Although single-parent families are very common, they face challenges that families with both parent figures tend to be unaware of. In this article, we are going to cover some of the peculiarities of being a mom and a dad at the same time, full-time.
Single-parent families can have different faces: starring single mothers and fathers (biological or adoptive), widowed and separated/divorced, or even grandmothers or grandfathers that are responsible for educating and caring for their grandchild.
The adventure of taking on the lifelong role of being a mother or a father can be arduous and, at times, frightening to the point where questions such as, “Will I ever be able to take care of someone else?” or doubts such as, “Is this really what I want?”. This adventure can be harder when only one parent has to integrate both roles - mother and father - without a space for sharing, nor the necessary emotional support for the reorganization and integration of all the change that accompanied this new phase of the parents’ life. Thus, we can identify the first challenge that a single parent has to go through - the impossibility of sharing tasks and resorting to the complementarity of roles in the education of their children.
Furthermore, the absence of a parent can be experienced by the child or adolescent as a sign that they are different and have a defect in relation to their peers. In particular, celebrating Father’s or Mother’s Day, or requesting the presence of both parents at parties or school meetings, promotes this feeling of inferiority or failure.
Despite these particularities that a single-parent family can go through, just like any other form of family, it is possible to overcome them successfully. Here are some tips that might help:
There is nothing wrong with your family! Do not forget to value yourself as a mother or father who takes care of your child alone, and for doing the best that you can. Learn to rediscover and restructure your family life, roles, and responsibilities. Take the opportunity to embrace the uncertainties and challenges that will arise along the way.
It’s important that you don’t isolate yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Remember that there is always someone around that you can count on to share your struggles. Call someone close to you, family, friends, or neighbors. Take advantage of support groups that exist in your area of residence. Get help from a mental health professional if necessary - don’t wait until your well-being is at risk.
Don’t blame yourself. Like any other family, you will make mistakes, and that’s okay - allow yourself to learn and explore. Don’t forget to cultivate a self-compassionate attitude towards the effort and commitment that you make every day to learn - taking on the role of mom/dad is a never-ending marathon.
Be interested. Enjoy, with awareness, every moment together with your child. Take the time to find out more about your child, including their interests, preferences, and experiences.
Take care of yourself. Make time for yourself and practice activities of mastery and pleasure. Make your physical and mental health a priority - sleep and eat well, meditate, exercise, do therapy. Try to have an active and positive social life, and meet new people.
Express your feelings and emotions. Encourage and normalize emotional expression in the family environment. Create a safe environment to share challenges and overcome them together - don’t underestimate emotional intelligence.
Enjoy the family bond. Live fully your relationship with your child, without putting their autonomy at risk. Creating a safe ground is important to explore the world and individuality without fear, and for both to know that you can find a haven in each other.
Being part of a new family is a challenging journey, which despite its obstacles, is truly rewarding. Parenting is not about following a perfect formula - family is primarily made up of love and commitment towards one another (and towards yourself).