Twenty-six percent of children under the age of 18 live with a single parent, according to a 2014 Pew Research study, compared to nine percent in 1960. Single parents–an obviously increasing segment of the parent population–fulfill the responsibilities of two with half the resources. They often give up hobbies. They may feel like they never have enough time or resources, since it is their job to maintain household order, support the family financially, and take care of the children. However, single parents can have a knack for making quality time with their children. In an article in Helping and Healing our Families, published by faculty members in our School of Family Life, professors, authors, and single parents Elaine Walton and Gary Burlingame recognize the different challenges that widows or widowers, divorcees, never-marrieds, single non-custodial father, custodial fathers, and mothers face, and suggest four research-backed tips for thriving as a single parent:
Try a different approach
One mother made a list of things she and her children could do better as a family. Instead of reflecting her enthusiasm, her kids were discouraged. Their mother changed her approach. “A few weeks later…for family home evening,” she said. “I brought into the living room a bottle of hand lotion. After our song and prayer, I announced to the children that for family home evening that night we would rub each other’s feet. Suddenly giggles were heard, and the evening was a time for unwinding and loosening instead of tightening the pressure on an already stressed family.”
Set parenting as a priority
The Family: A Proclamation to the World emphasizes the crowning responsibility of parenthood. Single parents often juggle employment and spending time with children. President Gordon B. Hinckley recognized this balance for single parents. He said: “I know how some of you struggle with decisions concerning this matter. I repeat, do the very best you can. You know your circumstances, and I know that you are deeply concerned for the welfare of your children.” President Hinckley, in a 1996 conference talk, also affirmed that parents who make time for parenting their children will be grateful for the influence they had on their children.
Within that context, Walton and Burlingame advise single parents to meaningfully implement carefully thought out rules, structure, and norms. They quote one mother, who said:
“[If I had it to do over again,] I would attempt to be more consistent. Instead of feeling sorry for my children, I would recognize that they have to do some suffering, too. I cannot protect them as I might like. They need to be allowed to experience their own frustration and to go through their own grieving in their own way. In the meantime, the best way I can support them is to give them the benefit of a family that is relatively stable and predictable. I would prioritize goals and pick my battles carefully, but my children would learn that ‘no’ means ‘no.’
Take care of your own needs
A worn-down and unhappy parent does not have stamina to nurture their children, say Walton and Burlingame. Single parents should engage in activities that rejuvenate them. These could be spending time with friends and extended family members, exercising, participating in a support-group, or maintaining religious practice. With some creativity, parents can care for themselves and create quality time with their children. Some singe parents take their children on their morning run. Others make friends with parents who have kids of similar ages.
Utilize available help
Do not let pride keep you from getting the help you and your children need, Walton and Burlingame admonish. Priesthood leaders, visiting teachers, home teachers, friends, family, and more are eager to offer support. Many ward members and friends are not aware of the specific needs single parent families have. The authors advise: “Rather than feeling neglected or annoyed, single parents can help teach, inform, and sensitize their Church leaders. Help them do their jobs by better sharing in detail the needs of each family member and of the family in general.”
Walton and Burlingame were single parents. Each have remarried and now raise blended families. “We know what it is like to feel lonely, discouraged, exhausted, and worried about our children,” they say. “We have experienced despair but have also reached out and claimed the special promises and blessings found in the scriptures for single parents. At times, our discouragement drove us to the scriptures, resulting in a deeper relationship with God. In our loneliness, we found new resources from within as well as without. In our suffering, we learned patience. In surrendering our pride and relying upon a spiritual solution, we found a new sense of freedom and renewed energy. We are different today because of our experiences as single parents. We are better; we have grown. That is our hope for all single parents.”
**All quotes are from: Walton, Elaine, and Gary Burlingame. “Toward successful single parenting.” Ed. Elaine Walton. Helping and Healing Our Families: Principles and Practices Inspired by the Family: A Proclamation to the World. Ed. Craig H. Hart, Lloyd D. Newell, and David C. Dollahite. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2005. 96-100. Print.
If you’re a single-parent, what strategies have most helped you? What do you most wish other people knew about the experience of single-parenting?