

One challenge of being a single mom or single dad is trying to occupy both roles. To mitigate this, make sure the child spends time with people of your opposite gender.

This is especially important if your child is a different gender than you. A role model of their gender will allow them to gain an understanding of who they are and what to expect as they grow.

Approach relationships carefully

When you start dating, wait until you know your relationship will last before introducing your partner to your child. Bringing people in and out of the child's life can be harmful, especially if the child becomes attached to them.

Take care of yourself

When you're in good health — physically, mentally and emotionally — you can be a better, more attentive parent.

Take some time for yourself. Go out with friends, take a walk, read, listen to music — anything that can help you decompress and relax. Also, eat well, exercise and try to get enough sleep to feel well-rested.

It's also helpful to do frequent self-check-ins. Keep a journal so you can evaluate how you're feeling, stay in tune with your emotions and get out anything that's bothering you. Talking to a friend, family member or mental health professional about your problems is beneficial as well.

Seek assistance when needed

Single-parent households tend to have less income. Apply for child support so the noncustodial parent fulfills their financial responsibility to the child, and utilize other resources available to single parents (more below).

Get proper child care

You'll need someone to look after the kids while you're at work or when you need some time to yourself. Hire a babysitter, find a daycare center or ask a friend or family member to watch your child. Don't rely on your older children to care for your younger ones. This could stress them out and take time away from their school work or activities that they enjoy.

Be affectionate

Love and affection are critical to a child's emotional health, impacting their self-esteem and the way they treat others. Children who don't have an affectionate parent are at a heightened risk for stress-related issues. Hugs, praise and simply listening when your child has something to say are just a few ways you can show them you care.

Spend quality time together

Read to your child, have dinner at the dining table, make crafts, bake, go on a trip. Find opportunities to create valuable memories and form a bond. Get to know your child by asking questions about school, their extracurriculars and their interests.

Be open and honest with your child

Being open will encourage your child to confide in you. Explain your problems broadly, without going into detail (e.g., "I had a rough day at work."), and reassure your child that you'll be okay so they don't worry. This applies when you're talking to your child about separation or divorce (more below).

Set rules

Rules give your child structure and teach them to respect you. Set designated times for the child's school work, dinner, bedtime and curfew. Also, let them know what behaviors are and are not allowed, and the repercussions for misbehavior. If applicable, try to keep the same rules you had before you separated from the other parent.

Be sure to discipline by what the child has done. Don't harshly punish them for something small that can be easily fixed. Calmly explain to them why what they did is wrong and why they shouldn't do it again.

Effects of single parenting on children

Single parenting can have short-term and long-term effects on children — and despite common beliefs, not all the effects are negative. How much living with one parent impacts a child depends on several factors, including how the situation came to be and the parent's finances.

The most important variable, however, is the parent. Their ability to be a caring disciplinarian, watchful eye and open ear for their child is the ultimate factor.

Behavioral changes after transitioning to single parenting

Children have a tendency to act out after the transition to a single-parent household.

Younger children may have tantrums, become clingy and go out of their way to misbehave. To help them, maintain a consistent routine for meals, baths, playtime etc. This will help them become more comfortable with the new dynamic.

Older children may bend the rules and question your authority. They're also more susceptible to depression and low self-esteem. If your child seems frequently sad or is isolating or belittling themselves, try to talk through their problems with them. You may need to contact a professional if you don't see improvement.

Possible long-term outcomes

As single-parent households become more common, the number of resources available to them has increased, leading to more positive long-term outcomes.

Nonetheless, children raised in single-parent homes have higher rates of teen pregnancy and are more likely to drop out of high school. In adulthood, their rates of incarceration and poverty are higher.

Research shows that children living in low-income single-parent households struggle most, as they are susceptible to food insecurity and other hardships.

On the positive side, children with single parents may learn valuable life skills earlier. They typically have to take on more responsibilities around the house, which can instill a good work ethic. Since most single parents work, their children learn early on how to be more self-reliant and solve problems on their own.

Pros and cons of single parenting

Pro: You can create a closer bond with your child

As a single parent, you can develop a tight bond of trust with your child since you're the only or most involved parent. Children who grow up in these environments, so long as they're shown affection and properly cared for, tend to see their parents as confidants, show a great appreciation for their parent's contributions and often admire them as role models.

Con: The child may feel like they're missing out

When they hear other children talking about their parents, your child may yearn for the same situation. Furthermore, if the other parent isn't in the picture, they may feel abandoned.

Pro: The child is less likely to see parental conflict

You don't have to worry about subjecting your child to arguments with the other parent. This is a positive for the child's mental and emotional well-being.

Con: You have less income

Since you're relying on a single income, it may be more difficult to provide necessities for your household and give your child extras like birthday gifts and rewards for good behavior. For this reason, you'll have to budget carefully and seek out resources when needed (more below).

Pro: (If the other parent is involved) You have more opportunities for alone time

While the kids visit the noncustodial parent, you can take the time to do something you enjoy, catch up on household chores, etc.

Con: (If the other parent isn't involved) It's harder to budget your time

Balancing work and home life can be difficult. You need to find time to spend with your children after work, making sure they're fed and completing school work. Go into this expecting some stress as you learn to juggle your schedule.

Pro: You set the rules for your household

You control what the child is and is not allowed to do, making it easier for the kids to understand and follow the rules.

Con: You take on all the responsibility

Providing for your children, making sure they complete schoolwork, attending their extracurricular events and doctor's appointments — there are a lot of responsibilities that come along with parenting, and you'll have to take them all on alone. Plus, you'll have to deal with your child's growing pains.

Talking to your child about divorce or separation

Your child won't understand your decision to split in the same way that you do. They'll want to know what the stakes are for them rather than what will change for their parents.

Break the news in an age-appropriate, unbiased manner. Your tone shouldn't be accusatory, and you should leave out details about what either parent did or didn't do to cause the end of the relationship.

Preschoolers may understand in simple terms that parents won't be living in the same home anymore. They will want to specifically know who will be caring for them and what will happen with their toys, pets, etc.

School-aged children are more inquisitive. They may wonder if they can do anything to get their parents back together or even blame themselves for the end of the relationship. Reassure them that it's a grown-up decision and that they'll still have two parents who love them the same.

Pre-teens and teenagers can understand the concept of divorce and separation. They may ask a lot of questions or avoid the subject altogether. In the former case, be as open as possible while sparing the details. In the latter, keep trying to broach the subject without being too forceful. When they're ready to talk, focus the conversation on what they want to know.

Resources for single parents

If your child doesn't have health insurance, they may be eligible for Medicaid or another Child Health Insurance Provider (CHIP). Contact your state's health department to learn how to apply.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) provides low-income families with a monthly stipend for necessities, while the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides a monthly benefit for food. You can apply for TANF and SNAP through your local Department of Social Services. Be aware of how TANF affects the child support you receive.

Social services may also cover costs for things like child care.

Some areas have a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program that helps qualifying families secure affordable housing. You can apply through your local HUD office.

These organizations in your community might also be able to help:

  • YMCA
  • Salvation Army
  • Catholic Charities
  • Churches, synagogues and other religious institutions

Collaborating with the other parent as much as possible

In order to negotiate with the other parent, you'll need to organize a lot of information. You may need to create multiple drafts of parenting plans and schedules, track your expenses, message the other parent, and more.

The Custody X Change app enables you to do all of this in one place. With a parenting plan template, custody calendars, an expense tracker, parent-to-parent messaging and more, Custody X Change helps you create, modify and stay on top of your agreement.

Take advantage of our technology to handle whatever arises in your single-parenting journey.

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